Jennifer Lopez Burned the Super Bowl Halftime Show to the Ground—and Gave the Oscars the Middle Finger
Shakira was the spark that lit the dynamite. And that dynamite was J. Lo, who sang while pole dancing in the ultimate kiss-off to the Oscars after her “Hustlers” snub.
It’s safe to say that Jennifer Lopez won the Super Bowl. In fact, reports indicate that she also won the Iowa Caucus, the new season of The Masked Singer, and the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, despite having been egregiously snubbed for a nomination. It is my understanding that next Sunday’s Academy Awards telecast is being reprogrammed as a 3.5-hour apology to the star.
With her celebrated work in Hustlers, which featured Lopez executing one of the most athletic feats any actor has committed to cinema (it just happened to be on a stripper pole), the conclusion of a hit residency in Las Vegas, and the collective global astonishment that the triple-threat can manage to be as on top of her game while looking so spectacular at age 50, the past 12 months have seen a tide-changing shift in appreciation for the star.
Exploding like a cannon-blast out of a fire torch, Lopez blazed across the Super Bowl Halftime Show stage, ensuring that her landmark year was punctuated not just with an exclamation point, but one blinking in blinding neon, so that the testament to her talent could be seen from space—which, arguably, it was Sunday night.
The energetic, dance-heavy set from Lopez and her co-headliner, Shakira—mesmerizing in her own right, if overshadowed by the scope of Lopez’s star power and her post-snub redemption narrative—seemed to pay tribute to the gig as a hallowed platform. More people watch the Super Bowl Halftime Show than anything else airing in the world in any given year, and the two Latin entertainers raised the level of their game to meet its stratospheric reach.
Looking back at recent halftime sets put on by the likes of Maroon 5 and Justin Timberlake, the duo cemented the trend of female entertainers putting in what appears to be infinitely more work and investment in a show-stopping show, joining the ranks of Lady Gaga and Beyoncé, who have produced similar, defining showcases of talent.
That Shakira and Lopez’s sets were injected with so much Latin flair, and made all the more rousing for it, is significant not just because of where this year’s Super Bowl took place—in Miami—but because of the cultural and political climate it took place in.
Things began with Shakira sprinting through a medley of her hits, starting with the underrated “She Wolf,” backed by an army of dancers all joining the Colombian singer in her trademark, barely human signature moves: manipulating her torso as if she was a clay figurine being shot in stop-motion animation.
There was belly dancing and salsa dancing and a man outfitted in several rolls of Reynolds Wrap aluminum foil, rapping as she danced some more.
At one point, a somber string orchestra hit the stage—you know, what everyone wants from a Super Bowl Halftime Show—but it turned out to be a warm-up for Shakira shredding on an electric guitar, which is, without a hint of sarcasm, exactly the thing that everyone wants from a Super Bowl Halftime Show.
That said, Shakira’s hips don’t lie, and neither can I. Her performance was absolutely fun to watch, but it was merely the spark that lit the dynamite. And that dynamite was J.Lo.
She began her portion of the set perched on top of a stripper pole, which may as well have been a middle finger positioned directly at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
It is one common theory among awards pundits that Lopez was passed over for an Oscar nomination for her work in Hustlers because the film, directed by a woman and shot through the female gaze, wasn’t considered “an Oscar movie.” (Strippers and sex workers are only Oscar-worthy when male directors shoot them, you see.) Another common theory is that she was among the many casualties of a systemic resistance toward diversity.
If there is a modicum of truth to either of those hypotheses, Lopez’s performance Sunday night was the ultimate vindication. From that stripper pole, she immediately moved into a hard-hitting rendition of her hit “Jenny from the Block.” It’s not hard to read into a statement being made here: Oscar nod or not, I’m still Jenny from the block—and Jenny from the block is one of the best live performers in the game.
For all the dismissals over the years of Lopez’s vocals—Lady Gaga herself threw some shade in that regard this week—Lopez’s medley of hits was one of those fun career-spanning reminders of just how many great pop-dance songs the singer actually has, and just how much you like each one of them.
Lopez’s “thing,” of course, is her dancing. Holy hell. She threw down choreography.
“Ain’t It Funny” was a physics-defying thrill. She revived the cane dance from the “Get Right” music video, a horn-heavy routine so infectious I practically cleared all the Cheeto dust off my shirt while sit-swiveling my hips along to it from the couch. “Waiting for Tonight” was performed while she pole danced, evoking her Hustlers snub a second time.
It was a taunt, for sure: a woman owning her sexuality, power, and talent in spite of an organization that failed to pay it its due. I don’t think she was exactly daring Laura Dern, Kathy Bates, or Florence Pugh to prove they could handle such a formidable feat. But I also don’t think she was not doing that.
Was everything perfect? Hardly. Especially when Shakira was performing, it was easy to stoke skepticism over whether the vocals were live. There will undoubtedly be critics offended by the amount of eroticism on display from both performers at a “family event.” And J.Lo’s decision to have her 11-year-old daughter sing on a mash-up of “Born in the U.S.A.” and her Grammy-nominated “Let’s Get Loud” was heartwarming, if a little hokey. (That the lyrics to “Born in the U.S.A.” were sung over the visual of Lopez proudly displaying a Puerto Rican flag, however, is a major moment.)
But once Lopez took back over and pumped up the volume herself on “Let’s Get Loud,” a song that is essentially a brass-band blast of serotonin, things were right back on track.
There may be an instinct to overpraise Lopez’s performance Sunday night, especially from fans still smarting from her Oscar oversight. (This writer proudly raises his hand.) And there may even be a little bit of hypocrisy in placing so much importance onto a concert staged by the NFL at the Super Bowl.
We should all be a little sheepish about being complicit in Super Bowl fanfare. What is this, other than a systemically-racist institution staging a militaristic pageant drowned in commodity and capitalism, in which Americans root for grown men to bash their bodies together while we all willfully ignore the scientifically proven brain trauma we are enabling—all interrupted by a performatively inclusive halftime spectacle and chased down with Jenny McCarthy scream-wondering if a person singing a Pink song in a fever-dream elephant costume is possibly Oprah Winfrey.
It’s all bookended by perfunctory, borderline morose displays of patriotism and patriarchy-sanctioned emotion—men allowed to cry, because, well, it’s for sports and country. The ex-post-facto analysis of the whole thing centers on the number of chicken wings and pizza slices consumed. It’s a portrait of America in a nutshell, and not exactly a flattering one.
But while whispering a meager resistance to the problematic pomp and circumstance, there’s still a cultural event to dissect, and that’s precisely what J.Lo and Shakira produced: an event.
It is rare that live television leaves you this exhilarated, practically breathless with excitement over what you’ve just witnessed, something so damn entertaining you put down your nachos and maybe even stop tweeting.
The massive smile that Lopez flashed after the whole thing concluded said everything. She nailed it.