The Messy Racial Politics of the Super Bowl Halftime Show

Before it had been declared last September the Jennifer Lopez and Shakira could headline the 2020 Super Bowl halftime show, the performance was steeped in controversy. The commotion started a month before, when rapper Jay-Z revealed that he was partnering with the NFL to help manage the Celtics ’s music events as well as its own new social justice campaigns. Jay-Z’s choice to work together with the NFL was not completely unexpected –after allhe’s told us he’s a business, man–but it had been bothering yet. Mogul or never, he had been abetting the NFL in its campaign to distract from your blackballing of Colin Kaepernick, the former 49ers quarterback that had been exiled from the league following kneeling throughout the national anthem in protest of police brutality against Black folks.

What made the venture that much more upsetting is that Jay-Z had once been a vocal supporter of Kaepernick’s, rapping, “I said no more to this Super Bowl / you need me, I don’t need you / Every night we at the end zone / tell the NFL we at stadiums too” on his 2018 banger “Apeshit. ” Fast forward to August 2019 along with his tune had suddenly changed into “we’ve moved past kneeling. ” 

Input Jennifer Lopez and Shakira, two non-Black Latina icons that jumped at the opportunity to perform at what would end up being the most Latinx Super Bowl ever. And while booking two Latina icons to headline the halftime show at the age of Trump may have felt as a win for Latinx representation, their performance more complicated an already contentious situation. Some believed the JLo and Shakira’so choice to do for an anti-Black organization–prominent Black artists such as Rihanna and Cardi B had publicly and righteously spurned–was a snub to Black men and women, specifically to Afro-Latinx folks. Others believed that NFL overlords were using Latinx artists and by extension Latinx individuals to rehabilitate the image, a way of stating, “See, we’re not racist. We adore Brown folks. ”

The series was politicized before a single bar of music had sounded in Hard Rock Stadium. And then on Sundaywe watched kids in cages singing “Let’s Get Loud” and “Born in the USA,” an American flag that turned into a Puerto Rican one, along with a roster of non-Black Latinx artists dancing into historically Black audio. The performance was billed in every way, along many diverse dimensions. To get a Feeling of stuff, I convened a panel of three Mother Jones colleagues: Fernanda Echavarri, Edwin Rios, along with Camille Squires. We ran our conversation over Slack. An edited transcript is below.

Edwin Rios: A couple of big questions concerning this calendar year ’s halftime performance: Was that which Jennifer Lopez and Shakira were attempting to pull too subtle to get a national audience? Or was it the opposite–a little on the nose for the interest of being on a stage? Was it pandering and being awakened to the interest of being awakened, for the NFL’therefore benefit, or has been their effort to send a strong message using a worldwide stage, a nod to both Puerto Rico, along with a crisis at the border affecting children?

Justin Agrelo: As a huge JLo lover, I feel conflicted about the entire thing overall. But shortly after Shakira opened using a Hola Miami! ” I had a minute of such as, “Wow, the very first words at this year’s Super Bowl, the largest stage on Earth, have been in Spanish and they even ’re being spoken by a Latina. ”

Latinx representation is so abysmal outside of our tragedies whom I think Latinxs are often just like, “We’ll take that which we could get,” and maintain these moments of uplifting representation close to us since we aren’t accustomed to seeing ourselves such as that with this scale. But I also understand that mindset is messy because it frequently erases Black and Indigenous Latinxs and upholds white supremacy within Latinidad. Perhaps the pub is in hell that just a very simple “rdquo & hola; made me feel this happy. 

Fernanda Echavarri: I agree 100 percent about the sensation of pleasure and pride seeing this. I watched alongside one of my best friends who is not Latina but also a huge fan of Shakira and JLo, like I am. There is a feeling of “we are, look at us, and listen to us” at a sports pub filled with white individuals.

I’m coming from a Latinx standpoint and understand the criticism of their participation in an NFL event. These last 3 years have felt particularly contentious and frightening for a great deal of Latinos in the US, therefore for me personally, this is the ideal time to have this halftime show rather of a Maroon 5 or more Carrie Underwood action. And, yes, the bar is so low that we’ll.

ER: What I kept thinking during the performance was how refreshing it was to see Latina icons on stage nail that a Super Bowl halftime show in the heart of Miami. There were seconds of pandering and virality, but it felt far more Latinx-centric than patriotic (see the Lady Gaga halftime series , which will be incredible and theatrical set in its own right, however it begins with a strictly American song).

I watched at a Black queer friend’s house party with a hodgepodge of some couple of other Black queer guys and mostly white queer men plus a couple of girls (I was probably among a couple of straight people ). It was interesting to see their attraction. One guy said it had been the “gayest halftime performance he had seen. ” And I kept coming back into the joy and pride in seeing powerful Latinas take over the series, though I felt odd that the political subtext of this performance gained the NFL overlords at a time once they’ve gotten crap for how they’t approached social justice problems. 

