Super Bowl Halftime Review: Lady Gaga Takes Safe Route With Hits and Spectacle

Lady Gaga
AP Photo/Matt Slocum

In a competent but disconnected performance, Lady Gaga performed years-old hits while steadfastly avoiding making a statement

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.

As drones floated above the stadium like patriotic fireflies, Gaga sang bars from “God Bless America” and “This Land Is Your Land” before leaping, like a bedazzled Peter Pan, into the air above the stage, flipping and gyrating in her trapeze-like supports from one perch to another.

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.

Lady Gaga flies into the Super Bowl halftime show in Houston. Dave Shopland/BPI/REX/Shutterstock

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. Bets were taken. Ultimately, though, Gaga took the smarter route of commentary through sheer existence, asking the audience to accept her sexualized gyration and her country singing, her racially diverse backup dancers and her ballad about her love for God. But because the performance was overall a little weak, it still felt like a missed opportunity.

“Born This Way,” Gaga’s anthem for gay rights, has aged poorly — the song rhymes “chola descent” with “you’re orient,” which is both ethnically and grammatically offensive, and includes the adjective “transgendered.” But even a problematic love letter to queer acceptance would have been worthwhile, at a Super Bowl Vice President Mike Pence was attending… if it had been the showstopping final number. But that honor instead went to a family-friendly “Bad Romance,” Gaga’s 2009 hit, performed by a mass of dancers wearing deconstructed football uniforms.

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.

Right before Gaga started singing “Million Reasons,” she addressed the crowd in Texas with an odd mission statement: “We’re here to make you feel good.” The singer who released the album “Art Pop” has chosen one half of that phrase over the other. Perhaps pop makes you feel good. Art chooses to say something.

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  1. that halftime was boring Madonna tribute. I seen better ..

  2. lamestreamdoc says:

    Leave it to a liberal Brown U grad who interned for a globalist politician to get a job at Variety so she can bash a celebrity when the Left’s political agenda is not pushed to her satisfaction. This is no half-time review. This is more whining from the Left. Trump is your President, Ms. Saraiya. Get over it.

  3. Jacques Strappe says:

    These Super Bowl half time shows have so many high expectations but rarely deliver something qualifying as exceptional. They always seem to at least try to pull out lots of visual bells and whistles which typically pleases at least half of the viewers . The conservative NFL doesn’t like provocative political statements from performers so the result is typically bland and average lip synching to their pop hits. Gaga’s performance was inoffensive and polished which is really all one can expect nowadays in a gigantic stadium that has to be hastily set up for the short spectacle before being quickly disassembled.

    Why do some readers feel obliged to personally attack the reviewer as incompetent when they disagree with the reviewer’s assessment? That’s the same kind of moronic and hateful behavior exhibited by Trump whenever he is criticized. Sad.

  4. ShortStuff says:

    I’m a little stunned – that was a football game dropped into the middle of a Gaga concert. It was brilliant and so well done. I am no huge Gaga fan – she’s a little to exhibitionist for my taste but that performance was shear brilliance. You are off the mark on this one.

  5. yahni says:

    Wow, I respect your right to be so far off the mark. As a 40’s male, I am hardly LG’s biggest demographic, and I don’t read Vogue. But I was wowed by this performance enough to be specifically seeking news about it the next day. And I don’t seem to be the only one. Reviewing is by nature opinion, but you should at least try to look toward the audience as a whole and not just your personal taste.
    .

  6. Lawrence Zajac says:

    I wasn’t satisfied by the performance feeling that it never gelled. I think this reviewer got it 100% correct. Gaga has chops but oddly hers seems more dated and certainly less substantial than a Bowie performance. Maybe next year will get Foo Fighters and not a cast of thousands with glo-sticks.

  7. lola says:

    I’m not even a big Gaga fan, but she was there to entertain, and she certainly delivered. I can’t fathom the unreasonable expectations of the writer. Are halftime shows supposed to be life-altering? Give Gaga her props, and stop whining about her performing her hits. What do you think people want to hear while they’re guzzling beer and guac?

