Every year, millions of Americans gather around the television to watch the Super Bowl — whether you’re a football fanatic or not, watching the event has become almost a national tradition. On Feb. 5, the 51st Super Bowl was both a riveting, historic win for the Patriots and a political platform.
Lady Gaga gave her debut halftime show on Sunday, adding her name to the prestigious list of Super Bowl performers including Beyonce, Coldplay and Prince. Standing at the top of the stadium, Gaga started off with a medley of “God Bless America” and “This Land is Your Land.” Hundreds of glittering drones lit up the sky in synchronization to the lyrics. When she sang “this land was made for you and me,” the red and blue drones symbolically intertwined with each other. She completed her introduction by reciting the ending of the Pledge of Allegiance as the drones created the image of the American flag.
Although the rest of the show was not as overtly political, aspects of the performance carried subtle messages. Her high-energy choreography and glitzy costumes adhered to her flamboyant personality and attracted 120.7 million viewers, second only to Katy Perry’s halftime show.
Lady Gaga was a Hillary Clinton supporter in the 2016 election, speaking and performing at rallies. Her sustained involvement with the Clinton campaign led many to expect a political edge to her halftime show. Rather than making any obvious statements, Gaga’s songs themselves presented a message of inclusion. Her famous song “Born This Way” features lyrics empowering minorities ranging from people of color to members of the LGBTQ community. Her selection of background dancers also presented an image of diversity, with an equal casting of women and men of various races.
Apart from a few hints here and there, Lady Gaga’s halftime performance was overall more a testament to her showmanship than to her political stance. The Super Bowl performance also gave Lady Gaga a 1000 percent boost in her sales after more than 100 million viewers tuned in to watch; soon after, she made an announcement for her first world tour in 4 years contrasted strongly with another significant feature of the Super Bowl: the commercials valued at a record-level $5 million per 30 seconds.
The advertisements for this year’s Super Bowl had a clear, overarching theme of inclusion and diversity. Unlike the halftime show, some of the commercials voiced political statements that inspired controversy among conservative viewers. In particular, It’s a 10 Haircare and 84 Lumber made direct references to the Trump administration. It’s a 10 made a light-hearted dig at Trump’s infamous coiffure, calling it “four years of terrible hair.” 84 Lumber, however, was much more direct, airing a 90 second commercial showing a Mexican mother and daughter blocked from entering the country by a wall. Fox News and the NFL reserved the right to screen all commercials, and after deeming its content too controversial, rejected its full version from airing that night. Viewers therefore saw an abridged version and resorted to watching the rest online.
Among the big-name companies, Budweiser, Coca-Cola, Google and Audi presented stories of immigration, feminism and a culturally diverse America. Airbnb made a splash with its hashtag “#weaccept” in direct opposition to the recent ban on immigration. They released a statement expressing their commitment to aiding refugees with subsidized housing.
After Trump passed his executive order to ban immigrants from seven Muslim-dominant countries, companies have been wary of their political involvement. After Travis Kalanick, CEO of Uber, was discovered to have been on Trump’s economic advisory council, the company lost over 200,000 customers. On Wellesley’s campus, hundreds of students and alumnae moved to protest the company by deleting their accounts in criticism of his affiliation with the administration. The 2017 Super Bowl was an opportunity for large companies to advertise their services and products, and also to air their statements to the world despite disapproval from either side and a potential loss of business.