More Super Bowl viewers will likely remember the Lady Gaga halftime concert for “rocking the house” than “rocking the boat.”
Fate had already sealed comparisons between Beyonce’s controversial, Black-Panther-themed performance during last year’s Super Bowl halftime show and this year’s follow-up, featuring Lady Gaga.
Last year, striding out onto an expansive field wearing black berets, black boots and spunk to the tune of her song “Formation,” Beyonce and company paid homage to the 50th anniversary of the Black Panthers, slayed Super Bowl 50 and continued a longstanding dialogue about the role of celebrities in political activism.
Gaga, on the other hand, focused more on the spectacle that shows in this space are known for than the message, which seems to have suited many of her hardcore fans and casual listeners just fine, who believe that an unbreakable line demarcation exists between entertainment and politics.
There have been gestures, seen here and here, to directly spell out the activist impulse beneath the mass of bright lights and suspension cords, but more viewers will likely remember Gaga’s halftime concert for “rocking the house” than “rocking the boat.”
Those who do take stock of her politics congratulate her for, at least, successfully effecting what they elected to be the right blend of politics and music.
Firstly, let’s be clear, for those who don’t know, or may have forgotten:
All art is political. There’s simply no getting around it.
But it’s not just art.
In a previous piece, concerning a (white) feminist dating a Trump supporter, I made mention of the adage “the personal is political.” But, as a matter of fact, everything is political. However, if you think the entertainment industry is immune from the goings-on of the political arena, I have five words for you: The Birth of A Nation.
Whether an artist desires to make a political statement, he or she does. Since this is the incontestable case, why not own it, make it loud and craft it as you see fit? Or at the very least, appreciate all the variations, overt and covert, of aesthetically-packaged politicking?
That much you may be able to agree with. But here’s a second point: Entertainers and creators of color have never been afforded the breathing room or constitutional protections to prioritize a subtle form of expressing political opinions.
In a nation born from the direct subjugation of black bodies and ruled by elite white political authorities unwilling to listen to the loud pleas of disenfranchised black communities, the majority of black entertainers have always opted for — or were left with no other recourse but to make — forthright political statements, incorporate protest in their art. The dire circumstances of their low-income, black, working-class counterparts added to the necessity. It still does.
Anti-blackness was etched into the fabric of this nation since the first Americans of African descent and indentured servants stepped onto these shores, literally. Slavery, black codes, segregation, Jim Crow, ghettoization, mass criminalization and incarceration — all of these have been so many direct forms of punishing people who were born black. Naturally, a people dealing with such undisguised hatred and disgust would be compelled at some point to wear their political leanings on their sleeves.
I am not discounting subtlety as a creative choice. It invites deconstruction and hard thinking. But what has been disappointing to read are commentaries that preference Lady Gaga’s approach over Beyonce’s, that tout her handling of political matters as the appropriate way to do these sorts of things — even in the face of an unmerciful and uncompromising showdown between the extremely far-right governmental body we currently live in and the American people.
And the very people who believe this would rather ignore the truth: that the reason Lady Gaga can embed inconspicuous political messages into her art is because she’s white.
Knowingly or unconsciously tapping into white identity in America has almost always meant accessing automatic political recognition. Think back to the British white settlers who petitioned colonial courts because they understood that, as white colonists, they were guaranteed rights befitting their lofty status as citizens of the Crown.
Contrast this with a tough truth of the black experience in America — of being under constant duress to prove your worthiness for citizenship. This hasn’t stopped — as the perpetuation of ghettos, mass incarceration, education inequity and health disparities prove every day.
And now that we’ve inaugurated the Trump administration to “make America great again,” an administration of WASPs who do not prioritize subtlety in its communications with “The Blacks,” we should — nay, must — interrogate the motives of anyone — celebrity or not — who opts to simply keep their politics a tightly kept secret.