With over 100 million viewers tuning in, the Super Bowl is the biggest stage in sports. Although only about half of those viewers are watching the game itself, almost everyone highly anticipates the Super Bowl halftime show. In years past, artists such as Maroon 5, Coldplay, and Lady Gaga have graced the Super Bowl stage, and this year, Latina superstars Shakira and Jennifer Lopez teamed up for the halftime show. As my friends and I watched the show, we applauded the two performers for what we considered to be an act that was entertaining from start to finish. However, when I checked Instagram and Twitter after the show, I was met with an onslaught of conservative commentary and remarks that were simply ignorant. Two recurring themes that I found in the public’s reactions were disdain for the show’s inappropriateness and Spanish elements. With this said, I personally disagree with both of these criticisms, and in this article, I want to highlight an alternative perspective that celebrates the show for being a major win for cultural inclusion and female empowerment.
“The halftime show was too inappropriate”
After watching the half time show, evangelical religious leader Franklin Graham took to Twitter to say, “This exhibition was Pepsi showing young girls that sexual exploitation of women is okay. With the exploitation of women on the rise worldwide, instead of lowering the standard, we as a society should be raising it. I’m disappointed in @Pepsi and @NFL.” Another critic voiced his dissent in the form of a meme by juxtaposing an image of a Hispanic family dancing with a white couple covering their daughter’s eyes, saying “Hispanics vs others watching the Super Bowl Halftime Show.” Unfortunately, these two voices were only two in the sea of people who condemned Shakira’s and J Lo’s costumes and choreography. Although I understand that both artists were not wearing the most modest of costumes, what it ultimately comes down to is that it was their choice to wear them and the public should have no right to shame them for it. When a woman puts on a flattering or revealing outfit, it is not always to seduce or please a man. Sometimes, it is empowering to wear clothes that make your body look good, so you wear them to promote your own self-confidence. J Lo and Shakira are both in committed relationships and have kids—they were not wearing those clothes to attract any male viewers. Also, the fact that 50-year-old J Lo and 43-year-old Shakira can rock bedazzled crop tops and one-pieces is remarkable, and if I looked like that at their age, I would too.
Another area of criticism was the routine’s choreography. Throughout the performance, Shakira incorporated moves from two traditional Colombian dances, the Champeta and the Mapalé, which both involve ~shaking what your mama gave you~. However, she was chastised for “erotically dancing” and threatening the family-friendly nature of the program. I’ll touch on this more when I address the second criticism of the show, but these dances have cultural and historical roots in the Afro-Colombian community and it is ignorant to undermine their cultural significance by labeling them as too sexual. For example, the Champeta was dubbed a “therapeutic” form of dance by the marginalized Afro-Colombian community because they used it to express their sentiments about the oppression and racism they faced. Similarly, the Mapalé dates back to the 16th century and was a dance created by African slaves to unite their community and combat mistreatment. Shakira’s incorporation of these dances was a political statement and a vindication of voices that have been silenced historically. In J Lo’s case, she was critiqued for dancing on a pole at the beginning of her segment. This artistic choice is what I assume to be an homage to J Lo’s outstanding role in the 2019 film Hustlers. Although this film centered around a band of New York strippers who drugged men on Wall Street to increase their profits, a deeper, underlying theme was that of female empowerment. In the film, J Lo was a boss in every sense of the word, a leader and mother figure to the younger girls in her group, and a mastermind behind the largely successful scheme. J Lo’s Super Bowl pole dancing may have pushed the envelope, but it referenced the strong, independent, feminist character that she played in the film. On another note, all I could think about when she was dancing was how impressive it was that she had the core strength and muscular endurance to pull off those moves. Pole dancing, although commonly linked with the strip tease, is an athletic feat that few can execute (there are even group fitness classes that teach pole dancing) and I was taken aback that J Lo could actually do the moves her character did in the movie, all while singing live to an audience of 100 million people. In short, I found J Lo and Shakira’s choreography and costumes to promote female empowerment and cultural pride, not male seduction.
“The halftime show had too many Spanish elements”
Another common theme I found while reading through public commentary was that people were displeased with how many Spanish songs and cultural themes were presented in the halftime show. Obviously, many people championed the performance as a huge step for diversity, but still many conservative viewers critiqued it for an “abundance” of Spanish elements. An Instagram account with over 200,000 followers posted a meme of the halftime show with the caption: “Forgot to bring Google Translate.” More discussion on Twitter produced similar comments, such as: “I thought the Super Bowl was played in the USA. Why is the halftime show all in Spanish???” and “Why is the Super Bowl halftime show 80% in Spanish. I only know English. So it not very entertaining to me lol.” Not only do these comments simply scream ignorance, but they underscore a nativist worldview that has proven to be inextricable from American patriotism. My rebuttal to this overall critique is that the Super Bowl took place in Miami, Florida, a city that has a prevalent Latinx community. As one of the Southernmost cities in Florida, Miami has been a place that has welcomed Hispanics from the Caribbean and namely Cuba since Fidel Castro’s tumultuous reign in the 1950s. Therefore, there Spanish and Latin cutlure is a central part of the city’s identity with nearly 59% of all residents being Spanish speakers. With this said, incorporating elements of Hispanic culture and having two of the biggest Latina stars headline the show is incredibly significant and appropriate, given the Super Bowl’s location. Omitting Hispanic culture for the sake of NFL viewers would be like if the Beijing Olympics ignored Chinese culture in its opening ceremonies. Spanish is an integral part of not only Miami but the US as a whole as the number of Spanish speakers is increasing nation-wide, and it is incredibly ignorant for American viewers to feel threatened by an exquisite celebration of Hispanic people, a group that has been under fire by the nation and the president himself for quite some time.
I would never think that something as frivolous as the Super Bowl Halftime show would lead me to ponder race relations, ethnocentrism, and the patriarchy, but low and behold it has. As a Spanish major, I have incredible respect and love for the Spanish language and culture, both bring so rich and diverse. Spanish has opened the door to so many opportunities for me to connect with people on different continents and to experience life through a different lens. When I watched the halftime show, I felt so proud to live in an age in which people are trying to build bridges rather than burn them. Football is an inherently American sport and is therefore associated with the stereotypical American ideals of patriotism, masculinity, and competition. To see two women of color stand on that stage and be unabashed in their gender, race, and culture was so uplifting and seemed to me to be a fitting union between conservative and liberal views of America. However, the almost immediate wave of conservative backlash revealed how far we still have to go. No matter how supportive and inclusive network executives are, the audience at large is still protective of the “American” identity that they find in football. All I have to say is that being American doesn’t mean drinking beer and eating pizza with the guys while watching the big game, being American means a host of different things, and I’m proud to be an American in the inclusive, open-minded America that put Shakira and J Lo on that stage.