HOUSTON, Feb 6, (Agencies): Lady Gaga dazzled the Super Bowl on Sunday with a high-tech, tightly choreographed halftime show celebrating American diversity and unity as she chose the power of showbiz over direct provocation.
Performing at American football’s title match — generally the most watched US television event of the year — the pop diva electrified NRG Stadium in Houston with a pulsating medley of her greatest hits.
From the outset, Gaga served notice this was no ordinary halftime show — she began her performance from the lip of the stadium, an army of 300 drones forming a twinkling American flag in the sky.
Then she took flight.
The singer, clad in a sparkling silver bodysuit and knee high boots, leapt from the edge of the retractable roof onto the stage with the help of some sturdy wires — and the performance was nonstop from there.
Ahead of the show, all eyes were on Lady Gaga to see whether she would use the platform to rip into President Donald Trump at a tense time in US politics.
Even with Vice-President Mike Pence in attendance, Gaga — a sworn foe of Trump — kept with the game’s guidelines to steer clear of overt politics.
Instead the singer, known for her audacious outfits, delivered what seemed to be a more subtle message.
“How are you doing tonight, Texas? How are you doing tonight, America?” Gaga asked.
“We’re here to make you feel good,” she said.
She opened with “This Land is Your Land,” the anthem by leftist folk legend Woody Guthrie that has come to be seen as an alternative national anthem for the United States.
Gaga then mixed up her biggest songs — from “Let’s Dance” and “Poker Face” to “Born This Way” — an anthem of inclusion in which she speaks of acceptance of people regardless of ethnicity or sexual orientation.
She was backed up by an upbeat, ethnically diverse cast of dancers, who at one point joined in a group hug.
“No matter gay, straight or bi… You’re Lebanese / You’re orient,” she sang. “Whether life’s disabilities left you outcast, bullied or teased / Rejoice and love yourself today!”
With just 13 minutes at her disposal, Gaga could not pull off many changes of costume but by the end stripped off her metallic dress to perform in hot pants, football shoulder pads — and the stiletto-heeled boots.
She even changed her makeup, using peel-off crystals to alter her look to match her choice of song.
In keeping with her recent theme of family connection, Gaga — long associated with her oozing sexuality — shouted out to her parents as she sang her recent ballad “Million Reasons” and played the piano.
Her dancers made up for Gaga in terms of outfits, switching from flashy club attire to placid white.
Gaga literally dropped the mic — and caught a football at the end of the show as fireworks shot into the air.
Given that the Super Bowl being the most coveted advertising venue of the year, the drone army, designed by chip-maker Intel, ended in another show of Americana — commercialism, as they created the logo of sponsor Pepsi.
Intel described the halftime show as the most elaborate televised use ever of drones.
“The potential for these light show drones is endless,” Intel executive Josh Walden said in a statement, saying the company planned to explore more ways to use the technology.
Super Bowl performances are rarely directly provocative, although last year Beyonce startled many by playing her single “Formation.” Its video had a message against police brutality.
Lady Gaga’s halftime show at Super Bowl LI wasn’t the showstopper that last year’s performance by Beyonce was, and it certainly wasn’t as provocative as the pop singer has been in the past. But as a display of acrobatics, technical coordination, and Americana, it soared.
And yet, though the spectacle was appropriately breathtaking, Gaga’s 13-minute long performance lacked an iconic moment or emotional button; weirdest of all, it didn’t even feel contemporary. Gaga came onto the music scene with her 2008 album “The Fame,” featuring singles “Just Dance” and “Poker Face,” and followed it up with a couple of years of fascinating and dense singles. Since then she’s faded into an odd habit of dusting off her dance shoes to perform dated-feeling diva numbers — not infrequently with the legendary Tony Bennett. Gaga began and ended her Super Bowl set with songs released before 2010 — “Poker Face” and “Bad Romance” — and of the seven songs she performed, only one, “Million Reasons,” was released in the last five years.
This may have contributed to why Gaga’s show felt like a vision of the future from a decade ago. The costumes and staging made for a shiny disco ball of stage; Gaga herself wore bright, reflective silver and steel, except for one moment where she donned on a spiky gold jacket. It looked like an MTV exec’s idea of what Y2K was going to look like, not 2017 America.
Furthermore, while Super Bowl halftime shows are the natural home of gimmicky concert tricks, Gaga’s set was so packed with technical flourishes that it was either distracting or — worse — outpaced the actual performance. The drones in the sky were matched by hand-held LED torches in the audience — lights that changed colors apparently according to programming, while the crowd on the field moved in choreographed waves. It was beautiful, especially in aerial shots; during “Million Reasons,” Gaga played on a circular piano as the lights coalesced around her. It was a triumph of staging — but a dud of a number, a slow soulful ballad that no one has ever heard before, but it’s the recent release that justifies Gaga’s presence at the 2017 Super Bowl.
Perhaps it is fitting for the mood of the first several weeks of 2017 that Gaga’s performance seemed like a paean to 2008. In the run-up to the show, there was much speculation that the bisexual Gaga, an avid and vocal Hillary Clinton supporter, might voice the widely held frustration with the Trump administration in some form or another.
Gaga has always been a highly stylized performer, but more than ever, Gaga’s aesthetic in her Super Bowl performance felt like a parody of contemporary pop, not a force that pushed it forward. Worst of all, she appears to have willingly sanded down the politically charged subtext of her own art into a commodified piece of Americana that could be experienced without being truly understood.
President Donald Trump’s name didn’t come up. Gaga’s most notable ad-lib? Saying hi to mom and dad.
Once onstage, she commanded a large troupe of dancers and musicians, props that breathed fire and audience members swinging lights in synchronization — the usual excess that has become a Super Bowl cliche.
Before the game, singers Phillipa Soo, Renee Elise Goldsberry and Jasmine Cephas Jones — the Schuyler sisters from the original cast of Broadway’s hit “Hamilton” — brought exquisite three-part harmony to a version of “America the Beautiful.” They made an inclusive editing choice, with Jones adding “and sisterhood” to the lyrical reference of brotherhood.
Fox’s own editing choice added a downer to a nice moment, cutting to a camera shot of New England’s scowling coach Bill Belichick as the song ended.
Country star Luke Bryan played it straight for “The Star Spangled Banner,” adding few showy flourishes while taking care not to rush through the moment.