The elements be damned, nary a head
was missing in the screeching, sequined crowd at St. Louis' Fox Theater Thursday
night. Lovers of pop and glitter had flocked there to show some love
for the New York-born pop diva Stefani Germanotta, also known as the fabulous
Before we begin: Allow me my brief
exhortation on the brilliance of Gaga.
By re-examining the art within the
artifice, Lady Gaga masterfully straddles the line between performance art and
mind-boggling pop. Melding visions of mutilation and monstrosity with glitz and
glamour in her latest album, The Fame Monster, Gaga combines '60s avant-garde art tropes with campy, flamboyant
excess in an addictive fusion that appeals to urban hipsters and suburban
tweens alike. With her brazen attitude and seamless songwriting, Lady Gaga flaunts a
pop prowess that threatens to debunk the legacies of good girls gone bad like
Britney and Beyonce by giving audiences something they haven't seen for an
entire generation: a female pop star with bite.
In short, Gaga has molded herself into exactly what
audiences crave: an addictive, indulgent spectacle that is nothing short of a
sublime train wreck.
With a blast of bass and a flash of
lights, Lady Gaga's pop-electro opera began with the atmospheric number "Dance in
the Dark," kicking off her Monster Ball with a sparkling, synth-laden ballad in
her sleek, ultra-modern stage design, part Heart video (epic fog machine) and
part MoMa exhibit (gigantic layered video screens). Gaga rips through
crowd pleasers such as "Just Dance" and "LoveGame," revving the sold-out crowd
with sumptuous costumes and orgy-like choreography.
It's easy to dismiss Gaga's
constant gimmickry as a strategy formulated to obscure a less-than-stellar
performance ability; but as Gaga sat down at her piano last night to perform her
cabaret version of "Poker Face," she revealed the raw talent behind the
glitzy smoke and mirrors. Wailing in gruff, bluesy tones over pounding piano,
Gaga toyed with vocal quirks while belting out choruses with the passion of a
true jazz diva. (And she does so with one stiletto plunked squarely on the
These outrageous antics
underscored the flaws in Gaga's set, which were mostly noticeable during her
weaker, less-popular numbers. While tracks like "Money Honey" and "Fame" rode
the waves of ecstatic inertia from other songs, backing vocal tracks became
increasingly noticeable as her performance continued, showing the seams a little. But when paired with her inclusive message
of love and acceptance ("Here at Monster Ball we preach love, truth, unity and
togetherness"), Gaga appeared a little less like an inaccessible pop idol, and a
little more like a human being.
While Gaga channeled icons such as Michael Jackson, Madonna and David Bowie (the lightning-bolt face makeup
in her Just Dance video is a dead giveaway), her ironic execution is
more than just appropriation of past trends. With a creative fire surpassing
sheer mimicry, Gaga's recordings and shows spin an intellectual statement
about the power and powerlessness within fame. The star frequently spoke to
this point last night in her video interludes between numbers, which showcased pictures of Gaga
in various runway get-ups, including Edwardian frills and Hannibal Lecter-like
masks. "I didn't create myself. You created me," she recited in an unworldly
whisper. "An image is nothing without its projection."
Wrapping up her set with the campy thriller "Bad Romance,"
Lady Gaga came forward to receive their applause, leaving the audience
breathless--and wondering just how much "gag" there is in the contradiction that
Dance in the Dark
So Happy I Could Die
Poker Face (Piano Version)
Beautiful, Dirty, Rich
Boys, Boys, Boys
Eh Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say)