The last time the Super Bowl was truly memorable for its halftime show–apart from the brief moment Beyonce allowed Michelle and Kelly to take the stage with her in 2013 and Missy Elliott’s cameo in Katy Perry’s 2015 performance–was February 5, 2012. Incidentally, Super Bowl LI falls on that date this year as well, only with a pale imitation to counterfeit the majesty that was Madonna’s epic twelve-minute performance of “Vogue,” “Music,” “Give Me All Your Luvin'” (lest we forget M.I.A. being fined by the NFL for flipping the bird) and portions of “Open Your Heart” and “Express Yourself” leading into “Like A Prayer.” That imitation, of course, is Lady Gaga, who had, at that time, only recently ripped off “Express Yourself” with “Born This Way.”
The longstanding tension between the duo, in fact, stemmed from this form of imitation, when Madonna openly called the track “reductive.” Now, five years later, Gaga is once again liable to showcase her knack for Madonna mimicry–except in one regard: she won’t be able to outshine la Reine de Pop in Super Bowl halftime glory. This isn’t about women tearing other women down or Madonna fans versus Gaga fans. It is merely objectivity. Gaga’s sense of showmanship has not only dwindled since her peak thirstiness in the mid-00s, but she’s also fallen prey to the thing that makes every artist–especially a pop star–unenjoyable to watch: no sense of irony.
Even Britney Spears has learned to laugh at herself in a post-2007 world (and no, she never had to carry the Super Bowl halftime all by herself), but Gaga somehow has only grown to take herself more seriously (a Golden Globe win didn’t help). And while, sure, that’s all very lovely for Tony Bennett duets and screaming about how a former relationship was a perfect illusion, it doesn’t seem likely to bring much gusto to a Super Bowl performance, where one imagines she won’t get the number of any football players to continue her rebound phase should she take a contrived political stance à la Sinead O’Connor ripping up a picture of the Pope. Madonna made fun of that, too.