By Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Standing atop the roof of Houston's NRG Stadium with drones illuminating an American flag in the night sky behind her, Lady Gaga kicked off her Super Bowl halftime set on Sunday by singing "God Bless America" as a subtle message of inclusion and unity in a deeply divided United States.
As many speculated about whether the outspoken singer would use her spotlight to address women's rights, immigration or President Donald Trump, Gaga recited part of the American Pledge of Allegiance, "one nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all," in her opening song.
She then swung down from the roof to a stage suspended on cables and embarked on a meticulously choreographed 13-minute set of her greatest hits during the National Football League championship game between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons.
This year's Super Bowl followed a fierce presidential election campaign that Trump won in November but which left the country at least as fractured afterwards as before it began. Trump was greeted with massive protests just after taking office on Jan. 20, and his policy moves have sparked further protests and controversy in the first weeks of his presidency.
Ahead of her high-profile performance, watched by more than 100 million U.S. viewers, Gaga, 30, said in a post on the Instagram social media network that she planned to headline the slot entirely on her own, eschewing a tradition of halftime main acts bringing on special guests.
She then descended onto the stage to dance through "Telephone" and "Just Dance" before running through the crowd to a piano, where she sang her new song, "Million Reasons," giving a shout-out to her parents while she performed.
After joining her diverse cadre of dancers for "Bad Romance," the singer, known for her flair for the dramatic, ended her set by dropping her microphone, catching a football and jumping off a set of stairs onto the field.
'Hamilton' Stars, Luke Bryan Kick-Off S-B 51
Super Bowl 51 started with "America The Beautiful," sung by three original cast members of Hamilton: An American Musical: Renee Elise Goldsberry, Jasmine Cephas Jones and Phillipa Soo, who starred as "The Schuyler Sisters."
The actresses, dressed in coordinating black one-pieces atop a red, white and blue platform belted out lyrics in perfect harmony. They garnered surprised cheers when they added a key phrase to one line, crooning: "And crown thy good with brotherhood -- and sisterhood -- from sea to shining sea." #andsisterhood quickly went viral on Twitter, with most tweeting out hearty approval.
The final act before kick-off featured Country Music Association Entertainer of the Year Luke Bryan performing the National Anthem. Bryan is the first country star in quite a few years tasked with the honor of singing at the Super Bowl, and he added country flair, dressed casually in denim jeans, a black jacket and a graphic T. He nailed it, bringing the 72,000 football fans in attendance to their feet, and tears to many players’ eyes.