Let Me Know When You Get Over Your Prejudice— I’ve Never Loved a Halftime Show More
I really don’t care a bit about football.
I’m very simply not a football person unless I feel like I have to be. I will go to a watch party at a friend’s house because it seems like something others enjoy, and I want to spend time with those people. I will provide the requisite buffalo chicken dip because I love eating it, and I will pretend to care about this or that field goal because it’s the topic my fellow spectators are onto. The Army Navy game a few months ago was the first game I actually attended in person in about two decades, and I went because it was important to my veteran parents. (And, you know, the six hour tailgate, which was top notch, I must say.)
My point: football ain’t my thing, y’all.
But while my very beloved baseball games have many traditions I hold dear and nothing warms me up quite like singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh inning stretch, what baseball games don’t have is halftime.
And when I tell you my eyes were glued to the television for Shakira and JLo’s Super Bowl Halftime performance, I want you to picture a joyous child discovering live streaming for the first time.
I was utterly transfixed. I sang along. I knew every word (yes, even in Spanish, calm down). I danced in my seat, and if you think for a second I didn’t jump with excitement when I heard the telling “que calor” introducing J Balvin, you’re dead wrong. (The song itself, by the way, in its entirety makes reference to a blonde who can’t understand Spanish, but memorizes the words to the song anyway. That is me. I am that blonde.)
I grew up watching and listening to Jennifer Lopez. You think my mother can be as RomCom obsessed as she is and I don’t have The Wedding Planner memorized? Please.
As for Shakira, “Hips Don’t Lie” came out when I was in middle school, just starting to go to school dances and learning that dancing even when you don’t know what you’re doing can still be fun.
And that, my friends, is exactly what I loved so much about their halftime show.
It was fun.
Take a look at Shakira’s face when she does… literally anything during that performance. She’s having the time of her life. Look at her and Bad Bunny when they sing “Latino gang” in the middle of “I Like It Like That”. Look at JLo when she sings “a little more than I should be” in “Get Right”. Look at the two women together at the beginning of “Waka Waka”.
It’s playful, it’s joyous, it’s exuberant, and it’s amazing.
There were important messages that we need to take a closer look at.
Not only having children sing from inside cages, but indeed putting Lopez’s own daughter into one was heart stopping and brave and powerful. Putting the Puerto Rico flag on the inside of a United States flag was important. Reminding viewers everywhere that the Latinx community is a colorful, breathing, vibrant, larger than life culture we should all be proud to embrace was incredible.
And the sexist and racist responses to those messages gutted me.
Again, football is not my thing, but I do at least know enough to see that the same viewers ogling the NFL cheerleading teams without question were the same supposedly clutching their pearls over hip shaking and pole dancing.
First and foremost, open up YouTube and type in “mapalé”.
When you’re done with that, type in “salsa” and then “champeta”.
Take a look at what you find and understand that these are deeply beloved, culturally significant pieces of who these women are. They are expressions of history and emotion and exceptional skill. Now watch them again and just have fun. These are incredible dances with beautiful roots, and dancing is supposed to be joyful.
All done? You good? You learned something? Great. Moving on.
Second, whatever your thoughts on stripping may be, let’s set those aside for a moment here. Pole dancing in and of itself takes an unbelievable amount of strength and agility to do at all, let alone do well. So go ahead and remove it from the context of nudity and dollar bills being thrown on stages, and what you have is athleticism, pure and simple. Lopez learned how to pole dance for her role in Hustlers (a pretty freaking successful movie you might have heard of), and why shouldn’t she show that off? She’s great at it!
Or maybe it’s the celebration of sexuality you have a problem with? The ownership? The unapologetic decision to let it be (*gasp!*) fun??
Women are pigeonholed into impossible standards, and have been since time immemorial. The expectation that women performers are to be conventionally beautiful at all times, curvy and yet still thin, on display and yet not sexualized…
Those are not reasonable things to ask of anyone.
And these are two of the most successful and well-known Latina artists on the planet. No one has any right to tell them that they should change how they celebrate what makes them who they are, and that includes the hip shaking and the belly dancing and the pole.
On top of which, no one gets to tell any woman that they should cover up after a market has for decades given overwhelming attention to women who don’t. How dare anyone tell Shakira and JLo that their continued participation in an industry that reveres creativity and passion is inappropriate? Because they’ve flipped the script on you? Because instead of being shoved into a role you’ve created for women performers, they are now in a position to capitalize on it? And on their own terms?
Unpack that for a minute, please, because it’s, at best, hypocritical in the extreme, and at worst, a dangerous and harmful double-standard that you will no doubt spread to the next generation.
As for the racism.
Oh, boy. Where to begin…
I remember Beyoncé’s halftime show appearance after Lemonade came out and my God, the hypocrisy. The outrage. The indignation. People were in absolute fits over the nod to the Black Panthers and that a global powerhouse like Beyoncé should embrace, and indeed celebrate, her blackness.
The same people are up in arms this time around that a portion of this year’s performance was in Spanish.
Yeah, hi, folks. Are you serious?
As of last year, 70% of NFL players are black. If a performer wants to put on a show that gives the spotlight to her community, especially within a sport that whitewashes the management, the commentary, and the ownership? She gets to.
And if two Latina performers want to highlight their heritage, their culture, their talent, in a performance that gives weight to the relevance of the Latinx presence in America?
They get to.
Or did you conveniently forget the Super Bowl was played in Miami?
Latinx players are consistently underrepresented in football — in spite of the fact that 18% of the U.S. population is of Hispanic and/or Latinx descent, they account for less than 2% of NFL players.
So maybe it’s time for football fans to wake up. They reacted badly to Bey, a member of the NFL player majority, and they’ve reacted badly to Shakira and JLo, members of a minuscule NFL minority.
You want to watch painfully boring fifteen minute concerts with shirtless white dudes? Honey, you go right ahead.
But in the meantime, let the rest of us have our fun.
Originally published on February 5th, 2020.