In Defense of Lady Gaga (Not That She Really Needs to be Defended...)
I thought this was a shameful secret. I remember seeing Lady Gaga on the cover of a Rolling Stone over a year ago in her bubble costume. I remember thinking, "Oh, look, Yet another forgettable blonde pop star." Then, a few months later, Cartman performed "Poker Face" on South Park, which convinced me give her album The Fame Monster a shot. I can't deny the impeccable taste of that animated, prepubescent jerk.
Is Lady Gaga's music revolutionary? Not really. Are the lyrics anything special? Nope. But are the tracks incredibly catchy? Yup. "Poker Face." "Paparazzi." "Alejandro." "Telephone." "Bad Romance." These are all great pop songs. Sure, that's like saying they're a slightly more healthy form of Frosted Flakes than regular Frosted Flakes but still....
Like plenty of other pop stars, Gaga comes from a rough and tumble background. Her beloved father is an alcoholic with heart problems. She stands a serious chance of developing hereditary lupus. She paid her dues in a roach-infested Manhattan apartment and owes her career to a disastrous personal relationship that has since led to a $30 million dollar lawsuit. So she's got the whole "tough-girl, survivor" thing going for her.
What sets her aside from Britney Spears and a million others who have come before her, however, is the level of creativity that goes into her act and persona. I'm not saying anything that hasn't already been said but, still, I feel compelled to prattle on. Consider the weird costumes made out of everything from nun habits to police caution tape to lit cigarettes. The ear-worm songs that practically force you to get up out of your seat and shake your ass. Her sociopathic, "take-no-prisoners" demeanor and "Mona Lisa on coke" smile. Her deer-caught-in-headlights interview with Barbara Walters. Her tireless campaign to promote gay marriage and encourage everyone, especially teen girls, homosexuals and the transgendered to be themselves. At the end of her show at the Rose Garden last night, she introduced two of her back-up dancers who are in a committed relationship and want to get hitched but legally can't. The crowd of nearly 20,000 shouted their approval.
And, yeah, there's also the video for "Telephone" where she terrorizes the state of Arizona in the "Pussy Wagon" from Kill Bill with Beyonce as her accomplice. As Stephen Humphrey put it in this week's edition of The Portland Mercury, "say what you will about Gaga (perhaps that she's a shameless, faux-artsy Madonna knock-off?), but spectacle-wise, she's still the best thing we've got going these days."
On Sunday, I decided I'd make a half-hearted attempt to get a last minute ticket to her show in Portland. I jumped on Craigslist got a call from "Charlotte" in Vancouver. She was a gal "of a certain age" and needed to sell her ticket, ASAP. She had fallen for someone in California and had decided to run off to be with them. After another buyer fell through, I drove up I-5 to snag it. Charlotte was a somewhat apologetic Lady Gaga fan. "Can you imagine me being there, at my age, with all those kids," she said. "Still, I love her. She's accomplished so much in just a little over a year."
That said, there were plenty of women well over the age of 50 in the Rose Garden last night. All in all, I'd say the audience was comprised of 85% females, 10% "men of a certain persuasion," 5.9999999% boyfriends/husbands that got dragged to the show and .0000001 me. I was completely out of place, wedged up on the 300-level between a blonde lady and her husband and three teenage girls who arrived in leather and ballerina outfits. It seemed like everyone in the building was dressed in a cocktail dress, an elaborate sci-fi outfit or a colored wig. My vote for Best Costume of the Night: the chick who came in a prom dress while wearing not only a bondage mask but a Hannibal Lecter mask too.
Lady Gaga sure knows her way around an arena. She hosted an elaborate stage show worthy of Madonna in her prime. There was a loose plot about Gaga and her crew trying to find their way across Manhattan in search of the "Monster Ball," the premiere party of the year. They get sidetracked after their car breaks down, forcing them to take the subway while dressed as nuns for some reason. They get knocked further off course by a hurricane/chandelier attack and find themselves trapped in Central Park.
Gaga gets attacked by vampires and jumps into a Fountain of Youth adorned with a flaming angel statue during "Alejandro" and cures her wounds. She spends the rest of the show covered in stage blood as the band tears through her best known songs, culminating in a showdown between her and the "Fame Monster," a giant puppet that looks like a cross between an octopus and a unicorn. Click the YouTube video below to watch this bit. Gaga slays the beastie while wearing a bra-powered by fireworks and with the power of the crowd's flashbulbs. For the encore? She rolls out on stage in a sphere and tears through "Bad Romance."
At this point, the entire crowd was in rapture and she had them in the palm of her hand. The girls next to me were acting like it was 1964 and the Beatles were on stage, screaming themselves horse and singing along to every number. During the show, Gaga referred to the crowd affectionately as "motherfuckers," "assholes," and "monsters." Before "Telephone," she called an audience member with a cell phone and chatted with her on the video screens over the stage. She offered to tongue kiss her after the show. No idea if the girl took her up on the offer.
The show also has its more intimate moments. Gaga rolled up to a piano lit ablaze for a few torch songs as a tribute to her father and "the sexiest bastard on the planet." Oh, and I should note the creepy, between-song videos that feature her getting a tattoo and eating a heart.
The argument could be made that Gaga is just another manufactured fake or merely resurrecting Madonna's shtick, right down to the Catholic League-baiting antics. Open up the summer double-issue of Rolling Stone and you'll see a high school photo of Gaga dressed up like a cheerleader. A far cry from the "ugly girl that used to get made fun of by the popular bitches" as she described them last night. Still, she's a hell of a lot more interesting than anything in pop music in nearly two decades. I'd say she has immense potential to transcend her genre and create an album that one need not apologize for if caught listening to it. I guess we'll see....
Click here to see more footage from the show, including "Bad Romance," and "Show Me Your Teeth." Also: a hat tip goes out to Natchiya Hunt for the photo above. She caught the performance from just a few rows back in general admission and brought her camera along.