  8. The best show was when liberal whacko’s discovered miss ga ga was a pro life conservative :)

  9. M.J. says:

    It’s hard to believe the writer of this article. How the hell did she ever become employed as a writer?

  10. Lawrence says:

    You just missed the point. Btw research next time you write any article.

  11. Eric says:

    I dislike that we live in a time where a “statement” has to be viewed as overtly controversial or offensive. Gaga was chosen to portray what she wishes onstage, and performing the pieces she did about LGBT rights, equality, and acceptance in a venue that is a supercharged forum of heterosexual closed-mindedness was definitely impactful. What she did was create an environment that was truly inclusive to all viewers. You clearly know where she stands without her having to deliver any gut punches, and that’s the beauty of it all. And…what??? An artist performing a medley of their hits as part of the Super Bowl halftime? How unheard of! *insert eye roll*. You’re reaching as a critic, and failing miserably.

  12. Andrew Jones says:

    It is clear that this writer does not know what they are talking about. Case in point? The album is called “ARTPOP” not “Art Pop”. Jesus. Get someone competent to write a review, because this one is not credible.

  13. Kit says:

    Disconnected performance??? The writer is a complete idiot. Lady Gaga’s performance was amazing! At least she can perform better than you can write. You probably didn’t even see the show or you must be really blind.

  14. Scott says:

    I’m not really sure what this writer was expecting. Overall, I thought it was a great superbowl show and I’m not even much of a Gaga fan. She literally started her purpose”we are here to make you feel good” and she accomplished that. Sorry it didn’t live up to whatever expectations a writer had. Because we all know that writers opinions matter more than the rest of us plebes.

  15. Mr. Mr. says:

    Thank you for seeing through the crap and telling the truth. All the YAAASSS Gaga’ing in the world wouldn’t make this more than it was: a bad drag number of yesterdays has been hits.

  16. Rudy Mario says:

    Smart move. Celebrities are harming democrats more than aiding them.

  17. I have no skin in the debate and don’t really care one way or the other, but I basically agree with the review. The whole thing felt dated and sort of boring I thought. She’s a great singer and there’s that, but the rest just looked messy, overdone, dated, and amazingly underwhelming with so much going on but nothing very memorable. If the purpose was to remind people she’s still around and help sell tour tickets, I’m sure it will be a success. Good for her.

  18. john says:

    The reviewer is obviously deaf and blind. She knows little about how performers prepare for this half-time show, even less about the quality of Gaga’s performance. Ms. Sariaya, if you are making a living as a critic, you should thank your lucky stars. Because, you aren’t a good one.

  19. lauren says:

    lady gaga was tremendous. her performance was daring and beautifully executed (she’s v brave!) her message was a good one. she didn’t grab her crotch or swear or expose her breasts – she was warm and dynamic and i loved it!

  20. Keema says:

    The writer of this article is in denial. The performance was great, Especially if you are a fan. I don’t take anyone seriously when they continue to say Beyonce performance from last year. Cold play was the head liner Beyonce was a featuring artist.

  21. Cyndra says:

    This reviewer is obtuse. Lady Gaga indeed made political statements, she just wasn’t overt about it. Among all the absurd statements made by the reviewer, I was struck by her saying that “nobody’s ever heard of “Million Reasons”.
    Try turning your radio on.
    Lady Gaga slayed. This reviewer has a problem.

  22. Jon Etnyre says:

    She chickened out. Totally was cowed into playing nice and keeping her mouth shut.

  23. Glamslinky says:

    I found this article more confusing than Gaga’s performance. Full of an opinion that sounded desperate to make the article’s deadline.

  24. Becky says:

    What is it with the writers for Variety that they just seem to have the dumbest opinions? I thought Gaga’s performance was great and way better than Beyonce’s predictable camera-up-the-crotch we always see from her. Gaga did some amazing singing and a – literally – high wire act. I commend her for not getting into politics and ruining it. Congratulations to Lady Gaga and maybe the dolts who attend the Oscars will take note of what entertainment should be.

  25. John says:

    You copied me. LOL. I wrote this last night.

