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7th February 2020

JLo and Shakira put the ‘Super’ in Super Bowl

Jay Darcy comments on JLo and Shakira’s fiercely political and entertaining Super Bowl halftime show
JLo and Shakira put the ‘Super’ in Super Bowl
Photos: Andres.Aranz and Firdaus Latif, respectively (Wikimedia Commons).

The fact that the Super Bowl halftime show was headlined by two Latina women – and not only that but two women aged over 40 – is certainly something to get loud about.

I was incredibly excited to see what Jennifer Lopez and Shakira would do with their platform and it’s safe to say they offered one of the most memorable Super Bowl performances ever, with guest-appearances from Bad Bunny and J Balvin.

Maroon 5 were trending on Twitter as people recalled their lacklustre performance last year, telling them this is how it’s done. But this performance was more than just entertainment.

Most viewers did not notice the political stunts, which were less obvious than Beyoncé’s tribute to the Black Panthers during her performance, or Madonna’s display of unity during Eurovision in Israel – even though Eurovision prohibits politics, which is laughable as Eurovision is political, but that’s another story.

Instead, conservative viewers complained about the sexualisation of JLo and Shakira’s performance. Yet, nobody cared when Adam Levine (a white man) walked around half-naked last year or over the scantily-clad (majority white) cheerleaders, but that’s also another discussion.

Despite this, this year’s show was indeed overtly political. One bold design choice was the stage, which was in the shape of the female Venus symbol.

Alongside this, children stood in cages as JLo sang ‘Let’s Get Loud’ with her daughter – who wore a chain – in front of a display of lights that resembled a fence. Ahead of the show, a source said JLo’s daughter would perform as ‘a symbol of the American dream‘.

JLo, herself, wore a coat that displayed an American flag on the exterior and a Puerto Rican flag on the interior. ‘Latinos!’ she exclaimed, as she ripped open the coat and sang ‘Born in the U.S.A.’.

The child singers wore white tops, like the Families Belong Together protestors. JLo and Shakira’s social media posts surrounding the performance also emphasised ‘how much Latinos have to offer‘.

Sources from Roc Nation, Jay Z’s entertainment agency, have revealed that the company, and even Jay Z himself, pressured JLo to cut the cage segment. It was also reported that the agency asked Shakira, a Roc Nation client, to not appear during ‘Born in the U.S.A.’.

Tensions ran so high that JLo pulled out of joining Shakira for the opening number, but neither artist succumbed to Roc Nation’s request for them to depoliticise the show.

On a more subtle note, like Lady Gaga singing ‘Born This Way’ during her performance, Shakira and JLo used their existing lyrics to make a statement. Simply by singing in Spanish, and especially with JLo dressed in red, white and blue, they demonstrated the prevalence and importance of the Latinx community in America.

What’s more, JLo was born in New York to Puerto Rican parents (though most Americans don’t realise Puerto Rico is in America), whilst Shakira was born in Colombia to a Colombian mother and Lebanese father. Combined they represented Latinos both in and out of America.

Across the USA racism and xenophobia are still issues which affect not only Latinos but also people from all kinds of migrant backgrounds in the country. In light of this, just having Shakira onstage, at the biggest sports and music event in the country, was a statement in itself.

It must be noted, Shakira also really embraced her Arabic roots by including her Arabic inspired track ‘Ojas Asi’, as well as belly-dancing, an instrument called a mijwiz, and the ‘zaghrouta’ – a tongue-wagging cry which is now a meme.

During a press conference before the game, Shakira described her upcoming performance as “an all-inclusive party, a party that integrates cultures and diversity”.

Choosing two Latinas could be seen as a strategic choice by the NFL, who have a divisive past when it comes to intercultural relations. The NFL have been criticised in recent years for their handling of Colin Kaepernick, who still remains unsigned after being dismissed for championing the civil rights movement Black Lives Matter by kneeling during the national anthem.

Since then, the NFL have been making visible efforts to appear more diverse in their practices. They recently signed a partnership with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, which raised eyebrows with some claiming Jay Z’s partnership with the NFL is not a move in support of black civil rights.

But not only did this partnership give Jay Z a major role in the planning of the halftime show, one of the most watched entertainment performances in the world, but this deal also included a social and racial justice partnership between the rapper and the NFL.

Attempts to diversify the headliners of the halftime show appear to have been in the works for over a year, that is with one or two set-backs. Rihanna and Jay-Z, were asked to headline Super Bowl this year and last year, respectively. However both refused. But while Rihanna refused in support of Kaepernick, Jay-Z refused because he was told to bring Rihanna.

Yet it must be acknowledged that this year’s Super Bowl half time show was certainly a celebration of cultural diversity thanks to Shakira and JLo.

The partnership between Roc Nation and the NFL allows Jay-Z to co-produce the show and get a say over who performs, so perhaps this year’s choice of headliners reveals his desire to reflect the rich Latin culture of Miami and showcase the Latin community, at a time when racism towards Latinos seems to be rising.

Shakira and JLo are also the first headliners to make up a completely latina line-up. Whilst many notable black artists have headlined the Super Bowl, the only other Latin headliner in the Super Bowl’s history is Gloria Estefan, who performed alongside other artists in 1992 and 1999.

Regardless of the intentions of the NFL, JLo and Shakira stood proudly as women and Latinas. Watching Shakira drum as JLo sang ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ with her daughter encapsulated the power of this performance which symbolised womanhood, motherhood and multiethnic nationhood. They gave the middle-finger to intolerance and inequality in America and to the ignorant gringos who questioned their relevance.

Jay Darcy

Jay Darcy

Theatre Editor. Instagram & Twitter: @jaydarcy7. Email: [email protected].

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