The show paid homage to the style of the 1980s Brian Allen/Voice of America

The Super Bowl halftime show is a notoriously difficult gig to pull off. Because the task is only offered to the most dazzling of musicians, each new performer is made acutely aware of the pantheon of icons they are joining. The desire to be the brightest star in the sky is understandable, so it’s surprising that we still find ourselves absent-mindedly drumming our fingers to another mindless, derivative charade every year.

The politics of the performers are often carefully scrutinised. In a recent article for The Guardian, Lanre Bakare makes the legitimate point that Lady Gaga’s decision not to address the current political climate more vociferously in her recent show was something of a disappointment, particularly considering that one of the numbers she sang, ‘Born This Way’, includes the lyric “No matter gay, straight or bi / Lesbian, transgendered life / I’m on the right track baby / I was born to survive.”

While this is a valid stance to take, it was not the main flaw in Gaga’s performance. The issue was not the lack of a didactic moral but the lack of any message in particular, which is rather shocking from an artist whose raucous explosion onto the music scene in 2008 proclaimed her as a figure with no shortage of messages. Gaga used her performance of ‘Million Reasons’ from her latest album as the mechanism of the ‘slow down the pace and watch as I play the piano for real’ song, when such a pause could have been employed to a more polemical effect. Even a performance of ‘Born This Way’ in a measured, sombre manner would have been enough to make more a powerful statement.

Beyoncé, who performed at the 2013 halftime show Nat Ch Villa

Gaga seemed to deliberately repress the riotous personality for which she gained her fame, diligently following the camera with her eyes and conforming to the costume changes, awkward flirting and crowd-baiting which are dictated by Super Bowl lore. The spectacle began with an overwhelmingly cheesy descent from the NRG Stadium’s roof, and the staging of the show continued in the same vein with a frankly outdated set which relied heavily on LEDs, pyrotechnics and inane puffs of smoke. There was a faint whiff of 80s nostalgia to the Tron-inspired stage, but all it really did was leave the viewer with a feeling of staleness and a craving for the sugary joy of Stranger Things.

“Even a performance of ‘Born This Way’ in a measured, sombre manner would  have been enough to make more a powerful statement”

While researching this article I couldn’t help but rewatch Beyoncé’s glorious turn at the halftime gig in 2013. Though Bakare referenced her fiercely political segment at last year’s Super Bowl in which she spoke up for the Black Lives Matter movement, her 2013 performance is a much closer analogue to Lady Gaga’s effort. Beyoncé’s cast of female musicians and backing dancers and her simple staging featuring two female faces made a symbolic nod to feminism without her having to even say the word. Beyoncé knows that her physical presence is domineering, and makes the most of her ability to draw your eyes to her pelvis: she is unashamed and promotes a powerful message about a woman’s right to control and harness her sexuality.

It is clear that this tour-de-force was something of an inspiration for Lady Gaga’s routine, which makes watching Gaga’s attempt quite sad as she struggles to adopt an ill-fitting, larger-than-life persona. While she doesn’t have Beyoncé’s dance skills or presence on the stage, her lyrics are poignant and her followers loyal. It is hard not to rue the fact that Gaga didn’t make more of the assets she does have and chose instead to willingly stifle her own personality

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