Written for my CINE 410 Stars and Performance course. This was part of a larger group “panel” presentation. The panel examined Lady Gaga’s stardom in specific topics: her star persona, her fashion, her music/performance, and finally a case study on her Super Bowl performance.
I worked with another group member on the Super Bowl section, and this was our short report on our findings.
Lady Gaga was the headline performer for the 2017 Super Bowl 51 Halftime show, and her show represents a case study of how her star persona manifests itself within her performances. As a whole, our panel wanted to analyze the notion of authenticity in regards to Lady Gaga’s stardom. Her performance in the Super Bowl raises questions of whether or not her star persona is actually authentic. In his book Stars, Richard Dyer continually mentions that stars are not real people, but are constructed through their performances and through the work of producers and studios. By analyzing the Super Bowl 51 halftime show, we determined that as a star, Lady Gaga exists somewhat outside of this norm. Her star persona is still different than the real person, but Lady Gaga is unique in that she exercises much fuller ownership over her own persona.
This ownership of her own stardom is demonstrated through the fact that Lady Gaga was the only headline performer during the halftime show. (National Football League, “Halftime Show Starring Lady Gaga”) The previous Super Bowl’s halftime show, in 2016, featured three different stars—Beyoncé, Bruno Mars, and Coldplay. (National Football League, “NFL Events – 2016 Super Bowl 50 Halftime Show”) Because that show featured three different stars, they had to share the stage, forcing them to blend their star images together. It is possible that this blending results in each individual star persona becoming less authentic, because it becomes clear to the audience that it is being influenced by the other personas. Lady Gaga in 2017, however, did not have this problem because she was the show’s only performer. Gaga had complete ownership and creative freedom, and was able to have a performance uninhibited by others. Her stardom as presented in Super Bowl 51 was more authentic.
Furthermore, this authenticity allowed Gaga to inject her own political message into her performance. Gaga has associate her star with political activity, including protesting against President Trump outside of Trump Tower in New York. (Boult) Prior to the Super Bowl, there was significant speculation of if her performance would include a political message against Trump. (Fox News; White) There was even an online petition started that attempted to remove Gaga as the halftime show’s performer in response to concerns about her political views. (Stevens) Ultimately, her performance was regarded as tame in regards to its politicization, and was viewed as a general message of inclusion. (CNN) Gaga began her performance with lines from “God Bless America” and “This Land is Your Land,” which she sang in front of a fleet of drones creating an image of an American flag. There were no direct references to political parties or actual politicians, but some still viewed her performance as a subtle criticism of the Trump administration. (Lynch) Joe Lynch, of Billboard, stated that her inclusion of the song “Born this Way” and its lyrics were a criticism of Trump’s anti-LGBTQ stance:
No matter gay, straight, or bi,
Lesbian, transgendered life,
I’m on the right track baby,
I was born to survive. (Lady Gaga)
Though it didn’t directly challenge Trump and his politics, the inclusion of the LGBTQ community in her performance nonetheless brought a political issue into her star performance. Amanda Davisson wrote that “Throughout her career as Lady Gaga, Germanotta has demonstrated a keen awareness of the way context changes communication … she finds a way to quiet the noise and be heard.” (1) The mere fact that there was much debate both before and after her performance and its political message demonstrates that by appearing authentic, stars are able to effectively communicate a political message.
Gaga’s performance in the Super Bowl 51 halftime show gave her an opportunity to perform and present her star persona to a large audience. By appearing alone, and separate from other stars, she was able to exercise significant control over her own image. This, in turn, made her star persona seem more authentic as a real person which let her then communicate her political views as part of her performance. This complex relationship of real person, star persona, and authenticity must constantly be negotiated and is a critical component of understanding the phenomenon of stardom.
Boult, Adam. “Lady Gaga Protests Outside Trump Tower.” The Telegraph 09:38. Web. 7 Mar. 2017.
CNN, Chloe Melas. “Lady Gaga Brings Message of Inclusion to Super Bowl Halftime — Oh, and Drones.” CNN. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Mar. 2017.
Davisson, Amber L. Lady Gaga and the Remaking of Celebrity Culture. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2013. Print.
Fox News. “Will Lady Gaga’s Politics Take Center Stage at the Super Bowl?” Text.Article. FoxNews.com. N.p., 1 Feb. 2017. Web. 8 Mar. 2017.
Lady Gaga. Lady Gaga – Born This Way. N.p. Film.
Lynch, Joe. “No, Lady Gaga Didn’t Burn Trump In Effigy, But Her Super Bowl Set Was Still Political.” Billboard. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Mar. 2017.
National Football League. “Halftime Show Starring Lady Gaga.” N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Mar. 2017.
—. “NFL Events – 2016 Super Bowl 50 Halftime Show.” N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Mar. 2017.
Stevens, J. “NFL: Remove Lady Gaga from the 2017 Super Bowl Halftime Show.” Change.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Mar. 2017.
White, Adam. “Lady Gaga Plots Dangerous Stunt for Super Bowl, and Will Be Allowed to Mention Donald Trump.” The Telegraph 10:25. Web. 6 Mar. 2017.