In the middle of the halftime show, the singer Shakira let loose a stadium-shaking wail, high-pitched and accompanied by her tongue flicking up and down. I leaped from my couch, shrieking, too.
The Grammy-winning artist, who is half Lebanese, was letting loose a zaghrouta, a chant often raised in the Middle East and North Africa at moments too joyful to celebrate otherwise. If you’ve ever been to an Arab wedding, you’ve probably heard such an ululation. If you’re related to anyone like my late grandmother, you heard it before you went off to prom, when you aced your final exams and when you returned home after a long trip away. Call it a “yeehaw,” a “yaaass,” a “hallelujah” — whatever suits you best.
Granted, Shakira didn’t do her zaghrouta very well; you’re typically supposed to place your hand horizontally atop your mouth, so as to minimize some of that visual tongue action. But it was still refreshing to see. What wasn’t refreshing was how perplexed people were by her homage to her Lebanese roots.
Twitter was immediately flooded with memes of the moment, mostly making unflattering comparisons, particularly to turkeys, SpongeBob SquarePants and even sexual acts. The confusion surrounding the act, whose origin dates to the pre-Islamic era, was understandable. It’s a symptom of the West’s broader problem of poor representation of Arab and Middle Eastern life.
For once, an Arabic expression of utter delight, not the violent stereotypes that plague American TV and movies, was on one of our biggest national stages. And next to no one recognized it.
Amy’s grandmother could let out such a scream of joy. So can she.
Other complaints about the show concern Lopez and Shakira’s attire — or lack thereof.
On one hand, it was nice to see two women — one 43 and the other 50 — having the bodies to wear such costumes well. They were accompanied by youngsters in far-less revealing in a well-choreographed show.
Was it too sexy or too much? Depends, I guess, on one’s point of view. It wasn’t a graphic display of a woman’s nipple, like the heralded “wardrobe malfunction” of Janet Jackson on a previous Super Bowl an no one displayed as much skin as the average cheerleader of a National Football League team.
What Shakira and Lopez did on stage was a homage to their roots and their nation. Notes Allyson Chiu:
Beyond the spectacle of glittery costumes, laser lights and high-energy dancing, the show was an impactful 15-minute-long homage to the singers’ roots. Shakira peppered her performance with Middle Eastern music and belly dancing while also incorporating elements of Latin American culture. Lopez, born in the Bronx to Puerto Rican parents, sang her chart-topping anthem “Jenny From the Block” and later donned the U.S. territory’s flag as a reversible cape.
Their show didn’t bother anyone at our home. Just the opposite: When watching the replay of the halftime show on YouTube, Amy let out an ear-splitting zaghrouta to match Shakira’s.
Nice sound. Fantastic show. Anyone who feels it is something obscene has a dirty mind…and perhaps is bigoted towards Arabs and Latinos.