Lady Gaga Overstimulates, Preaches to the Choir at Staples Center: Concert Review
(Sunday, Jan. 20)
Over the course of her two-and-a-half hour Born This Way Ball stop at Los Angeles’ Staples Center on Sunday night, Lady Gaga straddled a faux horse, mounted a motorcycle, birthed herself through an inflatable, zipped vagina, hatched from an egg and dangled from a meat rack between massive slabs of beef. And somehow, the pop star also managed to change her costume 17 times.
It was an extensive show, no doubt, incorporating such performance-art tropes into what was apparently meant to be an ongoing narrative. The storyline, set in a massive onstage castle, involved a secret government planet Gaga has termed G.O.A.T., a floating alien head that sporadically appeared onstage and the eventual proclamation that the singer was ready to invade Earth with her “art pop.”
At one point, mid-show, Gaga posed with her dancers and offered the following: “I am not an alien,” the singer yelped. “I am not a woman. I am not a man. I am not human. And I am not a creature of your government, United States. But when they ask you, ‘Who is Lady Gaga?’ you tell them I am you. We share the same hopes. We share the same dreams. The same future potential to succeed. I will be everything that you love and I will also be everything that you hate because you created me.”
The Born This Way Ball, which featured two renditions of the track “Born This Way” off Gaga’s recent album of the same name, consisted largely of these winded, overwrought speeches, some more effective than others. Gaga, who has solidified her core audience of devout Little Monsters after two albums, doesn’t so much perform as preach. Her sermons are built on the tenets of self-confidence and acceptance -- both valuable qualities that Gaga’s crowd seems apt to embrace. But the speeches, which featured lines like “not even black Jesus has any f---s to give,” sometimes seemed to suggest that Lady Gaga has swallowed a little too much of her own Kool-Aid.
The music was, at best, secondary to the grab-bag, highly produced performance -- so much so that the woman responsible for “Paparazzi” wasn’t even onstage for the first two minutes of the song. Instead, the floating alien head, which descended in a glowing diamond-shaped cage, performed it until Gaga emerged and concluded the song by speaking in tongues and shooting the head with a light that caused it to cry blood. It was almost as though the singer decided to indulge every possible idea anyone ever had for her live show simultaneously, oversaturating the stage in a way that her previous Monster Ball happily didn’t.
Still, watching Lady Gaga and her skilled dancers unleash hits like “Bad Romance” and “Just Dance” in a hail of fast-paced choreography is a sight to behold. As she skittered around the extended stage walkway during “Just Dance,” Gaga shouted to the fans, “Listen I know it’s hot and there’s a lot of rich people here tonight, but you need to get your f---ing pussies off the floor.” For all her preconceived speeches, these genuine moments resonated deeply with the audience, most of whom were dressed in tribute to the singer.
The grandiose, overstimulated performance, although notably lengthy, flew by, jumping from theme to theme (the dangling meat racks which transitioned into human-size sausage grinders for “Poker Face” were the true highlight). By the encore, which consisted of “The Edge of Glory” and “Marry the Night,” Lady Gaga felt the need to remind her fans that while her tour is sponsored by Virgin Mobile and although she plays a string of commercials before her performance, she hasn’t lost her roots. As the singer pulled five excited fans onstage to dance with her during the final number, Gaga howled, “I’m as real as they come and don’t you forget it.”
It’s a nice sentiment, but perhaps Lady Gaga’s true appeal is that she is not real at all. Like her monologue declared, the pop star has birthed herself into this surreal amalgamation of ideas and visuals that finds its center point in self-acceptance. The Born This Way Ball’s narrative may be mostly unintelligible, but Gaga and her fans don’t seem to care; they just like it because it’s hers. Although, of course, it would be a great trick if Lady Gaga didn’t believe in any of this and just wanted to see how much onstage insanity she could ultimately get away with. As it turns out, a lot.
Highway Unicorn (Road to Love)
Born This Way
Black Jesus + Amen Fashion
Fashion of His Love
Heavy Metal Lover
You and I
Born This Way (reprise)
The Edge of Glory
Marry the Night