Lady Gaga’s Subtle Protest

Harling Ross | February 6, 2017

And Kristen Stewart’s bluntness

HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 05: Musician Lady Gaga performs onstage during the Pepsi Zero Sugar Super Bowl LI Halftime Show at NRG Stadium on February 5, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images)

Another weekend, another 48 hours of Donald J. Trump’s presidency, another batch of high-profile celebrity protests that lit the internet’s underwear on fire. I’m talking about Saturday Night Live and the Super Bowl, where Kristen Stewart and Lady Gaga, as host and halftime entertainment respectively, took decidedly different approaches.

On Saturday, Stewart delivered a monologue in front of approximately 10.6 million SNL viewers. Grinning, she cut right to the chase:

“I’m a little nervous to be hosting because I know that the president’s probably watching, and I don’t think he likes me that much. Here’s how I know. Four years ago, I was dating this guy named Rob — Robert (Pattinson) — and we broke up and then we got back together and for some reason it made Donald Trump go insane. Here’s what he actually tweeted — and this is real:”

The President of the United States or the back pages of Us Weekly? You decide!

She went to say that not only did President Trump tweet about her relationship — he tweeted about it 11 times. (That’s 11 more than no times, FYI.) “The president is not a huge fan of me,” Stewart continued, “but that is so okay, and Donald, if you didn’t like me then, you’re really probably not going to like me now, ’cause I’m hosting SNL and I’m, like, so gay, dude.”

Right for the jugular. In less than four minutes, Stewart managed to skewer Trump for his juvenile Twitter persona and his lack of support for the LGBTQ community.

A day later, Lady Gaga kicked off her halftime show at the Super Bowl (viewership estimate: 116 million). At a press conference earlier in the week, Gaga answered questions about whether or not she would address the political climate:

“The only statements that I’ll be making during the halftime show are the ones that I have been consistently making throughout my career,” Gaga said. “I believe in a passion for inclusion….Music is one of the most powerful things the world has to offer. No matter what race or religion or nationality or sexual orientation or gender that you are, it has the power to unite us.”

Cut to Sunday night. Dressed like a human disco ball with ~lite~ football padding, Gaga began her performance with a rendition of “God Bless America,” a song that happens to have been written by a Jewish Russian immigrant in 1918 — and boycotted by the Ku Klux Klan in 1940 for this very reason.

She followed with a snippet from “This Land is Your Land,” a song that originally included these lyrics:

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me.
The sign was painted, said ‘Private Property.’
But on the backside, it didn’t say nothing.
This land was made for you and me.

An immigrant…the Ku Klux Klan…a “big high wall”…any of this sounding familiar?

Gaga also sang a rousing rendition of “Born This Way.” The lyrics are radical compared to what we typically hear at the Super Bowl:

No matter gay, straight or bi,
Lesbian, transgendered life,
I’m on the right track baby,
I was born to survive.

Given her pointed remarks about inclusivity before the show, it is unlikely that any part of this was accidental. Even singing the word “transgendered” into a microphone at the Super Bowl feels groundbreaking. But was it enough? Lady Gaga didn’t make an outright political statement — she didn’t even utter Trump’s name — but her art itself has always been in some way a protest.

Celebrities are practically implored to take a public stand these days in light of our current political climate. I wonder: Which is more compelling for you? Stewart’s blunt criticism and mockery or Gaga’s subtler protest-through-art route? Let’s chew on this breakfast burrito together. Meet me in the comments. I’ll bring the hot sauce.

Photo via Getty Images. 

  • Mackenzie

    I think Gaga’s subtle protest was classy and on-brand. I think she made the right decision as she has been an advocate against Trump and for marginalized communities for the entirety of her career. Gaga being the halftime act in the first place would have been considered taboo in her earlier career, and now she’s got a whole new lot of little monsters!

  • Holly Laine Mascaro

    I definitely like that it was subtle and that she pointed out it’s consistent with her career – I think it is kind of funny, though, that a lot of Facebook comments online from people leaning towards the right are them saying “So happy she left politics out of it and stuck to her role as a performer!” So I do think the subtlety went over the heads of those it should probably be reaching. But still, personally it was nice to see her use the tools she is expert at utilizing to get her message across in a way that didn’t automatically make those who disagree stop listening to her.

  • tcar

    I’m a big fan of both ladies and I appreciate having different women take this issue on from different angles. I think that will be a strength of this time, seeing the many different ways people protest, offer messages of hope, and inspire us to keep on trekking through. K Stew’s snarkiness was cathartic in a different way (because we need people to shut down the bullshit) than Gaga’s full-out production and message of inclusion (I mean, that girl gives a zillion percent always, which has me in awe every time). I think we need both when it feels like the world is against us.

  • Emma

    not a real protest if its so subversive only the people who already agree catch it

    • Harling Ross

      I see your point–my hope is that her subversive protest and message of inclusion and diversity will at least have an unconscious impact. An anti-Trumped up trickle down effect (hehe)

      • Emma

        (lol at the trumped up trickle down)
        shouldn’t the past 8 years have had an unconscious impact? given where we currently are, i don’t know that they did. obama’s presidency meant something to the young black child just like hillary’s nomination meant something to the young girl, but it didnt change the minds that needed changing, it only confirmed some type of prejudiced assumption of affirmative action.
        i’m not so sure vague celebrations of diversity are going to change anything…but maybe im just being cynical. i think we should favor blatancy over subtlety in the coming years. if it pisses somebody off, if it makes somebody uncomfortable, then it’s good and its probably working

  • Brie

    I think we need both. We need the people like Kristen Stewart calling out Trump and his exclusionary policies, and we need people like Gaga calling people into the conversation and encouraging recognition and support of our common humanity.

    Also, the fact that we are considering Lady Gaga “subtle” now is actually a huge deal. Her message, even just 8 years ago, was groundbreaking and quite polarizing. Now, she can perform the same songs at the Super Bowl, and we can applaud her for her lack of overt political messaging. That’s progress. She helped to shift the national dialogue on LGBTQI+ issues.

    • Harling Ross

      Great, great points

  • Fran

    I think both ways are good, and suited to the audiences where they were delivered.

  • Jamie Leland

    Fun fact: Woody Guthrie was once a tenant of Donald Trump’s dad, Fred. He complained that “Old Man Trump” drew color lines with discriminatory housing practices and he even wrote a couple of verses about him.

    https://theconversation.com/woody-guthrie-old-man-trump-and-a-real-estate-empires-racist-foundations-53026

  • I think both statements were appropriate for the arena. I don’t live in America so I can’t comment on the political atmosphere, but ultimately Lady Gaga was dedicated to giving her best performance – and she did that. I don’t think the Superbowl Half Time show would be the right forum to air grievances in the way that Kristen Steward did and I would imagine it would unfairly dominate what is, ultimately, a sporting event.

  • Miranda Renée Horton

    Both have their place but an artist uses art to say important things so it is fitting that she did it that way. For an artist, art is their statement of truth.