By Bryan Scott Dugan | Feb. 6, 2017
In the days leading up to the Super Bowl, I had my doubts. We knew Lady Gaga was planning a halftime show that reflected her entire nine-year career, but I was worried we were going to get a Joanne era concert with a few “Bad Romance”/“The Edge of Glory” interludes sprinkled between “John Wayne” and “Dancin’ in Circles.”
That didn’t happen. No $680 pink hats. And no cut-off Daisy Dukes.
When the camera zoomed in on its halftime performer standing on the roof of the NRG Stadium in Houston, Stefani Germanotta belted out a bit of “God Bless America” and (literally) jumped back into the world of surrealism.
When “ARTPOP” (which got no love during the best 13 minutes of my life) failed to have as much of a cultural impact as Gaga’s previous albums, it was like she gave up on the weird Gaga everyone had come to expect. Like she was punishing the masses for not fully embracing “Do What U Want” and “G.U.Y.”
Basically, I was nervous as hell she was going to walk onto the field and sing a 13-minute medley of the worst she had to offer.
Gaga did everything but.
Instead, and taking an aerial performance note from P!nk, Gaga leaped from the roof and gave us everything we could’ve hoped for.
From the two seconds of “The Edge of Glory” through “Million Reasons” and the “Bad Romance” finale, my insides felt electric. Aside from some cherished memories of times with my family, late nights with my best friends and meeting my boyfriend, I’ve never felt that way before. And maybe it’s because Gaga really hasn’t delivered a gag-worthy performance in a few years. (Don’t give me that side-eye, “A-YO” fans.) After the Born This Way era and that flying dress during the ARTPOP Rave, weird Gaga went dormant, and so began a Gaga drought. Ever since I woke up one morning in 2008 to hear “Just Dance” pulsing through the walls of my university residence hall, I lived in a fairyland where “muh muh muh muh” was ubiquitous and every person (gay or straight) could recite that single line of French from “Bad Romance.” Gaga wasn’t just a pop princess like the perpetual state Britney had found herself in — Gaga was our queen.
But at some point, the fairyland fell apart and Gaga’s outlandish costumes and wigs were pushed to the back of her closet. And that’s why I didn’t expect what we got Sunday night.
Even though Gaga included “Dance in the Dark” (a stan favorite but never an official single) during that tiny interlude, I was still a little skeptical, but when she launched into “Poker Face,” I knew she was back.
Through the entire “Born This Way” performance (and knowing that Gov. Mike Pence was somewhere in the stadium), I was literally shook. Gaga had transported me back to my junior year, when I would drive around Norman, Oklahoma, in my yellow Mustang with her queer anthem on blast — just loud enough to strike fear into the hearts of every social conservative within earshot.
When “Telephone” began (and every gay in America scoured the stage for any sign of Sasha Fierce), I began to tremble. It was official: I was deceased, and our queen had come back from battle with her inner saboteur and was settling into her long-vacant throne. And then a back-up dancer handed Gaga her most quintessential prop: the disco stick.
Over Gaga’s many eras, the disco stick has taken many forms, but never have we been privy to a star-capped disco stick (which also seemed a call-back to the Born This Way halcyon days). There was never an ARTPOP disco stick and, so far, we’ve yet to see one from Joanne. But here’s hoping Gaga saw our collective Twitter-gasm over the revival of her iconic disco stick and invents one for the dive bar experience when she goes on tour later this year.
Even though she pleaded with us, Gaga, we’ll never stop telephoning you.
On full display throughout the halftime show was Gaga’s past with producer RedOne, the mastermind behind “Just Dance,” “Poker Face” and “Bad Romance.” Though Gaga did work with RedOne (slightly) on “Joanne,” his signature sound has been missing from Gaga’s latest radio-single efforts. My takeaway: When most of your hits come with the help of one producer, maybe you should explore making more music with that person.
Speaking of RedOne, his single contribution to “ARTPOP” — the never-promoted nonsingle “Gypsy” — was noticeably missing from Sunday’s show. An uplifting electropop ballad about traveling the world would’ve been the perfect ending to Gaga’s night; instead, she ended her nearly flawless performance with arguably her biggest hit: “Bad Romance.”
Yes, it was a solid finale, but it lacked the finesse that Beyoncé and Katy Perry brought to the stage when they closed out their respective halftime shows with “Halo” and “Firework.” Queen Bey and Katy worked us up. They got us on our feet. They got us sweaty. And then they slowed it down. They gave us time to feel our feelings. They let us see a vulnerable side. All the hype created with “Single Ladies” and the Missy Elliott dance break mellowed out, and the air thinned. With their finales, we were one as they climaxed to their final notes.
Gaga didn’t do that. Sure, we came to a halt with “Million Reasons” (which I wish she would stop trying to push on us), but she stepped onto a train traveling at 200 mph, forced her way through “Bad Romance” with a ferocity that only comes with performing that choreography thousands of times over many years and then (again, literally) jumped off the stage.
Her performance was beautiful — the classic, original choreography was everything — but it just didn’t feel like an ending. It felt cut short, where three minutes more would’ve given us the ending with “The Edge of Glory” or “Gypsy” our souls were craving.
Regardless, you made gays across America proud, Gaga.
We support completely the meaning behind “Joanne” and your artistic journey, but please don’t go back to hiding under your pink cowgirl hat. Right now, more than ever, we need you to throw on your best vintage Alexander McQueen and strut, mama, strut. We need you to be the freak who once considered permanently adorning her face with “monster” prosthetics.
Please. Show us the way.