In a period when the Latinx community has felt under attack, whether rhetoric, dreadfully restrictive policies, or literal acts of violence, it felt deeply reassuring to see two legendary Latinas leave their mark to the overtly American sporting event. It felt a lot more of an embrace of Latinx culture than an embrace of patriotism found in halftime shows.

JA: Definitely. Latinx representation matters right now since it’s a debate that Latinx individuals deserve to be distinguished and have value despite all those evil shit is coming from Trump’s mouth. In some time when viral videos of bigots assaulting Latinx individuals for speaking Spanish in people are commonplace, with them sing Spanish about the largest stage felt like a giant fuck you to xenophobes across this country.

But that’s coupled with the fact that they chose to bring out Bad Bunny along with J Balvin as their guests, which, for me personally, just further whitewashed the entire thing.

They said their performance was about “bringing people together however following the performance, I challenged who among us Latinx folks were calling to that table? Not Black and Indigenous Latinx folks.

I’m not asking Shakira and JLo into tokenize anybody but a whole-ass Ozuna exists! Ozuna’s smash “Taki Taki” has been a way bigger hit than “Que Calor,” (among those songs J Balvin performed to). While JLo dancing into “Lento” by Nfasis, an Afro-Dominican artist, has been dope–it was fascinating to hear Dominican Dembow at the Super Bowl–it also strengthens this message that Black voices, music, dance, and aesthetics are good enough to become centered at the most Latinx Super Bowl although not Black folks. That really is a tired, toxic practice within Latinidad.

ER: I believe discusses this nature of this performance. They had to make the performance so who better to bring than pop reggaeton’s faces, marketable to a national audience. 

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Camille Squires: I agree with Justin that sadly, the pub is so low in whitewashed America that speaking and singing in Spanish is a huge statement.

I really did see the presence of J Balvin and Bad Bunny more . Like, yes, both of these are non-Black Latinx folks, but they’re the poster children of the huge instant that reggaeton and musica urbana are getting globally. This is my perspective as a non-Latina Black person and non-native Spanish speaker who’s a lover of all these artists simply on the grounds that their music slaps. I believed the presence of all four artists on stage was a long overdue draw of the spotlight off from snowy Anglophone into Latinidad.

ER: I feel just like J Balvin and Bad Bunny’s addition represents more of this influence of reggaeton in contemporary pop music, so it definitely is fitting that they were a part of the calendar year ’s spectacle. Perhaps “whitewashing” isn’t the perfect term, however, I saw it as an extension of pop music is today, which happens to be capitalizing on reggaeton.

JA: Yeah perhaps “whitewashing” isn’t even the perfect term, however, it was a continued bleaching of the Afro-Caribbean genre and of Latinidad general. Black reggaeton artists, specifically Ozuna, are equally as large as J Balvin in that area. But Ozuna is not just Afro-Latino; he’s from among those countries where reggaeton was birthed, whereas Balvin, a Colombian, isn’t.

For me personally, Balvin being requested to perform reggaeton at the Super Bowl over someone just like Ozuna felt as a missed opportunity to literally pass the microphone into the Black Latinos who built the ground all these artists stand on. It had been in keeping with the media’s custom of flattening of Latin America into a monolith–a place full of non-Black folks who all have the exact identical culture and music that eerily seem quite Black. If you’re going to dismiss the issues of Black Latinxs and choose to perform the Super Bowl, you might have at least used the guest places to center Black artists. I mean, Amara La Negra is a huge JLo lover and now she ’s from Miami! It had been a missed opportunity.

CS: In terms of the thornier bits, my take on JLo incorporating political messaging into her performance is that she’s damned if she did, damned if she didn’t. Sports, music, and especially the NFL happen to be political. But we’re in this moment right now where that all was attracted to the surface because of people such as Colin Kaepernick.

So, JLo is coming into this performance with an expectation to “make an announcement ” or in some way “display wokeness,” however is also bound by the fact that partnering with the NFL is a political statement in itself. In certain ways, she’so carrying another side of this Kaepernicks along with the progressives of the planet by agreeing to the performance.

Buteven given those limitations, I presumed it was feeble, girl. The things that are light-up-globe read as “kids . ” To me, that’s a particular tragedy that deserves much better than “nuance” or “suggestion. ” It is a human rights crisis, and we will need to be crying about it from the top of our lungs at all times. My take about the politics will be that should you’re going to say it, say it along with your chest or not at all.

ER: I really didn’t comprehend the kids in cages which is probably bad. I saw the orbs and felt somewhat confused. 

