Better Than “Sweet Victory” | Frances Chai

On January 15, 1967, the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs played in the very first Super Bowl (Back then, it was known as the AFL-NFL World Championship Game--a name that simply does not roll off the tongue as easily as ‘Super Bowl’).  The Los Angeles skies were clear, the competition was intense, and the viewers were treated to a halftime show of trumpeter Al Hirt, the University of Arizona and Grambling State University marching bands, 300 pigeons, 10,000 balloons, a 200 person chorus, and two men in hydrogen peroxide jetpacks. Fortunately (or unfortunately?), Sunday’s Super Bowl halftime show did not include trumpeters, marching bands, the release of hundreds of birds and balloons, or men in flight. It did, however, have a Latin pop dream team, high energy dances, and a nod to Puerto Rico and those suffering from anti-immigration policies. Miami, Florida was the stage for headlining performers Shakira and Jennifer Lopez, and guest artists including Bad Bunny and J Balvin. To say the least, there were no quick bathroom breaks or mad dashes to the fridge for another beer during this performance. 

“Hola Miami!” 1 in 5 Floridian residents is an immigrant and Miami itself is a Latin majority city. By kicking off the show with this greeting, Shakira is acknowledging them. Recognizing their culture. Bringing them to the forefront of a wholly American event. Shakira and Jennifer Lopez made history. Period. Not only were they the first female duo to headline the show, but they were also the first Latinx to do so. In itself, their presence was a message of cultural diversity and support for the Latino community, and this theme continued throughout their performance. Shakira seamlessly incorporated a multitude of cultures into her performance: a touch of Brazil with bossa nova, hometown flair with Colombian cumbia, tejano from Mexico, and even hints of Middle Eastern and African sounds. On a more personal note, she brought together her Colombian and Lebanese history with the Champeta (a dance originating from her hometown of Barranquilla) and belly-dancing. Not all of her cultural homages were understood, however. An event as uniquely American as the Super Bowl always lends itself well to another favorite American pastime: making viral memes. This year, Shakira’s “tongue thing” was ignorantly likened to a warbling turkey call and characters from SpongeBob SquarePants. Even worse, parents flocked to the Internet to voice their concerns of the “inappropriate” motion. Sigh. Thankfully, those who recognized the cultural significance were quick to correct those who were still in the dark. One Twitter user wrote “I hate to disappoint but Shakira’s tongue expression is called zaghrouta, a way to express joy in Arab culture. It also alludes to the dance “Son de Negros” at the “Carnaval de Barranquilla” where she is from in Colombia. Now you can go back to whatever interpretation you like”. Another wrote “Siri, how do I explain a zaghrouta to white people?” Checkmate, memers. 

The Super Bowl halftime show is no stranger to being used as a platform for sending political messages. In 2016, Beyoncé performed “Formation”, a song with references to the Black Lives Matter movement. Her dancers donned black berets--the garment of choice for the Black Panthers. Like most performances with political statements, the show received enough backlash to scare subsequent performers into keeping the venn diagram of politics and their performance two separate circles. However, J.Lo and Shakira managed to keep the political references subtle, yet powerful. Lopez, who is of Puerto Rican descent, has donated at least $1 million to help the island rebuild after Hurricane Maria. Her support doesn’t stop there; during “Let’s Get Loud”, she revealed a feather cape of the Puerto Rican flag. While the imagery fell short on some in the United States (Twitter users voiced their confusion about the Texas flag . I know. I’m as flabbergasted as you are), the response from Puerto Rico was overwhelmingly positive. Danny Hernández, a government employee from Guayanilla, a town hit hard by the hurricane, said “Everybody began to clap. They jumped out of their chairs. It was so exciting. There were even people with tears falling down their face.” In the same performance of “Let’s Get Loud” with incorporated elements of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” (a touch to remind everyone, especially Donald Trump, that Puerto Ricans are US citizens) , Lopez’s daughter Emme Maribel Muñiz sang while a children’s choir danced in cage like structures--no doubt calling attention to Trump’s anti-immigration policies concerning the Mexico-United States border and showing support for all who have been affected. 

The response to the show was not all positive, however. People took to Twitter to slam J.Lo and Shakira for their “provocative costumes and dance moves”. The latter refers to the part of the show where Lopez pays homage to her Hustlers role by performing a move from the film. Parents were outraged; many believe that the show should have come with an R-rating, given the importance of the Super Bowl to American culture and the fact that many children were watching with their families. The hater crowd was not limited to parents concerned for the integrity of their favorite all-American event. Jenna Ellis, senior legal advisor to Trump, brought both politics and religion into her tweet about the event: “The progressive left only pretends to care about women. It actually exploits and demeans us. The Christian worldview values all human beings equally in inherent dignity and worth because the Bible recognizes all human beings are made in God’s image.” On the other hand, people were quick to support Lopez and Shakira, and point out the hypocrisy of the comments made by haters. In an Glamour Magazine article called “6 Times I Was More Offended by Men at the Super Bowl Than by Jennifer Lopez or Shakira”, author Christopher Rosa says, “...we still exist in a culture that thrives on policing women’s bodies. A culture that says a woman baring her midriff is a threat to the American family but an aging rocker grabbing his crotch is just a Tuesday.” The halftime show should be recognized for what it is--a firecracker performance that seamlessly weaves in political messages, female empowerment, and cultural pride and diversity.