Culture News

Let's Get Political About Jennifer Lopez's and Shakira's Butts

The Super Bowl halftime show bared a lot of truth.

Jennifer Lopez

Rob Latour/Shutterstock

Depending on who you ask, it's unclear who won the Super Bowl.

Some say the highest trophy went to Jennifer Lopez, who commanded the stage with age-defying athleticism, from pole dancing to expert choreography, leading millions of viewers to Google her age (50 years old, that's right). Many say that Latin music won the night, with Bad Bunny joining Lopez to represent Puerto Rico and Shakira, 43, bringing Colombian and Middle Eastern cultures to the spotlight on the Super Bowl halftime stage. Or, as The Cut says, it was "a very good night for butts"; between the awesome powers of Shakira and J-Lo, we had "a dance routine choreographed by butts, for butts...Hips don't lie, and as it turns out, neither do butts!"

But, as with any sporting event, there were angry spectators who didn't like what was happening, who yelled out their displeasure, and who occasionally ranted that "this is America!" for seemingly no reason. Criticism of Shakira and Lopez's halftime performance ranged from shaming the provocative nature of their costumes and choreography to the "un-American" cultural references embedded throughout their performances.

Is the Super Bowl American?

During Shakira's performance of "Hips Don't Lie," the Grammy Award-winning artist paused to give a nod to her Colombian-Lebanese roots. She leaned down to allow one lucky camera to capture a high vocal trill accompanied by a tongue-wagging movement. While the ululation confused many (and inspired a truly cringe-worthy amount of memes), others recognized it as Shakira's version of a zaghroota, a traditional cry of joy in Arabic cultures. Shakira, whose first name is Arabic for "grateful," was mostly raised in Barranquilla, Colombia by her Spanish and Italian mother and Lebanese father.

In fact, her father introduced her to the doumbek, a traditional drum in Arabic music that often accompanies belly dancing. She first heard the beat in a Middle Eastern restaurant when she was four years old, and she fell in love with the performance. During Sunday's halftime show, Shakira brought her signature belly dancing to the stage, where Middle Eastern viewers recognized their culture represented proudly before millions of Americans. Some took to Twitter to point out the traditional dances from Carnaval de Barranquilla, the second largest carnival in the world—which takes place in Shakira's hometown. She also performed the Champeta, a dance that originated in Africa and has its own version in Branquilla, Colombia; and many pointed out that Shakira's zaghroota was part of her version of "Son de negro," another traditional dance performed in Colombia to celebrate African ancestry.

Jennifer Lopez created equally dramatic moments in honor of Latinx culture. The Bronx-born Puerto Rican singer gave new renditions of hits like "Jenny From the Block" and "Waiting for Tonight." But then came a symbolic interlude when Lopez turned the stage over to her 11-year-old daughter, Emme Maribel Muñiz, to lead a children's choir in a cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA." The performance was staged with the children encased in cage-like decorations, a symbolic nod to the thousands of immigrant children being held at the border, most of whom come from Latin American countries. When Lopez returned to the stage, she was wrapped in a feathered version of the Puerto Rican flag, whose white star represents the U.S. commonwealth and white stripes stand for human rights and individual freedom.

"Family Friendly" Sexism?

However, while Shakira and Lopez's halftime performance celebrated Latinx culture with nods to the Latinx diaspora and its numerous contributions to what we know as "American culture" today, ignorance still marred many viewers' perceptions. Criticism ranged from racially charged complaints that "this is not an Arabic country" and that cultural traditions were somehow inappropriate to show on national television to overt, sexist shaming of both Shakira and Lopez for their provocative dancing.

screenshot from Twitter users @magarnets and @amberskyez

What most critics seem to have in common is a belief that the Super Bowl halftime performance is a "family show," and therefore viewers are entitled to modesty from female performers. Perhaps they also believe that J. Lo is simply too old to pole dance. In a nod to her critically acclaimed performance in Hustlers, Lopez showed off her athleticism with a pole dancing routine in her set, and she was also joined by Shakira for a final hip-shaking pose. Critics found this be too sexualizing and objectifying of women–which it was, if one looks at it through the lens of the default male gaze, which has always warped how we see women in media, placing women in the Edenic role of the seductress and entirely dismissing their cultural origins and personal ability to exert control over their own bodies. But hey, that's Twitter for you.


