Super Bowl LI was full of firsts. Tom Brady became the first quarterback in NFL history to win five championship rings. Bill Bellichick became the Super Bowl head coach of all time. It was even the first game that went into overtime. But for those trans viewers watching with anticipation as Lady Gaga kicked off her halftime performance atop Houston’s NRG stadium, they were pleasantly surprised with another historic first. This was the first time anyone had mentioned the trans community at an NFL game—let alone, the most watched television event of the year.
Let’s rewind a bit.
Gaga has faced a brunt of criticism for not being overtly political during this performance. She was a vocal critic of Donald Trump and even protested outside of Trump Tower the night of the election. Fans of her biggest stunts (i.e. the meat dress) were expecting something shocking. On the surface, they were rightfully disappointed.
Ms. Germanotta started the 12-minute show with a medley of American classics and a drone light show for the ages. She then took a suspended wire dive down to the stage where she ripped through a slew of her biggest pop jams. One of those was “Born This Way”, an LGBTQ anthem about acceptance and tolerance.
Each song was cut short, trimmed to highlight the most memorable parts. “Born This Way” was edited down, but included the very specific bridge in which she highlights all the country’s disenfranchised people.
“No matter gay, straight, or bi, lesbian, transgender life, I’m on the right track. Baby I was born to survive,” she sang triumphantly.
People expected her to burn a photo of Donald Trump or debut some extreme new political song as a means of protest. When that didn’t happen, they immediately took to social media to criticize the performance as a missed opportunity. But as anyone who’s witnessed the Joanne era has noticed, Mother Monster is adopting a policy of subtlety.
She may not have clobbered America over the head with an aggressive message. But she did sing a song about acceptance before an audience of 111 million people. She did sing about the transgender community in front of 111 million people.
We want recognition and visibility. It doesn’t get more visible than the most watched television event of the entire year. There won’t be another chance for us to get this kind of mainstream exposure the rest of the year.
So yes, Gaga didn’t hammer home an anti-Trump message. She understood her responsibility to bring the country together during one of its greatest pastimes. She didn’t squander that opportunity. But she also realized her role and responsibility in representing her fan base—the outsiders who have embraced her from the very beginning.
Even in this current incarnation of Gaga with pink wide-brimmed hats, piano, guitar and Springsteen-era arena rock, she hasn’t forgotten about the seedy New York clubs she started in. She hasn’t forgotten to bring us all along for the ride.
We can’t overlook what she has done. That halftime show was truly historic.