But as a Puerto Rican kid, I felt a sudden source of pride seeing what I thought would be American flag garb subsequently turn into a Puerto Rican flag. I got off the couch and shouted “aye! ” I hadn’t noticed anything like that before, let alone during halftime of the Super Bowl.

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JA: That instant shook me also. Just watching the flag on this stage in this period when the Puerto Rican diaspora is experiencing hell did bring me a feeling of pride at first. But then I realized she placed an American flag on top of some Puerto Rican flag–a bit of colonial symbolism. Perhaps JLo’s goals were in the perfect spot — that “Puerto Ricans are US citizens debate certainly isn’t special to her. But I couldn’t even dismiss the fact that for most Latinxs, specifically for Puerto Ricans, the American flag is not a symbol of unity and freedom, but one of violence and occupation.

CS: To what you’re stating, Eddie, I feel that’s really important circumstance to consider what other artists have done on this recent “climate” in contrast. I mean, certainly in comparison to Lady Gaga, this calendar year ’s performance had a lot longer to say.

But additionally, the stress was on Shakira and JLo as Latinas in a way that it never could have been around for Gaga. But additionally, the concept of this NFL “Shifting ” societal justice with “measured” tactics such as the Inspire Change initiative only gets under the skin. To me it reeks of medium.

To use a possibly not 100 percent apt contrast, it’s just like getting cops in rainbow-painted cars at Pride. Just like, you’re cops! You can’t ever be all about queer liberation! Pride was created in response to you!

ER: I mean, yeahthe NFL hasn’t been the patron saint of social justice causes. It’s a business emboldened by a post-9/11 pride for patriotism. It’s ’s a way for the NFL to state, with the Support of Jay-Z: We care about this! But it’s a method for the NFL to exploit and co-opt a prominent Black voice, a person who is a wealthy businessman in his company, man, to reveal they “good maintenance gun violence and ” about criminal justice reform.

Beyoncé revealed off Black pride in her performance together with Bruno Mars. It was powerful as well as fun as hell. Nevertheless, it had been bookended by Coldplay along with their essential memorialization of Super Bowl halftime shows of years past. Lady Gaga could have left a more overt statement following the 2016 election–aside from “Born This Way” along with also her medley of American anthems–she didn’t. So to see JLo carry a Puerto Rican flag and to see kids in cages is actually more politically about the nose than I, at the least, anticipated.

JA: Definitely. I just wish JLo had found a white and black Puerto Rican flag, abandoned that colonial American flag at the shop, and threw an “abolish ICE” hint, but you could only dream.

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CS: Wow, can you picture JLo stating “abolish ICE”?! That’ll be dope, however, is a dream, because she s incorporated politics into her star, which I know you much more about me, Justin. There’s only the fact that we’re needing more politics out of our actors generally nowadays, which will be well-trodden ground at this point. However, it usually means that they’re going to get to begin negotiating a few of the contradictions in their posture. Could Beyoncé’s performance have gone over today, I wonder.

ER: Her choice to overlook the Black Panther garb and attribute Black girls through the performance showed the energy of this celebrity demonstration. It revealed her savvy–Beyoncé embracing her Blackness on a stage before a national audience. Honestly, in a lot of ways, that has been the precursor to Beychella

CS: She benefited out of it commercially–it had been in keeping with the theme of the “Formation” music movie , and she used the Super Bowl to introduce and promotional her “Formation” tour, therefore by no way am I producing Beyoncé out to be so totally altruistic activist for those people without self-interest. She, like her husband, is 100 percent both and a capitalist are strategic about their new in every move they make. On the issue of pruning the needle of putting your politics into an institution while also still profiting from them otherwise or monetarily, I believed Beyoncé stuck the landing the best from any recent attempts.

JA: But hindsight will Jay-Z’s “we’re past kneeling” and Beyoncé’so attending this year’s Super Bowl dilute her 2016 message make it feel like she had been commercializing liberation function? Is there something off in going out of a “Formation” video using a “palms, don’t shoot” reference into some Super Bowl?

ER: I suggest you might even argue that her Super Bowl performance in 2016 was only capitalizing on that liberation display for commercial appeal. But we’ve seen Beyoncé place her Blackness on display with “Homecoming,” and I think it’s potential to different Jay-Z’s approach from Beyoncé’s.

CS: No, Justin, I think you. The Knowles-Carters posture toward the NFL today makes their past actions appear less potent. Much like, they offered a little. With this Super Bowl and going ahead, Jay-Z has thrown his hat with the NFL, so it dilutes his activist position that was previous.

But if Jay-Z is still a scab it’s undeniable that this year’s halftime performance was a one. I guess that he gets credit for his involvement in that choice. The presence of JLo and Shakira onstage surrounded by a whole lot of lovely Black and Brown dancers was a potent statement, whatever Jay-Z’s along with the NFL’s motives. 

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