Lady Gaga performs onstage during the Super Bowl LI Halftime Show at NRG Stadium in Houston. Credit: Courtesy of TNS.

Lady Gaga had some tough acts to follow for headlining the halftime show Super Bowl 51, but on Sunday night she became the act to beat.

Suspended in the air and accompanied by 300 drones simulating stars, Lady Gaga opened the 2017 Super Bowl halftime performance with brief versions of “God Bless America,” “This Land is Your Land,” and the Pledge of Allegiance. Gaga has been vocally opposed to the rise of President Donald Trump, and opening the show with patriotic messages seemed to be a soft gesture for all to come together and enjoy this national spectacle. Touching on her consistent views on inclusivity and acceptance, she emphasized “liberty and justice for all” as a mashup of some of her top hits revved up the crowd.  

This powerful beginning was a great compromise between her strong opposition to the Trump administration and having a performance without an explicit political message.  With no more mention of politics, literally backflipped into “Edge of Glory,” then leapt from the roof of NRG Stadium.  Yes, she really jumped off the roof.

She continued her acrobatic stunts from the cables, and as she descended onto a metallic tower “Poker Face” began. These stunts stunned me. Gaga and several dancers performed impressive choreography to “Born This Way.”

Although it may not have been obvious, these dancers represented multiple ethnicities. This really brought home the message of “Born This Way,” an anthem for the LGBT community and racial minorities alike.  

Dancing all over the stage, she made her way to a metallic cave where she sang “Telephone” without 2013’s halftime headliner and 2016 guest performer Beyoncé, despite her feature in the original recording.  It was an unusual departure from halftime show tradition to not have any cameos, and Queen B was certainly missed.  

After she left the alcove, Lady Gaga donned a gold jacket and played keytar for “Just Dance.” Once again, the dancers were at center stage in this catchy feature, ending the song in an impressive dance break.

Without going overboard and becoming overwhelming, the visuals maintained a metallic theme and the lights shone in bright colors in brilliantly designed displays.  But everything softened when Gaga sat at a grand piano, addressed the crowd — including her parents — and sang her newest ballad “Million Reasons.” Clearly breathless and overwhelmed with emotion, Lady Gaga gave a gripping performance of the love song. Despite the melody’s strong belted notes, Gaga stayed in key and sang her heart out.  It was the highlight of a legendary performance.

The fans on the field raised their provided lights that made for an incredible overhead shot.  Gaga joined them, gave a hug or two, and the lights held by the fans turned from warm orange and reds to bright cool blues and vibrant purples.  Running back onstage, Lady Gaga began her hit “Bad Romance” and picked the party up.  Now in a sequined pair of shoulder pads, Gaga and her enormous troupe performed the most intense choreography of the night dressed in white football-themed outfits. As the song ended, fireworks erupted around the stadium. Gaga dropped her white microphone and jumped off the stage. The fireworks continued to blast and I took a moment to let her performance sink in. Even sports analyst Terry Bradshaw needed a moment to pull himself together, stumbling on words to describe how much he enjoyed Gaga.

Not only was Lady Gaga’s halftime performance visually flawless, it was entertaining. I was not surprised Gaga left out material from her two most recent albums, with “Million Reasons” being the only song performed that had been released after 2013.  Lady Gaga is best known for the songs she did sing — all chart-toppers in the early 2010s — which made her repertoire more enjoyable for all audiences.  I doubt the straight, male viewers that dominate the Super Bowl audience know any of the songs from “Artpop,” her worst-selling album, but they certainly know “Bad Romance” and “Poker Face.”  Next year’s act is going to have a hard time topping Gaga, especially her roof-jumping.