With the nation on edge politically, the NFL had little taste for a show that would ruffle feathers, as Beyonce did in some circles last year with the Black Power messaging of “Formation.” Gaga was patriotic from the start, opening with snippets of “God Bless America” and “This Land is Your Land” with red and blue lights twinkling above her, before guide wires delivered her to the stage below.
Gaga included her hit “Born This Way,” which became a gay rights anthem, but that fit into a theme of accepting differences that was a thread through much of the game’s commercial messaging.
Her most notable ad-lib? Saying hi to mom and dad.
Once onstage, she commanded a large troupe of dancers and musicians, props that breathed fire and audience members swinging lights in synchronization — the usual excess that has become a cliche of Super Bowl shows.
Unlike some predecessors, who often brought in several guest stars to bolster their acts, Gaga handled it herself. A billed guest shot by Tony Bennett, a frequent duet partner, didn’t take place — although he made a brief appearance in a commercial.
With that pressure, Gaga acquitted herself quite well. Hits like “Poker Face” and “Just Dance” came off well, but her best performance came in her least-known song: “Million Reasons,” where she sat at the piano and explored a new style that has advanced beyond the dance pop of her youth.
The finale “Bad Romance” was a crowd pleaser. Gaga, who had spent much of the evening in a metallic space suit, emerged in her third outfit of the performance, a midriff baring costume topped off by football-like shoulder pads.
The halftime show is so attention-getting for an artist that Las Vegas even set odds on what color Gaga’s hair would be. Those who bet blonde took home some money.
Before the game, singers Phillipa Soo, Renee Elise Goldsberry and Jasmine Cephas Jones — the Schuyler sisters from the original cast of Broadway’s hit “Hamilton” — brought some exquisite three-part harmony to a version of “America the Beautiful.” They made an inclusive editing choice, with Jones adding “and sisterhood” to the lyrical reference of brotherhood.
Fox’s own editing choice added a downer to a nice moment, cutting to a camera shot of New England’s scowling coach Bill Belichick as the song ended.
Country star Luke Bryan played it straight for “The Star Spangled Banner,” adding few showy flourishes while taking care not to rush through the moment.