    Lady Gaga’s performance was solid. Her energy was amazing. But I don’t see her evolving much from her stage shows from ten years ago when she was at the height of her career. Her choreography is pretty much the same. Some of it was lip synced making her kind of a hypocrite. She only performed one of her recent songs but the rest were all from 2011 and earlier and her first two albums, which isn’t that impressive for someone who claims to be a trendsetter. The mic drop was a repeat of Obama. Standing on the top of the stadium was a repeat of Michael Jackson’s performance at the Superbowl. Hanging from a rope was already done by Pink many times. Not saying something about our current political situation by an artist who brags a lot about being an artist is kind of weak.

  26. C says:

    I am an entertainment/pop culture critic and journalist myself, so with all do respect to your opinion, I feel that this is incredibly harsh. I have been a Gaga fan since the release of “Just Dance” in 2008 and believe that last night’s performance was as close to perfect as can be. It was a glittering example of classic, timeless Gaga; a love letter to her fans. And for many of us, “Born This Way” has served as a beacon of hope in our darkest days. Please do not attack it. Stick to TV reviews, this is a music review for art by an artist of whom you clearly have a narrow view.
    P.S. That “showstopping” Beyoncé “performance” was a mere one-song cameo, albeit thrilling, in someone else’s headlining set. That is absolutely not comparable to Gaga’s 13 minute-long, solo display of one of modern pop’s finest, smartest geniuses.

  27. How is this writer employed?! What kind of a “television” critic is this? Variety, do you have a propaganda department that the readers are not aware of? Otherwise this is an embarrassment not only to her, but mostly you.

  28. CArlMarx says:

    Bullshit article. Variety needs pro-American writers instead of trouble-makers and BS artists.

  29. A says:

    Of course Sonya Saraiya and fellow leftist media propagandists feel the uncontrollable urge to either poo-poo such a great performance.

    It’s all you media-types had to cling to, after, what was, deep down inside, to YOU, a disappointing performance because she didn’t engage in political grandstanding and Trump bashing.

    Haggerdly, classless, left wing hate mongers like Bruce Springsteen and Meryl Streep (to name but a few) should take a lesson from this performance. Entertainers are there to entertain, not proselytize.

  30. Mike says:

    The author of this article must have been asleep. That was the best performace of any Superbowl I’ve seen! Gaga has to be one of the best entertainers of oyr time..

  31. Geo says:

    Dear Reviewer please get over Hillary’s defeat. Why can’t anyone in the media just enjoy an entertainment? Lady Gaga’s performance was fun and did not attempt to tear the country apart. For that you panned her. Sad,

  32. Mark F Braun says:

    DUD? Well, dear reviewer, could YOU do any of it?

    WE thought she pulled off the biggest show ever. The inclusion of a number from “Joanne” was the new stuff: strong, sad, and powerful, and yes WE bought the album.

    This was a monumental night; the halftime was fittingly American: patriotic, a nod to her mom and dad and the 13 minutes filled to the brim. Sure as hell beats another Blues Brothers revival set…

  33. Christina Ginder says:

    Gaga was stupendous. Your critique was sour and dull.

  34. Liza says:

    Not a Gags fan, but was impressed by her class on this night. (I’m also not a Trumpist.)

    It’s not playing it safe to remember the SB is a sporting event watched by millions of people who want to relax. Refreshing change from the self-righteous hand wringing at the SAG Awards. I will always believe that the over the top statements by celebrities helped turn out Trump voters. (They certainly didn’t turn out voters for HRC.)

    If you want to get rid of Trump, hit the streets at the grassroots level and organize to get out the vote. Preaching to the choir and alienating MOR voters who might get pulled off of Trump won’t do it.

  35. Martha says:

    Sonia…you need to find a new career! Your article/review is terrible, you should be ashamed of yourself. Maybe you should have watched it again, before making soooo many wrong statements!

  36. kevin mcgrath says:

    Those who can’t, teach, and those who can’t, like you, criticize. She promoted a much larger and more important agenda than yours and you’re jealous of her platform and talents.

