I don’t listen to the music of Lady Gaga. At all. As I slide toward my 40th birthday, which marks the official start of my middle-age years, I am increasingly comfortable being totally ignorant of modern pop culture in favor of “dad rock” — a genre which somehow now includes acts like the Foo Fighters and Blink 182. From a musical standpoint, Lady Gaga is about the last thing on earth that I listen to on purpose.
What’s more, I have always tried to ignore Lady Gaga as a person because so much of what she says and does that catches my attention is just so irrepressibly weird, off-putting and unfathomable that I don’t even have a cultural frame of reference for it. And so when I heard that Lady Gaga was going to perform the Super Bowl halftime show this year, I chalked it up as yet another example of the Super Bowl organizers not really understanding the target audience for an NFL football game or of deliberately passing over that audience in favor of entertaining their kids/wives. Whatever. I’m used to rolling my eyes at what the kids are doing these days.
But before this performance began, I actually felt apprehension, as opposed to mere indifference. The reason is pretty simple: the presidency of Donald Trump is just barely more than two weeks old, and already it’s exhausting. I didn’t vote for Trump and I certainly don’t have any emotional impetus to defend him from attacks like many of his supporters do, but the nonstop freakout from celebrities and legacy media personnel about everything he does is already enough. Hey, I get that politics is important, but maybe sometimes it would be great if we could turn on the television and enjoy something without someone absolutely losing their minds over the latest thing Trump has said or done, or involved in some horribly overwrought and ill-conceived form of protest.
If any performer was ripe for an epic public meltdown over Donald Trump, it was Lady Gaga during the Super Bowl. We are talking, after all, about a woman who once wore a dress composed entirely of raw meat in order to protest the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. I thought the chances that she would take the opportunity to use the largest worldwide television event of the year to slam Trump at least once were about as good as the Atlanta Falcons’ chances of winning the game midway through the third quarter. I just hoped we would all be spared the worst of the endless hot takes, think pieces and pretentious sermons from both sides of the aisle about a musical performance.
I think probably most of the country felt that way, which is why I imagine that most of it held their breath as the star of the performance began her performance perched high above the audience with a patriotic medley that shockingly included the portion of the pledge of allegiance containing the phrase “under God.”
“Here it comes,” virtually all of America must have been thinking, as the music faded and red, white and blue fireworks exploded in the background. “Something about the executive order, or immigration, or something.” But instead, Lady Gaga smiled, jumped from the precipice to the stage below, and nailed a hellaciously entertaining show. I say this even though I could identify exactly one of the songs in her medley, and none of them were my musical cup of tea at all. I will say this, though: entertainment is entertainment, and Lady Gaga worked her ass off to entertain the crowd. And not just the half of the crowd who agreed with her political views, but ALL of the crowd. Even the few bars of “Born This Way” she sang did not include the overtly pro-LGBT anthemic phrases. When she was done, she jumped off the stage, caught a football, and disappeared from view.
Fantastic. Pitch perfect.
After an unbearably tense political period that seems to have begun over a year ago and that has featured flat-out panic and outrage at virtually every turn, much of the country these days cringes every time a celebrity makes a public appearance in anticipation of whatever dumb thing they might do next. Lady Gaga did none of these things; she was just fun and entertaining and musically talented as she knew how to be, and for that a lot of people are thankful today.
I don’t subscribe to the belief that celebrities should always just shut up and not have political beliefs. Singers and actors are just as entitled to political opinions as are athletes, newspaper columnists, doctors and steel workers. I don’t think those beliefs are entitled to any extra weight because they come from a celebrity, but neither do I think that just because you’re famous you’re not allowed to speak your mind. And in fact, I am sure that pretty much immediately Lady Gaga will go back to publicly bashing Trump and his policies, which is her right to do. And I’m sure I’ll go right back to almost totally ignoring her existence, which is my counter-right to do.
But context counts for a lot, and doing the right thing in a big moment can generate a lot of goodwill with people who might otherwise not be interested in hearing your message, and Lady Gaga demonstrated that with impeccable flair last night. And that perfect, fun, apolitical moment and celebration of America was exactly what this country needed as we begin the next four years. The fact that it came from such unexpected quarters made it all the more admirable.
So you know what I did this morning? I listened to a little Lady Gaga while I worked. First time I’ve ever done that on purpose. And while it still isn’t really something I’m going to put in the regular rotation, I made the effort to give something different a shot. Maybe if more celebrities understood the value of letting people enjoy their art with more joy and less fuss, they might just find their appeal reaching a whole new audience. I’m sure Lady Gaga is probably being ripped by social justice warriors in all the usual places today for failing to make the Super Bowl halftime show an uncomfortable experience for us all, I for one am thankful. And I think most of the country is probably with me.