Double standard? Provocative Super Bowl halftime performances from Shakira, J.Lo create buzz

Susan Whitall
Special to The Detroit News

At a time when American society is as divided as it’s ever been, two Latina women offered up a cultural moment, during Sunday’s Super Bowl halftime show. Well — let’s call it 12 minutes of moments.

At one point, Jennifer Lopez wore an American flag cape that reversed to a Puerto Rican flag, while her daughter Emme Maribel Muñiz and a choir of children, some in cages, sang J.Lo’s “Let’s Get Loud,” as well as the title line from Bruce Springsteen’s song, “Born in the USA.”

There was also a stripper pole, which gave the 50-year-old Lopez the chance to show off some stunning, difficult moves, and there was some crotch-grabbing. It all ended in a frenzy of booty shaking.

Several prominent conservatives reacted quickly, and negatively.

Jennifer Lopez performs during halftime of the NFL Super Bowl 54 football game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday, Feb. 2, 2020, in Miami Gardens, Fla.

Evangelist Franklin Graham vented on both Twitter and Facebook: “I don’t expect the world to act like a church, but our country has had a sense of moral decency on prime time TV in order to protect children . . .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…”

Jenna Ellis, a legal adviser to President Donald Trump, framed her disapproval in political terms. “The progressive left only pretends to care about women,” Ellis wrote on Twitter. “It actually exploits and demeans us. The Christian worldview values all human beings equally in inherent dignity and worth because the Bible recognizes all human beings are made in God’s image.”

Cultural critics were mostly approving. Jon Pareles of the New York Times called the two performers “Latina superwomen,” applauding the show as “a no-nonsense affirmation of Latin pride and cultural diversity in a political climate where immigrants and American Latinos have been widely demonized.”

NPR critic Ann Powers, known for her strong feminist stance, didn’t see anything exploitative about it. She scoffed about “pearl-clutching” in a tweet Sunday (@annkpowers). “That show was all about dance and guess what DANCE IS AS IMPORTANT TO POPULAR MUSIC AS MUSIC ITSELF,” Powers wrote. “Never forget that! It really wasn’t til the ’70s that some people decided to just stand there and watch as music was playing.”

Singers Shakira and Jennifer Lopez perform during the halftime show at the NFL Super Bowl 54 football game between the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs', Sunday, Feb. 2, 2020, in Miami Gardens, Fla.

Was the 24 hours of outrage a case of cultural misunderstanding? Vanessa Alvarez of Miramar, Florida, a Miami native who works for a cruise line, thinks there’s a double standard being applied to these two women (Lopez was born in New York of Puerto Rican descent, while Shakira is from Colombia, with a Lebanese father), considering past Super Bowl performances. 

“Are you kidding me? This isn’t really a controversy,” Alvarez said. “I don’t agree with that at all. Too racy, coming from what? What are people not seeing on TV nowadays? Sure, we’re in south Florida where it’s tropical, flip-flop weather all year round, and people are comfortable with being half dressed.”

But as far as halftime shows, “You could have said the same thing about Madonna half a dozen years ago,” Alvarez pointed out. “Who’s the judge of that? Janet Jackson, hello? Wardrobe malfunction. There was no wardrobe malfunction last night, they were covered.”

Others saw it as a nuanced issue. For many parents, it wasn’t necessarily a binary, left versus right political disagreement. Feelings were mixed.

Barb Prew, a retired teacher from Rochester who describes herself as “more liberal than conservative,” wasn’t happy about the costumes, edgy moves or the stripper pole. As a mother and grandmother, Prew said: “I think it was inappropriate for kids who were watching, and gave the wrong message to them.”

As both a dancer and a parent, Stephanie Pizzo, artistic director of Eisenhower Dance Detroit, could see both sides.

As a dance professional, she appreciated the performance as deeply rooted in Latin dance, and a joyous celebration of Latin culture. She noted appreciatively how difficult J.Lo’s moves were to execute on the pole. And the hip-shaking moment, Pizzo pointed out, is a celebration of Latin culture that’s been around for years. “It reminded me very much of Charo,” she said, referencing the Spanish-American singer/dancer who served up plenty of “cuchi cuchi” on prime time TV in the 1960s.

But as a parent: “I think the biggest question is — is it entertainment, or are we always looking for the biggest shock value?” Pizzo said. “I have children that were born and raised in Central America. I felt there was a connection my daughter had with the performance — so it’s hard. Their intention, especially Shakira’s, felt genuine. But I feel like there was a bit of a line crossed, having the pole in the performance. There is a sexual connotation, no matter what the intention is.”

One thing perhaps everybody would agree on: Who wouldn’t admire a 50-year-old and a 43-year-old who can look and move like that? “I’m 43, the same age as Shakira. I would like to be half of Shakira,”  Alvarez quipped.

Susan Whitall is a longtime contributor to The Detroit News. You can reach her at