Were Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, and Garth Brooks’ selected to signify a time of unity and inclusion for America?
By Juno Kelly.
Tears rolled down faces as the likes of Aretha Franklin, Beyoncé, and Stevie Wonder performed at Obama’s inauguration celebrations in 2009, ushering America’s first Black president, and what the masses hoped would be an era of tolerance, inclusion, and unity. At John F. Kennedy’s ceremony in 1961, Marian Anderson, the first Black woman ever to perform at the White House, sang the country’s national anthem, signifying the start of a period of racial progress and a president adored by the masses. Trump, however, struggled to entice major celebrities to sing at his 2017 inauguration, settling for lower-profile (predominantly white) musicians, including America’s Got Talent contestant Jackie Evancho and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. In essence, who a president-elect chooses to perform at their swearing in ceremony speaks volumes about what their presidency represents.
According to Tony Allen, head of the inaugural committee, today’s inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as president and vice-president, respectively, will include performers who “represent one clear picture of the grand diversity of our great nation.” Said musicians, who will perform in-person at the Capitol, include Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, and inauguration mainstay Garth Brooks. The theme for this year’s ceremony? “America United.”
The selection of Lady Gaga to intone “The Star-Spangled Banner” as Biden and Harris are sworn in is a significant statement made by the administration on its opening day. Since her rise to stardom in 2008, the outspoken artist has become synonymous with 21st-century pop culture, the ownership of overt female sexuality, and LGBTQ+ pride. Politically, she denotes an outrageous, “cool” social liberalism–a stance that’s appealing to left-leaning Gen Y and Zs and the socially liberal a-political–sectors that the Biden administration is hungry to be associated with. As recently as Monday, Gaga publicly denounced racism and white supremacy at King Center’s Beloved Community Awards, mirroring the stance exalted by both Biden and Harris on the campaign trail.
In choosing Gaga to sing the anthem, the administration is undoubtedly sending out a message of inclusion. In her hit 2011 single “Born This Way,” Gaga belts out, “no matter gay, straight, or bi, Lesbian, transgendered life… No matter Black, white or beige, Chola or orient made, I’m on the right track baby, I was born to be brave.” Her selection represents the administration’s desire to position itself in opposition to the anti-LGBTQ+ laws and weakening of LGBTQ+ protection seen under the Trump presidency.
The selection of Jennifer Lopez, who will perform “America the Beautiful” on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol, holds great weight. A proud Hispanic woman, Lopez’s presence is a gesture to the Latino community who were marginalized under the previous government. “I’ve never ever tried to hide the fact that I was a Puerto Rican from the Bronx. Everybody knew it right off the bat. It’s not something I felt would be a detriment, it made me special and who I am,” Lopez once told NBC Latino.
Lopez’s Puerto Rican roots hold specific ties to the Biden administration. Part of Biden’s campaign included the enactment of a microtargeting strategy in the form of “Puerto Rican to Puerto Rican” phone banks in Florida, which saw Puerto Rican campaigners connect with Puerto Rican voters.
It would be naive to deny the influence JLo’s popularity had on her selection. The musician’s performance alongside Shakira at the LIV Super Bowl Halftime Show raked in a colossal 99.9 million viewers, a Latino pride-centric performance complete with a unifying political statement, “Other people can try to build walls, keep us out or put us in cages. We are proud to recognize that all of us together are what makes this beautiful country truly great.”
The selection of Lopez–a singer and woman of color with mass success in the hip-hop genre–also reflects Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ “love” of hip-hop, which she utilized on the campaign trail to increase relatability. The Vice President-elect sauntered out to hip-hop icon Mary J. Blige when making her victory speech, and revealed in an interview that Tupac was her favorite rapper.
Country singer and self-professed Republican Garth Brooks is the most incongruous name on the almost wholly Democratic-leaning lineup. The singer has performed at a colossal number of inaugurations, both Democratic and Republican, including Obama’s 2009 inaugural celebration; he was likely selected for today’s roster as a means of placating Republican viewers and signifying unity following a period of political upheaval and social divisiveness. “I might be the only Republican at this place, but it’s about reaching across and loving one another,” remarked Brooks of the event.
Progressive Hollywood multi-hyphenates Eva Longoria and Kerry Washington are slated to present virtual aspects of the ceremony, while an inauguration special to celebrate the new administration will be hosted by America’s metaphorical dad, Tom Hanks. Unlike Trump, whose relationship with Hollywood was marred in conflict, the Biden administration understands the colossal sway that the “Hollywood Elite” hold, and isn’t afraid to capitalize on it.