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Super Bowl LI: Lady Gaga, Ads Nod to America's Political Divide

The polarized political climate cast a shadow over the game, reflected in expensive ads and, to a lesser extent, the halftime show.
Image: Lady Gaga drops from the roof of the NRG Stadium in Houston.
Lady Gaga gives her high-octane halftime performance.Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images
Image: Lady Gaga drops from the roof of the NRG Stadium in Houston.
Lady Gaga drops from the roof of the NRG Stadium in Houston.Bob Levey / Getty Images

Lady Gaga plunged into America’s polarized politics during Sunday night’s historic Super Bowl LI, delivering a high-octane halftime performance that was almost as big as the game itself.

Expectations were high that the Clinton-supporting pop star would use the moment to spotlight women's rights or President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration.

But she played it relatively safe, pouring her energy instead into a rousing, acrobatic display that began with a rooftop rendition of "God Bless America" against a Stars and Stripes made of illuminated drones and continued with a dizzying drop to the field, suspended by a pair of cables.

"We're here to make you feel good," she told the audience.

Hillary Clinton clearly liked what she saw, tweeting: "I'm one of 100 million #SuperBowl fans that just went #Gaga for the Lady, & her message to all of us."

Gaga was a prominent Clinton supporter during the presidential campaign.

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Later, during a medley of her chart-topping hits, Gaga sang "Born This Way," which celebrates the LGBTQ community and people of different backgrounds whether they are "white, black or beige."

The singer signed off with a mic drop — a possible nod to President Obama's GIF-worthy final White House correspondents' dinner — before catching a football and jumping onto the field.

Otherwise, she stuck to making music, as opposed to generating headlines. But the historic overtime game — which at halftime seemed to be in the bag for the Atlanta Falcons — was already making political news.

Trump's taped interview with Fox News' Bill O'Reilly, part of which aired before kick-off, was generating debate because of a back-and-forth over Russian President Vladimir Putin and Trump's assertion that America's government has its fair share of "killers."

The president's close personal relationship with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, and his apparent support from team coach, Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady, all contributed to a politically-charged atmosphere at this year's Super Bowl— even after last year's homage to the Black Panthers generated a significant backlash for Beyonce.

Recently-punched alt-right white supremacist Richard Spencer tweeted that he was rooting for the Patriots because they were "consistently NFL's whitest team."

Meanwhile, a handful of topical Super Bowl ads earned supporters and detractors, including a commercial for Budweiser that emphasized the immigrant story of Anheuser-Busch's founder, and an Airbnb ad with the tagline "#weaccept" that earned kudos from former Secretary of State John Kerry.

A commercial for Audi made a plea for pay equity while another, for "It's a 10" hair care products, swiped at Trump's infamous coiffure but didn't take on the president's policies.

An NFL Super Bowl promotion made a plea for unity.

"Inside these lines, we may have our differences, but recognize there's more that unites us," Forest Whitaker said in a voiceover.

In the lead-up to the game, Gaga and the National Football League dismissed rumors that the league had urged her to keep her performance apolitical.

"They've been super supportive. They have been there every day at the rehearsal space with us and cheering we on while I rehearse," she told a Boston radio station last week.

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It also appears that the program's producers were cognizant of the red state, blue state tension many Americans are feeling. They began the broadcast with a call for unity from African-American Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles and civil rights icon Harry Belafonte, before a patriotic short film set to Johnny Cash's "Ragged Old Flag" featuring former NFL player and veteran Nate Boyer.

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And there was an undeniable display of bipartisan unity when former President George H.W. Bush and former first lady Barbara Bush, both of whom have overcome recent health scares, went to midfield to help in the coin toss to kick off the game. The two got a rapturous standing ovation for their surprise appearance.