Jennifer Lopez and Shakira’s halftime show is political, but political in a way that’s different from Colin Kaepernick
Latinos get representation on the world’s biggest stage
The original idea for the Super Bowl XXVI halftime show starred two Olympians, Brian Boitano and Dorothy Hamill, skating on Teflon. The theme was “Winter Magic: A Salute to the Winter Olympics.” It was 1992, and CBS had the rights to the Winter Games. The production also featured a 30-foot-tall inflatable snowman and the University of Minnesota Marching Band.
As planning for the event commenced, rival execs at Fox decided that CBS was vulnerable. In the lead-up to the game, Fox began promoting its counterprogramming — the In Living Color Super Halftime Party.
The Super Bowl had always been a ratings juggernaut — but CBS still worried about Fox’s ploy. Gloria Estefan was added to the lineup at the last minute to perform in the grand finale and bring name recognition. Fox continued promoting In Living Color, adding a final performance from rhythm and blues group Color Me Badd.
For 11 seconds of intro music before Color Me Badd’s performance of “I Wanna Sex You Up,” In Living Color’s all-female dance crew, The Fly Girls, performed. In the second row, not easily missed, was Jennifer Lopez. She hit her moves in a black-lace halter jumper with a white belt. Her timing was sharp, her arm movements graceful, and her energy drew the eye.
Fox’s gambit paid off. The unapologetically black sketch comedy show got away with a couple of uncouth jokes and stretched the boundaries of decency while luring away 27% of the Super Bowl’s viewership. More than 20 million people changed the channel to watch In Living Color on Fox.
Critics credit the In Living Color stunt with heightening the NFL’s awareness of the halftime show as a ratings boost. The show also proved that a little sexy didn’t hurt. So even in 1992, in the second row, Lopez was a force.
Twenty-eight years later, that force is headlining the Super Bowl along with Shakira. And she’s not going to be doing a double axel to a marching band or dancing with a giant snowman. She’s going to be, in her own words, bringing “that flavor” to Miami.
After all, the NFL is on some thin ice of its own these days. How does it create a production that is racially diverse, apolitical, and all-appealing? How does one skate around controversy and still put on a good show?
Enter: Roc Nation and Jay-Z. By signing with Roc Nation, the NFL also signed with Jay-Z the person. The first line of the press release mentions Roc Nation was founded by “rapper and businessman” Jay-Z. It was clear the NFL purchased Jay-Z’s public reputation as much as it did a partnership with his media conglomerate.
For the first Super Bowl venture, Roc Nation announced in September that superstars Jennifer Lopez and Shakira, the latter represented by Roc Nation, would headline the Pepsi Super Bowl LIV Halftime Show in Miami Gardens, Florida.
Miami is one of the most Latino cities in the country. It is a city of immigrants, of diversity, of music. The influences of the Caribbean, Central and South America can be felt. From the architecture to the food, Miami shares more with Barranquilla, Colombia, than it does with Boston.
Still, many people didn’t understand the choice. One usually associates Lopez with the Bronx and Shakira with Colombia. Yet, Lopez invested at one point in the Miami Dolphins and closed her recent tour there. In 2001, Shakira purchased a $3.3 million mansion in Miami. They have both spoken of Miami as a second home. But neither embodies the sound or spirit of the city the way someone such as Miami native Pitbull or Cuban American Estefan — who was also featured in the Miami Sound Machine band — do.
But Lopez and Shakira bring the power of their celebrity. After breaking out of In Living Color with a star-making turn in the Selena biopic, Lopez has gone on to become an industry all on her own. She’s an internationally recognized dancer who currently produces and judges World of Dance, a Golden Globe-nominated actress for Selena, an MTV-Award winning singer and a fashion designer. Her latest film, Hustlers, generated buzz and her lack of award nominations for the role have been considered a snub by some in the industry. She’s a quadruple threat, with producing powers as well. Lopez has focused on creating opportunities for herself, and this Super Bowl performance will be no exception.
Shakira, of course, is one of the biggest entertainers in the world. She’s sold more than 140 million records worldwide and is a three-time Grammy winner. She’s performed at the FIFA World Cup, has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a fragrance line and even has a parasitic wasp named after her, the Aleiodes shakirae.
Both women have worldwide audiences, which can only benefit the NFL as it brings the party to Florida. Still, reactions have been mixed.
“Lopez and Shakira have a crossover appeal — that’s how the NFL uses its halftime show,” said Louis Moore, an associate professor of history at Grand Valley State University. “You have something that attracts people. There is a history of music doing this — post the World War II era, music has had a way of bringing people together. This is how the NFL wants to operate. But at the same time, the combination of J. Lo, Shakira, and Jay-Z is doing something different. Almost like the NFL is pacifying what’s going on with [Colin] Kaepernick.”
