Pop fans and gambling sharps alike can make prop bets on Lady Gaga’s Super Bowl LI halftime show (current odds that the singer will rock pink hair: 10 to 1). But what is actually going down at NRG Stadium in Houston on Sunday (Feb. 5)? Specifics are under lock and key, but some conclusions can be drawn about the guest star appearances, set list, visual effects and, most intriguingly, the political activism.
On Thursday (Feb. 2), Gaga’s pre-halftime press conference from Houston addressed the issue, with the pop superstar being asked if she would use the biggest stage in the world to try and unify America less than three weeks after Donald Trump’s inauguration. “Well, I don’t know if I will succeed in unifying America,” she responded. “You’ll have to ask America when it’s over. But the only statements that I’ll be making during the halftime show are the ones that I’ve been consistently making throughout my career. … I believe in a passion for inclusion. I believe in the spirit of equality, and the spirit of this country as one of love and compassion and kindness. So my performance will have both those philosophies.”
Based on that answer, it doesn’t sound like Gaga — who tweeted that Trump “empowered racist intolerant Americans” to get elected — is going to be explicitly taking shots at the president on Sunday night. But could she even do so if she wanted to? How much does the NFL safeguard against potential controversy?
“We have no discussions about her or with her that have to do with the election, or the president,” Mark Quenzel, NFL senior VP of programming and production, tells Billboard. “What we say to every artist, very clearly, and they all buy in: the Super Bowl halftime is the biggest musical event of the year, and it’s also a communal event for fans, the Super Bowl itself. People get together as families, as friends. It’s a unifying day for people built around the biggest sporting event in the world.
“The performance should reflect that,” Quenzel continues. “The performance should reflect a celebration, and it should reflect what it’s intended to be, which is a great musical performance in the middle of a great game. Anything that detracts from that is not something that we should be focusing on.”
Quenzel — whose role in the halftime show is “to make sure everything runs smoothly, that the communication between the NFL and Lady Gaga goes well” — says that, for her part, Gaga has been totally agreeable to the NFL’s approach. “Lady Gaga has said any number of times to us: when it’s all said and done, she wants to remembered for her performance, not something she said or did,” he says. “We’re all citizens of the world here, and we’re all going to have opinions on things, and we’re okay with that. At the end of the day, we leave it to the good judgment of the artist. Be a person, have an opinion, just be smart about it. And by the way, they all are.”
It’s also worth remembering, Quenzel concludes, that performing at the Super Bowl is an opportunity that most artists can only dream of. “At the end of the day, most of the artists will tell you, it’s a bucket list item,” he says, “and they know it’s going to be part of the way they are remembered going forward. They’re all very cognizant of making sure that whatever legacy they have is a musical one.”