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The Pop Culture Influences Behind Lady Gaga’s Super Bowl Halftime Show

The Pop Culture Influences Behind Lady Gaga’s Super Bowl Halftime Show

Lady Gaga is like Star Wars. Go with me here.

When George Lucas created Star Wars, he borrowed from ever source available to make something unique. He took from Arthurian legend, World War II history, Westerns, samurai films, Flash Gordon serials,  and a several other sources and made something singular.

Gaga is similar; she’s like a pop star produced by sampling the DNA of the greatest pop legends of the 20th century and creating a new being. There’s a bit of David Bowie, a touch of Elton John and Freddie Mercury, a dollop of Michael Jackson and Prince, and (as much as either diva might be loathe to be reminded of it these days), a very healthy dose of Madonna. But all of these influences go toward creating something unique.

Just as a young Stefani Germanotta took from all of these various pop icons to create what we know today as Lady Gaga, her Super Bowl Halftime Show performance last night was inspired by a multitude of pop culture touchstones. Here are but a handful of the influences from popular culture that we saw shine through last night amid Gaga’s delivery of the performance of a lifetime.

Marvel Comics’ Dazzler

Back in 1979, at the tail end of the disco era, Marvel Comics teamed up with disco label Casablanca Records to create a female superhero who also happened to be a disco singer. The character would be named “the Dazzler.” There would be a comic book component in which she had superhero adventures, and a real life version who would cut dance tracks. But then the “Disco Sucks” movement happened, and within six months, disco music went from ruling the charts in America to being a dirty word. Just like that, the record label cancelled plans for the “real” Dazzler.

But Marvel had put tons of work into making this character, so she ended up debuting in Uncanny X-Men as a singer named Alison Blaire, who had the mutant power to turn sound into light. Decked out in a silver lamé jumpsuit, wearing disco ball skates and glittery eye make-up, Dazzler became a mainstay of the Marvel Universe, and an eventual member of the X-Men.

Although she’s never admitted it to my knowledge, Lady Gaga must have been influenced by or seen Dazzler at some point in her life, because especially in her early years, Gaga felt like Dazzler personified. And that was never more evident than in her Super Bowl performance, where she came out sparkling like a disco diamond, sporting bedazzled eyes and everything short of actual super powers. Fans have been clamoring for years for Gaga to appear as Dazzler in an X-Men film, and if this latest performance doesn’t cement that casting for some future movie, I’m not sure what does.

David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust era

I mentioned David Bowie as one of the influences which shaped Gaga’s persona (although not her name, which was a tribute to the Queen classic “Radio Gaga”) But if there was one era of Bowie’s that Gaga seems to love the most, it’s Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust era. Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars was Bowie’s  1972 concept album about an eccentric rocker who acts as a messenger for aliens on Earth.

Bowie wore wild, futuristic clothes, face paint, and hairstyles during this period when he took on the Ziggy persona, many of which can be seen influencing Gaga’s early career. But her most Ziggy-esque moment was the Super Bowl, where she appeared wearing a look that Bowie himself would have been comfortable wearing back in the early ’70s. Bowie grew tired of the alien messenger persona pretty quickly, but Gaga is seemingly going to keep the flame burning for Ziggy forever. And that’s not a bad thing.

The Simpsons

Life imitates art imitates life. Back in 2012, at the height of Gaga-mania, the singer was celebrity #1,254 to appear as themselves on The Simpsons. On the episode, Lady Gaga performs while hanging above the crowd on a wire, all while shooting flames out of her metal bra. The whole “fire bra” thing was something that she’d already done, but it seems that she’d wait until her Super Bowl performance to actually drop down into the audience from a high above via wires. I can’t help but wonder if she didn’t tell her producers or the NFL “remember that Simpsons episode I did back in the day? We’re totally doing that.”

Michael Jackson’s 1993 Super Bowl Halftime Show

From 1967-1991, the Super Bowl Halftime Show was basically a cheesy, low rent affair, filled with university marching bands, high school drill teams, and the overly cheerful (and slightly cultish) performing troupe “Up with People.” Then, in 1991, the NFL had the idea of putting big pop stars in the halftime slot, starting with New Kids on the Block. But it was in 1993 the the Super Bowl Halftime Show as we know it really took form, and it started with a spectacular performance by the King of Pop, Michael Jackson.

MJ used pyrotechnics and backup dancers, and at first appeared to be in various places all over the stadium at once before suddenly appearing on the main stage, decked out in gold and black like the Pop God he was. This performance captured Michael Jackson at his apex, when everyone in the world loved him. By the end of that year, for reasons well known that we won’t get into, MJ’s golden era was over and it would never return. But this Super Bowl performance captured a moment in time, and one every subsequent act who followed has been trying to capture.

With her spectacular Mission Impossible-esque entrance, her incredible assortment of dancers and choreography, and cutting edge technology (those drones!), it feels like Lady Gaga was trying her damnedest to outdo Michael Jackson’s Super Bowl show, or at least live up to it. When Gaga dropped the mic (quite literally) at the end of her set, I couldn’t help but feel Michael was smiling down from wherever he is and said “THAT’S how you do it.” And then giggled.

Woody Guthrie

Considering how vocally political Lady Gaga has been since she first hit the scene back in 2008, many people were shocked, and maybe even a little disappointed, that Gaga’s Super Bowl performance wasn’t more political in nature. On the other hand, there were many people on social media buzzing about how glad they were she didn’t pull a “Meryl Streep at the Golden Globes.”. Even Marco Rubio tweeted out how great her show was, and was seemingly relieved she didn’t rock the apple cart too much.

Or didn’t she? As Vanity Fair and Teen Vogue have both pointed out, Lady Gaga opened her halftime performance with “God Bless America“ and then immediately segued into Woody Guthrie’s American standard “This Land Is Your Land.” The original, longer version of the song was a lot more political in nature than the shorter version that gets sung at County Fairs these days, and in fact “This Land is Your Land” has become an anthem for protesters to this day. While Gaga didn’t sing the full version at the Super Bowl, clearly this was her way of showing exactly where her sympathies truly lie.

All of these various influences combined mean different things to different people, and to a ton of Gaga’s “Little Monsters” (a.k.a. her hardcore fans), are too young to even know the references at all. But ultimately it doesn’t matter — Lady Gaga has become a symbol for fabulousness in the face of adversity,  a beacon for the underdog wrapped in sequins and glitter, and last night she came through at a time when we all needed her most.

Image Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

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