CBS sportscaster Alex del Barrio doesn’t see the link between halftime and former NFL quarterback and activist Colin Kaepernick. “I just don’t think Pepsi or the NFL are focused on the on-field connection or racial spin or connotations. They are looking for the best act they can get to keep people watching between the first and second halves.”
No matter how the performance is received, both women stand to benefit. Shakira recently announced an HBO concert film supporting her most recent album, which charted internationally in 2018, but did not penetrate the U.S. market in a significant way.
There also seems to be a political message to what they intend to do with their performances.
“I’m so honored to be taking on one of the world’s biggest stages in the company of a fellow female artist to represent Latinos and Latinas from the U.S. and all over the world,” Shakira said in an NFL press release. “This is a true American dream and we are going to bring the show of a lifetime!”
“I think it’s important in this day and age for two Latin women to be standing on that stage,” Lopez said in a Variety interview. “When Latinos are being treated a certain way in this country, or looked at a certain way — to show that we have a really specific and beautiful culture and worth and value, and we bring something to this country that’s necessary.”
There is a tension here. We live in an age of xenophobia, racism, and open white supremacy. And while this does relate to Kaepernick’s protest tangentially, I don’t believe Lopez is referring only to law enforcement. I think she’s talking about everyone “in this country” who sees Latinos as unworthy.
As soon as the women step on stage, Lopez intends to demonstrate the value of Latino culture. Which is to say, Lopez, at a time when her culture is under scrutiny, intends to celebrate her identity.
Shakira agrees, telling 60 Minutes, “I think the message is gonna be, ‘Listen, I’m a woman. I’m a Latina. It wasn’t easy for me to get where I am. And being at the Super Bowl is proof that everything is possible.’ ”
For Elizabeth Rodriguez Fielder, professor of multiethnic literature and culture at the University of Iowa, the complexity of the issue is inherent.
“My initial reaction was concern that Latinas were being used to cross the picket line of a protest or boycott against the NFL, especially given that Rihanna had turned it down. I understand it’s more complicated than that, that the Super Bowl is the greatest secular holiday this country has. And its halftime show offers a chance to make a statement with the largest possible audience. I suppose this statement is a celebration of Latinidad.”
Sports writer and media consultant Javi Perez thinks the show was a long time coming.
“This is a seminal moment here. It took us this long to get two Latina headliners, not sharing the stage, and it took too long for us to get here. It’s a big milestone, them being there.”
The only other Latina to headline a halftime show was Estefan, who did so with other guests. So this is the first time it’s an all-Latino headliner situation. They haven’t announced any guests yet, so as of now, these Latinas are sharing the burden and star power to get folks to tune in.
Lopez is Puerto Rican in a time in which nearly half of Americans don’t understand that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, and Shakira, as a Colombian who owns a home in the States, represents Latin Americans. For people not used to being celebrated, seeing one of the biggest productions of the year rest on the shoulders of these women means a lot. It’s representation. And seeing yourself, or acknowledging your worth, is everything.
For Lopez and Shakira, the performance is political, but political in a way that’s different from Kaepernick. Kaepernick’s activism methods are not subtle. Neither of these performers is going to kneel or raise a black power fist. But the two Latinas on that stage will be sending a message — one that has more to do with the Latino community, immigration, and representation.
The NFL may be inadvertently making a political statement, too, by holding a halftime show that’s a celebration of Latinidad in a Latino city. Anyone they picked would have been scrutinized. So by using Roc Nation and these women, they’re taking a stance that is pro-Latino, which is viewed as pro-immigrant and pro-refugee in a place like Miami.
Jennifer McClearen, a media scholar and professor at the University of Texas, sees little downside to the choice of Lopez and Shakira.
“We read the NFL as conservative, but there are elements of progressiveness within it — driven by capitalism. Using these two performers is a safe way to appeal to your more progressive audience, your ethnically diverse audience, but at the same time not make your mainstream white audience uncomfortable.”
The benefits of the choice are clear: The NFL expands its appeal to new audiences, doesn’t look racist, and plays it safe. Roc Nation brokers a deal that is both politically edgy and doesn’t risk the NFL’s ire. For example, the performance will not be boring, it’s sexual. There will be hips moving on the stage. And they aren’t white. Audiences get to see two superstars put on a good show. And Latinos and U.S. Latino folk get some representation on one of the biggest stages in the world.
We wish for sports to be free of politics, of discomfort, of anything but physical wonder and competitive fun. But by virtue of growing into a public spectacle in a time when public spectacles are under scrutiny, the NFL cannot escape its own cultural significance.
In choosing to work with Roc Nation, and in choosing these two women to headline halftime, the production ends up being a celebration of Latinidad, I’m not mad. There were worse choices to be made.
I believe Lopez when she says it will be a good show. Both she and Shakira are stellar at exactly this type of event. And that may be the biggest win of all — halftime won’t be boring, or terrible, or too controversial.
After all, it’s Lopez and Shakira, in Miami, bringing us that flavor. How can we lose?