  37. Crazy critique. It was a wonderful halftime show from the drones to the stadium drop to “Hi Mom and Dad” ending with an epic Mic drop. It WAS fun. Gaga’s songs may not have been current but I felt totally entertained. There was no nip slip, foul language, or lewd behavior, and for that, it was an emotional release, which is much needed. On Monday, no matter how you lean, that performance can be discussed. Perfection

  38. Charles says:

    Did you watch the same show I did? Your review is horrible.

  39. Soaring says:

    I don’t agree with Variety at all, I don’t quite know what you were thinking. I won’t go into any great detail about my opinions simply because there ARE so many POSITIVE comments here with which I DO agree. First, I loved Lady Gaga’s Super Bowl performance, and want to express my admiration and appreciation. I just wanted to add my voice to that of others who have expressed their praise, and add that I was glad as many others were that she didn’t make any heavy duty political statements, but instead chose to express statements in beautiful, nuanced and moving ways. It was wonderful. Thank you, Lady Gaga!

  40. Safe Zone MSGr says:

    Maybe Gaga really wants “One nation, under God, Indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.” I don’t know. You say her performance “wasn’t as provocative as…” but it seems to have provoked the heck out of you! It’s all a matter of the color of glasses you’re wearing, isn’t it?

  41. Kirk Moll says:

    I think that I agree with some of the comments that show was solid, albeit a little disjointed, and not a grand slam; however, I was extremely impressed with some small details pertaining to Lady Gaga herself. She was not lip-synching any of her lead vocals, which was evidenced by the large amounts of breaths that were plainly heard throughout her performance in between vocal lines, and that fact she dropped out of different lines to ad lib or dance instead. I have always thought that under all of her costumes, make-up, and stage persona she was, and is, an authentic vocal talent and is technically old-school about her approach live, despite singing over primarily EDM tracks most of her career. The fact that she is not strikingly in shape or athletic, yet jumped off the roof of the stadium, twirling and twisting, then running around and dancing all over the stage for 12 of the 13 minutes while singing in key, with power, while breathing so heavily, is almost certainly not a sustained pace she is used to performing at, and was a feat in itself that many may not understand or appreciate.

    The only rest came at the ballad, in which she was struggling to regain her breath to pull off, but did so with nuance, dynamic,emotion, and incredible composure. The whole show rested on her, and her alone, which is a departure from multiple artists handing the lead back and forth in recent years. I can understand why she broke down in tears after the performance, because it’s probably one of the most challenging things she’s ever done, and probably had some doubts herself about how well she could pull it off.

    As for the political statement that so many say was never made, she’s passed her prime, she ripped-off Pink at the Grammy’s, ect., I suppose you can make a case for all of those depending on your point of view, but to me she clearly feels a responsibility as a performer as well as an artist, and respects the gig and occasion she was performing at, and what she was asked to do. I’d say my admiration has grown for her over the years, and this performance on different levels only adds to it.

      • Technos says:

        Hear! Hear! I think I was watching an entirely different halftime show than what the reviewer saw! Live Superbowl halftimes shows have always been disjointed messy garish affairs but by the same token unique. I truly think the reviewer performs a miscarriage of justice to compare the tough Superbowl venue to other so called contemporary shows. This halftime show truly managed to reach the bar of fun to watch “spectacle” which has not always been the case for some previous halfhearted halftime Superbowl shows.

        Sure she smartly used old tried and true tunes that everyone would and did recognize. And i admired her for copying Pink just a bit, especially since it required Gaga’s own unique twist of making a jump from a height equal to the Statue of Liberty to a small platform on a tower below. They say go big or go home and Lady Gaga went big in spades all the way to the mic drop and jump at the end! Let’s be honest, this review here is just wrong. Maybe the reviewer are too young to remember or understand what Superbowl halftimes shows are traditionally like..

