The Bi Line: Lady Gaga Rocks the Super Bowl
In between acts of America’s glorification of toxic masculinity and violence, Lady Gaga performed a queer spectacle in front of millions of people. Last Sunday’s 51st Super Bowl caused quite the furor, both due to the exciting comeback by the Patriots and the halftime show by bi pop star Lady Gaga.
The halftime was subject to criticism before the show even began. Fans and non-fans alike wanted to see Gaga make a political statement during her half-time show. As perhaps the most watched sporting event in the nation, a statement at the Super Bowl would reach the masses. The debate since the show aired has been about whether Gaga delivered.
She began the half-time show singing “God bless America, land that I love. Stand beside her, and guide her, through the night with the light from above,” segueing into “This land is your land, this land is my land. This land was made for you and me,” and then “One nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.” She continued through a medley of her hits, including ‘Poker Face’, and she lingered on ‘Born This Way.’
The single from the Fame Monster era, which has been dubbed a queer anthem, includes the lyrics “No matter gay, straight, or bi, lesbian, transgender life you’re on the right track, baby, you were born this way.” The ‘Born This Way’ performance wasn’t just a moment for Gaga’s queer fandom. The lyrics reach out to racial minorities, the differently-abled, and those who are bullied or teased for any reason.
All of the communities mentioned in ‘Born This Way’ lyrics have been targets of the Trump administration. What made this moment even more important was that Vice President Mike Pence, a man who has discriminated against LGBT people throughout his career, was in the audience. Pence – who wants to divert funds to organizations that provide conversion therapy, enabled an HIV outbreak, and passed anti-LGBT legislation in Indiana – listened as the lyrics of ‘Born This Way’ reverberated throughout the stadium.
I’m genuinely confused by individuals who claim Lady Gaga’s performance wasn’t political. Sure, she didn’t mention any politicians, legislation, or scandal by name, but her message rang out loud and clear. That message went against what Vice President Mike Pence, sitting in the audience, has worked towards for so many years. Of course, it’s hard not to compare Lady Gaga’s performance to last year’s performance by Beyoncé. Both are superstar pop stars and have done halftime shows during politically volatile times. Unlike Lady Gaga, who got very little to no pushback from conservatives for her performance, Beyoncé’s halftime performance brought an onslaught of hate from the right-wing pundits.
With the backup dancers dressed as an homage to Black Panthers, Beyoncé’s halftime performance made white people uncomfortable. Singing ‘Formation,’ which features Beyonce on top of a sinking police car in the music video, Beyonce seemed much more in-your-face than Gaga’s performance.
I would credit anti-blackness for that amplification of Beyoncé’s message. There was little Gaga could do to make white people uncomfortable, in part due to Gaga’s whiteness. Beyoncé’s tribute to Black Panthers, in a time when people were proclaiming Black Lives Matter as a political stance and not a declaration of common humanity, threatened white folks’ sensibilities more than a white queer woman singing about acceptance.
Perhaps Gaga could have done more. She could have put “Dump Trump” in lights and satisfied the hunger to see Trump furiously tweet about the performance. Instead, she centered her performance on those who are feeling targeted by the new administration.
Her performance was in part seen as apolitical, because it is so easy to erase Gaga’s identity. Those within and outside of the queer community can simply think of Gaga as a “queer ally,” something much less threatening than a bi woman. So far from hiding her sexuality, Lady Gaga performed ‘Poker Face’ in front of the crowd. She has discussed how this hit has nothing to do with card playing and everything to do with trying to hide the fact that she was thinking of a woman while having sex with a man.
She is her authentic self at a time when that self is being politicized. When looking at her sparkling glory on stage, it is easy to forget that she is an out bi woman and an outspoken survivor of sexual assault. She is not alone, in fact, bi women are at the highest risk for sexual assault. Her performance for a sport that is riddled with sexual assault and domestic violence scandals, in front of millions of viewers, was political.
If nothing else, Gaga’s example proved to hundreds of millions of people that it is possible to be a woman, a survivor of sexual assault, proudly bisexual, and a superstar.