In 2020, Latina superstars Jennifer Lopez and Shakira headlined the NFL’s Super Bowl halftime show. Their multicultural and politically charged performance was met with 1,300 FCC complaints, adding to the growing list of Super Bowl controversies—notably, all by top female MTV veterans. This essay historicizes and analyzes the reception of the most controversial halftime shows—performed by Janet Jackson, Madonna, Beyoncé, Shakira, and Jennifer Lopez—to theorize why they became so contentious. Situating these performances within the NFL’s history and its economic incentives for inviting pop stars into the annual championship event, I combine theories of branding with studies on music’s role in creating spectacle and nationalism at the Super Bowl to demonstrate how the game and its halftime shows operate within their own “branded spectacles.” I argue that it is when the often polarizing values of these branded spectacles overlap that they become incendiary—i.e., controversy ensues when the NFL’s displays of violent, hard-bodied, hetero-masculinity, and nationalist and capitalist messaging are juxtaposed within the same mediated space as the oppositional politics of musical performances featuring marginalized bodies otherwise unwelcome into the sport itself. This research engages with important conversations about the roles of branding and music in sporting events, demonstrating that it is not merely the sights but the sounds of these artists’ bodies that has grated most obviously against the “politically neutral” image that the NFL brand and U.S. media culture more broadly, has (until recently) claimed to maintain.
“Let’s Get Loud”: Sounding Subversive Bodies at the Super Bowl
Joanna K. Love is associate professor of music at the University of Richmond. She researches American and popular music in multimedia and has published extensively on music in U.S. national brand and political advertising. Her work has appeared in interdisciplinary volumes for Oxford University Press and Routledge, as well as professional journals, including American Music, Journal of the Society for American Music, and Music and Politics. Her 2019 book, Soda Goes Pop: Pepsi-Cola Advertising and Popular Music, was supported by an American Association of University Women fellowship. Love’s co-edited volume with Jessie Fillerup, Sonic Identity at the Margins (2022), explores the roles of music and sound in constructing personal, community, and global identities. Love is currently working on a Digital Humanities archiving project funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, America’s Music Scenes in the Age of Social Media, and is writing a book on popular music’s increased prominence in NFL Super Bowl broadcasts.
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Joanna K. Love; “Let’s Get Loud”: Sounding Subversive Bodies at the Super Bowl. Journal of Popular Music Studies 1 June 2022; 34 (2): 112–142. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/jpms.2022.34.2.112
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