  42. Alternative Football League says:

    Speak for yourself as this was clearly a better performance then Beyonce. This is how you do it proper and still get a message across. Not a huge fan of Gaga. But I can appreciate a great performance when I see one and this one was epic. She even caught the damn football lol. Gaga may make a fan out of me yet. :)

  43. Ser says:

    Last year’s half time show was Coldplay with an appearance by Beyoncé, and it was amazing but I wouldn’t call it showstopping compared to last night’s performance.
    Although I’m not a fan of Gaga, her show was a glorious pop moment.
    There’s no point of comparing female pop icons, and I feel she’s being harshly criticized by you only because you expected her to make a bigger political statement.

  44. gentleindifference says:

    It was a superb performance that made everyone feel good, as Gaga said – because the political references flew right over most people’s heads. The music made statements against fascism (“This Land is Your Land”) and homophobia/racism/sexism (“Born This Way”). Subtly and masterfully done.

  45. William Ledford says:

    I had tears in my eyes at the multiple, subtle, statements she made! Must everything be done with anger, and yelling, and upheaval versus just pure love and joy? Are you really that jaded and numb not to have heard god bless America, and this land is our land and the pledge of allegiance, the acknowledgment to transgender people, the multicultural cast and the warm embrace of the woman of color (was she black, Samoan, Southeast Asian, Syrian). Who cares? It was touching and beautiful. What a hack your are — it’s a football halftime show not your platform to whine.

  46. Mohammed Jazayeri says:

    Variety. Please get rid of this hack Sonia. She just continuously embarrasses your company. Sonia, clearly you have no writing talent. You disgust me.

  47. Martin Atkinson says:

    What nonsense, it was an exceptional performance.

  48. Music Biz Vet says:

    Kudos 2 reviewer Sonia for getting it perfectly right in this review. Even being a little kind for a disconnected, cold performance by the numbers from 5 yrs ago. The whole gymnastics flying routine is a total rip off of PINK’s aerial show that became famous 7 yrs ago. So this stuff is tired and cliched xcept for the fans used to genetic no-nothing pop stars who capitalize on her LGBQT almost to the point of being patronizing and manipulative (for empathy and sales). But nothing has worked for her for years now xcept the Tony Bennett duets and (ughh!) Sound of Music solo at Oscars. Two back to back complete DUD albums at radio and buzz, this show was a Hail Mary manufactured promo put to the NFL by Live Nation so they can leverage a $300 M world tour same as they did last year with the bloody awful overhyped Coldplay. It’s just all about marketing + promo and $$$, nothing else just a hollow core at the center. Why don’t they get a metal band to play like Metallica, Foos or Slayer. It’s Football dummy, stop w all the endkess parade of bimbo chick singers acting like fake activists to curry calculated favor with media and sustain a struggling career to stay in the headlines. Really sad music biz, and this dead corpse of a show us proof positive. Gaga has a good voice but she’s not committed to material just going thru the motions and she hasn’t had a smash hit or written an incredible song in five years. That’d be Bad Romance. Sorry kiddo 15 minutes is up. Keep kissing up to Rapino bc otherwise you will be like Bowie and his song We Are the Dead (Nation). No signs of Live or Life here kids. Very contrived and tired shoe Zzzzzz. You know it’s a snooze when you lower the volume and decide to take the dog out for walk before it ends. As for all the positive comments here, it’s obv that the new kids are used to junk culture and inferior music QUALITY. They’re obsessed with the recycled rehashed artist personas and microwaveable ‘thin crust’ music. Most wouldn’t know a quality song if they heard it. And that horrid Million Reasons song is so cheesy that even Barry Manilow wouldn’t cover it. She really neeeds a top producer and new manager asap. Zombie Trainwreck at SB. Gaga=CaCa and I don’t mean she’s a fav of Cali. Again, being kind bc her best days are behind her and look at Aretha! Get the pic? Even the CEO of Tiffanys resigned after that putrid show today. Huge Empty Zero.

  49. John Aspen says:

    Really Sonia? You’re gonna find something to be offended by in a half time performance by the co-founder of the Born This Way Foundation? Yeah that Lady Gaga is just way too politically incorrect. She should do something for ethnic minorities and LGBTQ community instead of just jumping off a roof and insulting everyone. What a terrible review. #GAGA=TRUMP

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