First of all, it was a very vague, loose reference to begin with. Yes, at one point "President Kelly" sings "You're the Marilyn; I'm the president." But, he also touches on various politicians' online sex scandals when he asks, "Who put these pictures on Instagram?" He directly points to Bill Clinton's well-publicized mishap when he vehemently claims, "I've never seen this woman in my life" in a quick faux press conference. Gaga is wearing a blonde wig, and the scene is vaguely retro (though more '50s than '60s), but her outfit is in no way recognizable as a Marilyn getup. And, R. Kelly's costume bears neither reference nor resemblance to JFK. We're not saying any similarities were accidental — these are two of the most well-known musicians on earth; their PR teams could never be stupid or naive enough to do that on the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's death. But, the performance was certainly no parody, nor is it really making light of the assassination.
In the end, Gaga pulls her favorite trick of late: calling out her own bad press and letting it simultaneously break and strengthen her heart in a public forum. She's done it on Twitter a thousand times, and it's only natural that she took it to the stage. R. Kelly exits the scene, and she is alone in front of a backdrop of fake headlines calling her a fat flop. Ultimately, this is a commentary on media fascination with celebrity (see the aforementioned press conference) and our tendency to build famous faces up only to break them back down — a theme by which Gaga is endlessly fascinated. JFK and Bill Clinton, the two most explicit references here, both approached Hollywood-style fame in a way few other presidents did. As a result of their respective tragedy and scandal, their actual doings in office have been largely overshadowed by the tabloid frenzy they provided. This performance was not a joke or a cheap appropriation of JFK. It was a very loosely formed, generalized statement about the American appetite for scandal, which made light reference to JFK's life, among other things.
There was, however, one other performance last night that did cross a line.
Ladies and gentlemen, Katy Perry brings back orientalism, and the crowd goes wild!
Before you shout that liberal scumbags are ruining this country with political correctness when Ms. Perry is just trying to enjoy another culture, take note: This isn't even a very accurate representation of a geisha performance. Her dress is a haphazard mash-up of a traditional Japanese kimono and a Chinese qipao, and it's the latter's influence that accounts for the thigh-high slits and knot button at the neck. Nor, are we aware of any traditional kimono that features such a prominent, conveniently placed chest cutout. So, that "culture" she is paying homage to with her costume for a song that has nothing to do with anything Japanese? It's just "oriental," because, as we all know, Asia is one big, exotic place that is not made up of many entirely different groups (word up to our Edward Said readers, here).
Another question we would ask is this: Why? Why was this necessary? What did it add to Perry's performance? There is zero connection between the subject matter of the song and her costume. The only possible logic here is the deeply flawed argument that geishas love their clients unconditionally. That doesn't make sense for two reasons: One is that geishas are not necessarily prostitutes, something that has long been misunderstood by Westerners (you can read all about it on Wikipedia, naturally). The other is that even if they were prostitutes, they would be loving their clients on the condition that they are paid to do so.
There will be many arguments made about why this is or is not offensive. We personally find it lazy, unnecessary, and entirely dated. You're not required to agree; though, we do hope you will seriously consider the issue at hand and the problematic manner in which Perry's performance uses an ill-formed, WWII-era idea of "the East" as a prop — much like Miley Cyrus employed twerking and black backup dancers for her lambasted VMAs show.
However, if we are going to talk about potentially offensive happenings at the AMAs, we will humbly argue that this is the focal point for that discussion, not Gaga's kinda-sorta-JFK reference.