What did you expect?
That question colored your judgment of Lady Gaga's Super Bowl Halftime performance.
If you hoped she'd get overtly political, you were probably a bit disappointed.
If you hoped she'd "shut up and sing," you were possibly a bit put off, but generally pleased.
Gaga delivered an immensely dynamic performance, a visually stunning affair that found her working some seriously acrobatic moves – jumping from the roof of Houston's NRG Stadium, catching a football mid-air before taking another dive – into a set-list of hits and songs that would've probably been hits in 2010.
— NFL (@NFL) February 6, 2017
Kicking it all off with a stirring a cappella version of "God Bless America," and then transitioning into Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" might not be remembered as an overtly political act. I suspect it was one, and watching in real time, I took this introduction as a hint of more such things to come. This proved to be it, however. Gaga never engaged in overt political statements.
She did engage in killer overt glitz and glam. And though it was difficult to tell how many of the vocal performances were live, and just what role backing tracks or live backing vocalists played, Gaga walked away at the end of the roughly 13-minute set a winner.
After descending to the stage from above, on tethers, Gaga proceeded to lead her dancers through a resume-style run-through of all her best moves – minus the jazz singing with Tony Bennett, that is. A bit of Bowie, a dash of Madonna, some Katy Perry to keep the investors happy, just the intimation of a nod toward Beyoncé, via some seriously vocal riffs – all of this was readily apparent. But as is always the case with Gaga, there was more there if you were willing to look.
She played her hits, of course – "Poker Face," "Born This Way," "Telephone" – but it was Gaga's presence that mattered more than the set list. She is an entertainer on the Madonna and Beyoncé level, certainly, and when she lays into that serious "I come from New York City, and I did not come to mess" soulfulness, all who are within earshot are tempted to get on board.
In terms of spectacle and pure Vegas-style bombast, Gaga delivered the goods. However, as we've been trained to do over the years, as the Halftime Show moved from time-killing curiosity to must-see performance, we now expect a bit more from the gig.
We've had Prince, Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, Beyoncé, Michael Jackson, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – we are used to some of the best, and therefore, we expect as much. Why not a reunited Pink Floyd? What not Metallica? Why not Stevie Wonder, perhaps with Kendrick Lamar?
We got an interesting Halftime Show with a mild message of inclusiveness, but not any clearly defined statement. The music was fine, but not phenomenal. Gaga was a riveting presence, though. And she carried it. Her voice, whenever it was clearly her voice, was astoundingly soulful, considering the relative soullessness of the job. And the visual spectacle was wholly impressive.
We may have wanted more, and based on the social media to-and-fro prior to the game, we might've reasonably expected more. But alas, Gaga turned out to be an artist unwilling to employ a mainstream venue to potentially alienate a portion of her base. It's tough to blame her.
Gaga kept the pace fairly taut, and there was never any shortage of spectacle to view throughout her performance. The biggest takeaway was not the mix of electronic dance music and straight-up dance pop, however. It was the implied message of unity in the opening salvos of "God Bless America" and "This Land Is Your Land."
The set list:
"God Bless America"
"Edge of Glory"
"Born This Way"