Lady Gaga affirmed Sunday night what the NFL had figured out several years ago: The Super Bowl halftime show requires a performance more dynamic than a rock band playing a medley of hits.
Her 13-minute set at NRG Stadium in Houston on Sunday night was rife with visual extravagance, the kind of lavish, garish pageantry that has been the norm over the past several performances by Beyoncé, Katy Perry, Madonna and Bruno Mars. But anyone expecting or hoping for controversy, political or otherwise, probably was disappointed.
She opened her Super Bowl LI performance from atop the stadium, singing verses from “God Bless America” and Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” a revered folk anthem with immigration themes, her only nod to the political landscape. She then recited the Pledge of Allegiance, before diving off the roof and gliding onto the stage.
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Her set was a greatest-hits medley: “Poker Face,” “You and I,” “Telephone,” “Just Dance,” “Million Reasons” and “Bad Romance.” She also sang “Born This Way,” an overt nod to the LGBT crowd of whom she has been a vocal supporter. After changing into a costume that resembled shoulder pads and a football jersey, she closed with “Bad Romance,” one of her many blockbuster hits.
She was surrounded by a tide of visual energy: lights, drones, flashpots, fireworks and other stimuli. Throughout the brief set, when she wasn’t joining her small legion of dancers in acrobatic choreography, she played the keytar (“Just Dance”) and the piano (“Million Reasons”).
In a pregame segment, Gaga told a reporter she considered the Super Bowl halftime show a “mecca” of entertainment destinations, one that can boost or ignite a career. Her bristling performance in Houston did at least that.