"How Do Mexicans Talk" Trends on Twitter Because of Becky G's Accent in "Chicken Noodle Soup"

The J-Hope and Becky G remake turns out to be a breeding ground of cultural debate, both valid and troll-bait.

Becky G

Photo by CraSH/imageSPACE/Shutterstock

"How Do Mexicans Talk?"

Over 6,000 Twitter users have caused that rhetorical question to trend as part of a contentious back-and-forth about Becky G's and J-Hope's trilingual song, "Chicken Noodle Soup." Namely, one outspoken account about black Latinx cultural issues, "la mala" or @rudeboiluna, called the song "anti-black" and accused Latinx singer Becky G of using a "Caribbean blaccent." Soon commenters disagreed with the claim and asked what the Mexican singer was supposed to sound like when she sang Spanish lyrics, to which la mala replied, "like a Mexican tf."

Thus a fiery debate commenced about the hypocrisy of accusing a piece of art of being "anti-black" while stereotyping a wide group of people. La mala was asked, "How do you think Mexicans sound? Do you think we [go] buRRito and tAcO all the time?" She replied—perhaps in a joke of poor taste, perhaps making light of her own ignorance, perhaps just trolling Twitter about culturally sensitive issues—"yea lol."

As one user clarified, "#HowDoMexicansTalk was created bcoz a black Latinx acc was BLATANTLY racist to Mexicans (keep in mind she's not Mexican) so we made this tag to show that our accents ARE diverse and that Beck* was NOT trying to imitate a [Caribbean blaccent] according to OP."

Thousands of Latinx commenters expressed the same sentiment, which was generally: "How am I supposed to sound in order for you to legitimize me as a Mexican-American?" Thousands more affirmed the fact that no one's ethnic identity needs to be legitimized by others, while at the same time, no one has the right to invalidate others' cultural identity or expressions thereof. That, of course, includes other people of color who want to speak out against erasure—it's simply myopic, insensitive, and ignorant to push the agenda of one cause by jumping to conclusions about an entire culture. Again, it's not advocacy or support to claim there's prejudice against one community when the claim is based purely on ignorance about another community.

The song, which heavily samples the 2006 track of the same name, was already the site of cultural debate, with the South Korean boy band BTS and Becky G releasing their version seemingly without paying homage to the song's origin. Bianca Bonnie's (Young B) and DJ Webstar's original "Chicken Noodle Soup" was a catchy, light-hearted anthem to Harlem, the hometown of both artists. While they've both voiced approval for the cover, many young fans go unaware that the Becky G and J-Hope collaboration is a remake.

For instance, when Becky G shared the song with her 2.3 million followers on Twitter, she made no mention of the original creators. She posted, "#ChickenNoodleSoup ya salió!! Korean, Spanish, English... we brought cultures together & made a trilingual song! Music really is universal." She continued, "I hope everyone enjoys this! Shoutout to my friend J-HOPE! We did that!"

Obviously, that oversight doesn't justify any accusation that Becky G doesn't "sound Mexican." Because, as any simple Google search will reveal, at least 68 national languages are spoken in Mexico, including at least 350 dialects of those languages. Becky G joins a bevy of Latinx artists who have been criticized for not "looking" or "sounding" Latinx. She's candidly addressed the claims in the past: "'You don't look Latina' or 'You don't even speak Spanish.' These are the remarks that we second- and third-generation-born American Latinos often hear. The truth is, the lack of language knowledge does not lessen the Latin blood running through our veins or the stories our last names carry." She added, "Although my Spanish is flawed and I didn't grow up in Mexico, I take pride in my roots. My family's history and the fact that all the traditions and morals passed down have shaped me to be who I am today is what it means to be a second-generation-born Mexican-American for me."


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