(February 4, 2020). Thanks to this year’s Super Bowl Halftime Show and the game’s historic outcome – not to mention incidental occurrences by some very high profile figures before the game – Super Bowl LIV (54) wound up being the most culturally symbolic (and significant) thing that’s happened to the NFL in the post-Kaepernick era, in some cases without trying to be.
Before Patrick Mahomes and the rest of the Kansas City Chiefs returned the Super Bowl trophy to the franchise where the game’s name was born (thanks to late Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt), la divas Jennifer Lopez and Shakira knocked out a halftime performance for the ages – one that lived up to all the hype and one that won’t soon be forgotten.
J-Lo and Shakira gave a thrilling, energetic show filled with dazzling lights, moving stages, a stripper’s pole, throngs of dancers and, of course, the two legends doing their trademark best dancing while completely owning the stage. Shakira did that thing with her hips that she always does so well, while J-Lo reminded us all why she took out that famous insurance policy on her rear parts many years ago.
And while the halftime show itself was full of social and political commentary – some blatant and some subtle, all of it intentional – the night as a whole was surprisingly filled with sociopolitical symbolism and historically significant events, particularly against the backdrop of the current political environment and during the NFL’s post-Kaepernick era…events that would make Donald Trump’s pregame ad touting his dubious accomplishments look like child’s play.
Count among them:
J-Lo celebrates her roots.
The singer’s in-your-face celebration of her Puerto Rican heritage was capped by the superstar draped in a huge cape bearing the image of the U.S. territory’s flag on one side with the U.S. flag on the other.
Lopez’ daughter also led a performance of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born In the USA,” a not-so-subtle reminder that Puerto Rican people are indeed Americans. Donald Trump has made Puerto Rico a frequent target of his criticism since Hurricane Maria devastated the island in 2017, with POTUS 45 famously calling it “one of the most corrupt places on earth” in a tweet last August.
Southern Border Children
During the transition between J-Lo’s and her daughter Emme’s performances on Sunday, young Latinx children were on the darkened football field in illuminated round structures symbolizing cages.
It was a blatant statement about the inhumane conditions Mexican immigrant children have faced at the southern US border while the current administration tries to figure out how to handle the illegal immigration dilemma. It wasn’t the first time social commentary found its way into the halftime show, although Beyoncé received much more flack for her cultural commentary at the game three years ago.
Piece of the Middle East
Shakira is of Colombian descent, but the nod to her Middle Eastern roots was front and center during a high-pitched tongue-trill she did during the lead-in to her biggest hit “Hips Don’t Lie.”
Known as a Zaghrouta, the rapid tongue-flicking gesture is often used by Middle Eastern women as an expression of joy and celebration. Clearly, Shakira was celebrating her multicultural Arabic and Latino roots in a jubilant affair during this halftime show, with what could be seen as a subtle jab given America’s dubious relationships with several Middle Eastern countries.
The fact that Shakira and J-Lo were the first female co-headliners of a Super Bowl Halftime Show was also historic.
Their jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring, highly ethnic performances were criticized by some viewers as being too risqué for prime time family television, but in the #MeToo era, they represented two empowering women who were at the top of their games and who hopefully inspired impressionable young girls who saw themselves and the promise of a successful future in the two legendary entertainers.
Black QB Magic
The game itself was symbolic with the come-from-behind victory by the Kansas City Chiefs, led by the incredible 4th quarter performance of Patrick Mahomes.
The third-year quarterback, who is of mixed-race parentage, became only the third African-American quarterback to win a Super Bowl and only the second of those to be named MVP (and the first to do that before his 25th birthday). The significance? That’s three winning black QBs in 54 Big Games…in a league where the majority of its players have been black for decades.
The Kaepernick Curse
That Mahomes and the Chiefs did it against the team whose former QB – Colin Kaepernick, also of mixed race – was the face of NFL player protests against racial injustice in America, was not lost on many people. While the San Francisco 49ers will likely be championship contenders again in the near future, the post-Kaepernick era has been a bust for the team so far.
The come-from-ahead loss to Mahomes and Co. has to sting even more than the criticism the 49ers faced for its handling of the Kaepernick fiasco several years ago. It certainly has been the source of many “Kaepernick curse” memes since SB54’s outcome was secured Sunday night.
Jay-Z’s First NFL Triumph?
Speaking of the post-Kaepernick era, in 2019 the NFL hired rap icon and business mogul Jay-Z as its primary consultant for helping the institution rebuild its image, particularly with black folks who felt disenfranchised by the NFL’s handling of the whole Kaepernick thing.
While J-Lo and Shakira weren’t Janet Jackson or Beyoncé or Prince, it’s safe to say that they represented multicultural diversity pretty well, making the first Jay-Z era halftime pick – for which the rapper received much flack from the black community last year – a not-so-bad one after all.
Speaking of Jay-Z, he and his wife Beyoncé were the target of social media trolling when TMZ ran images of the two superstars remaining seated in the stadium while pop star Demi Lovato sang the National Anthem. This appeared to run counter to Jay-Z’s alliance with the NFL and his pledge to move players past sitting or kneeling to the next phase of social progress.
Yet even the Carters’ gesture couldn’t have been more disrespectful than images of the U.S. president at his taxpayer-funded SB party gesturing with his hands as if he were conducting an orchestra during that same performance of “The Star Spangled Banner.” Certainly when Trump attempted to use the power of the presidency to force NFL players to stand for the national anthem, he didn’t have this in mind…
Oh, the interwebs had fun with that video, too.
Presidential geography lesson?
And speaking of DJT, even Trump’s acknowledgment of the winning team was symbolic, but for the wrong reason. The fact that the POTUS tweeted a congratulatory message to the state of Kansas – when the Chiefs hail from Kansas City, Missouri – spoke volumes, particularly about a president with a large amount of voting support in middle America and whose previously tweeted gaffes – both geographic and otherwise – have made him the frequent target of memes calling into question his claims to being the most knowledgeable person about pretty much any and everything.
So it was a night full of memeable and memorable moments, many of which will be forever linked to sports’ biggest night, while some will have been forgotten by this time next year.
One thing’s for certain, few Super Bowls in history have included so many statements – whether readers agree with them or not – and it’s now clear that the Super Bowl is no longer just sports’ biggest game. It is a platform in which political and social commentary could be the norm for many years to come.
DJRob is a freelance blogger who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter @djrobblog.
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