At the Super Bowl halftime show, Jennifer Lopez lived the American Dream

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A report by Chris Richards for The Washington Post.

There are at least two ways to experience a Super Bowl halftime show, and the first is easy: Let it razzle your retinas and dazzle your eardrums for a dozen overwhelming minutes of your averagely-whelmed life, then go heat up another plate of jalapeño poppers.

The other way isn’t much harder, but it does require you to remember that this annual pageant of friendly melody and celestial laser light is the most widely experienced musical performance in our nation each year, which instantly makes everything about it feel significant, and sometimes even profound.

So when Jennifer Lopez and Shakira stormed the field at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens during Super Bowl LIV on Sunday night, they made it work for both kinds of viewers.

For the razzled-and-dazzled, there were armies of dancers pretending to be soldiers, and cheerleaders, and salsa musicians. And there were big songs — the kind you hear at weddings and dentist appointments. And there was a cameo from the rapper Bad Bunny, clad in a trench coat made of liquid steel. And there was a string section playing Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” like they were rowing a pirate ship across the Biscayne Bay. And there was Shakira, wagging her tongue at the camera, either singing or trying to communicate with birds of paradise. (I later learned the expression was a zaghrouta, a traditional Arabic expression of joy and a nod to Shakira’s Lebanese heritage.) And, of course, there was J-Lo, forever young, twirling around on a pole pointed toward heaven.

But through all that, if you were still able to masticate your potato chips in quiet concentration, you may have heard the American Dream itself pulsing in a space where it will always be allowed to live: inside a pop song.

Like during “Jenny From the Block,” Lopez’s theme song in which she reminded us that she “used to have a little, now I have a lot.” Or moments later, when Lopez, wearing a reversible cape seemingly made of Muppet pelts (American flag on the outside, Puerto Rican flag on the inside), joined a choir of children in singing a particular Bruce Springsteen lyric: “I was born in the U.S.A.”

It was a fleeting moment, but her intention felt loud. “Two Latinas doing this in this country at this time is just very empowering to us,” Lopez said at a preperformance news conference in Miami last week — and after Sunday night’s halftime spectacle, it’s worth reflecting on every “this” in her statement.

The man residing inside the White House kicked off his campaign for the big job by calling Mexicans “rapists.” Since then, he has threatened to dismantle the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and his policies have torn apart countless immigrant families detained at our Southern border. Lopez and Shakira didn’t sing about huddled masses yearning to breathe free on Sunday night, but their mere presence was a tacit rebuke against weaponizing racism and xenophobia for political gain.

When it was over, maybe you were one of those inconvenienced viewers asking, “Do we have to make everything about race?” Maybe you should stop asking that question.

There’s no making. In America, everything is about race. This country promises an equality it has not yet achieved.

Dreaming about that equality inside a song on Super Bowl Sunday is a good thing. How good depends on how many people wake up fighting for it on Monday morning.

One thought on “At the Super Bowl halftime show, Jennifer Lopez lived the American Dream

  1. Reblogged this on It Is What It Is and commented:
    TRUE THAT!! … ‘“Do we have to make everything about race?” Maybe you should stop asking that question. There’s no making. In America, everything is about race. This country promises an equality it has not yet achieved.’ … and more!

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