In a lot of ways, Lady Gaga has been the victim of a compressed career arc. Her first single went to No. 1 in 2009; within a year she was the biggest pop star in the world, within two years she was already struggling through her Difficult Second LP, and within four years her popularity was markedly on the wane. And so in 2016, when Gaga was announced as the halftime headliner for Super Bowl LI, it felt almost like a throwback choice, even coming in the midst of the promo campaign for her much-hyped fourth album Joanne -- particularly after that album was released to respectable sales but mixed reviews, and its singles stalled early and often on the charts.
So when Stefani Germanotta took the stage at halftime of the Falcons-Patriots showdown on Sunday night (Feb. 5), it was worth wondering what she would use the performance for: as an aggregation of past accomplishments, or an argument for contemporary relevance? It didn't take long for Gaga's answer: Dressed in her Gaga Stardust makeup and wardrobe, she kicked off her set in earnest with early classic "Poker Face," and ran through "Born This Way," "Telephone" and "Just Dance" from there. There were aerials, there were keytars, there were a whole lot of angular gesticulations and dance routines with slightly alien choreography. It was Gaga through and through, and every song felt more gratifying than the last; storming hi-NRG anthems of NRG Stadium size, reminding you why Gaga's pop supremacy was so inarguable not all that long ago.