Vocal critics of Colin Kaepernick and his “unpatriotic” decision to take a knee more than three years ago likely won’t have much to say about J.Lo and Shakira’s flashy, sexy halftime spectacle at the Super Bowl—but they should. Lopez and Shakira, who undeniably rocked Miami Sunday night, did something incredibly powerful that most artists in recent years have failed to do: send a poignant message to both viewers and the NFL. The Latina hitmakers used their literal platform to give a sly middle finger to the government, and by virtue of that, the NFL, with a whole slew of politically charged decisions wrapped up in sequins and pizzazz.
Let’s start with the most obvious. A little over halfway through Lopez’s set during the latter half of the performance, she brought out an entire choir of children both on stage and out on the field, with her own daughter Emme singing a ballad version of Lopez’s 1999 hit “Let’s Get Loud.” The lyrics? “If you wanna live your life / Live it all the way and don’t waste it.” The visuals? Two rows of little girls holding hands to form a wall, all dressed in white cut-off hoodies with bejeweled American flags emblazoned across the front. Their counterparts out on the field sat in glowing white domes that were unmistakably meant to represent the cages where children have reportedly been locked up at the border.
Then the beat started back up (thanks to Shakira’s enthusiastic drumming). Cue Lopez’s return to the stage, this time donning a feathery red, white, and blue robe that resembled the American flag; the singer gave a rallying cry (“C’mon, Latinos!”) before spreading her arms wide to reveal a Puerto Rican flag on the flip side of the robe. And while the rest of the nearly 15-minute halftime show was dedicated to a medley of Shakira and Lopez’s greatest hits, this was the moment where it felt pointed and appropriate for Emme to break into a not-so-random refrain of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA.” Get it? A group of young, Latinx-appearing children clad in white, some in cages, singing/pleading for their freedom? The political messaging was hard to ignore.
Even the fact that the group of children were all little girls, performing on a stage that lit up to reveal the Venus symbol from an aerial view, was not accidental.
Perhaps less obvious was the singers’ decision to only employ backup dancers of color throughout their entire act; much the same way that Beyonce makes it a point to travel with an all-female band and crew (with the exception of Les Twins), Shakira and Lopez’s decision to forefront dancers and musicians of color made a powerful statement, especially in light of the NFL’s oft-racist practices. (See: Kaepernick. See: player-to-coach ratios. See: history.) For black and brown folks watching the game Sunday, the unusual visual of seeing people of color dominate the American main stage, aka the Super Bowl halftime show, was a rallying cry, a political act in and of itself, and it didn’t go unappreciated.
Even Shakira, with her meme-able dancing tongue moment, wasn’t just letting loose in a lurid display of sexuality, as some critics have been quick to call it: what she did actually has a name, and a well-known one at that. Her playful display was called zaghrouta, and it’s a way of showing extreme joy and celebration in Arabic culture. (The Colombian-born singer has a Lebanese father, and she often incorporates elements of her culture into her performances.) Given the ongoing protests that have been raging through Lebanon over the last several months, the singer’s headline-making tongue flicker was a nod to the diaspora, a way to say, “I am with you,” while saying nothing at all.
The NFL has been criticized in recent years of playing it safe with the Super Bowl, knowing that its viewers run the entire gamut of political leanings, but its silence has been maddening to fans who understand that it’s never just been about the game. Sunday night’s halftime show was proof that politics and entertainment not only can, but must go hand-in-hand in this political climate (just ask Taylor Swift), because having a platform and using it to gyrate and self-promote on stage just doesn’t fly anymore. You have to give ‘em a show and something worth talking about, throw in a political twist and take a stand, especially if it’s for someone who took a knee. It’s just about the most patriotic thing a performer can do these days, and Lopez and Shakira nailed it.