Sorry, GaGagnostics—you won't be free of this bitch any time soon...
For the third time in 18 months (first time here, second time here), I found myself at a Lady GaGa concert, her second night at Madison Square Garden in her hometown. Her (The?) fame had grown like those irradiated tadpoles in that old Japanese monster movie about giant toads, but it was still general admission on the floor. This was her choice, possibly to keep her megafans closer to the action, possibly to pack more in, possibly both.
Glad bags or glad rags?
“I want your love,” she would sing, "love, love, love," and it might have been easier to receive it like an electric current with all of us pressed against one another leading up to her catwalk. “I want your disease,” and it would certainly be easier to catch one in that petry dish of little monsters looking to be amused and amazed.
I’m 41, so general admission is not romantic to me; nothing is, right? I just want to get there early and see a show unmolested. My yearning for that consistently attracts challenges; it no longer surprises me when they occur.
I went with my trainer, whose muscle I knew would come in handy in the event of the pushy, pushing girls who flock to me because of my disarming face, mistakenly thinking I’ll be their latest push-over.We stood to the left of a large pack of small girls who had been wise enough to arrive early and segregate by size; they would be able to actually see this show and deserved to. To my left was a guy with a face that looked even more passive than mine and whose willingness to shift aside upon command alarmed me. In front of us were two straight-seeming men in their twenties still wearing their khakis and dress shirts as if they’d met up outside after work; more on them later. Just ahead of them were two gigantic guys: Big, meet Tall. It might seem stupid to stand behind mountains when seeking the best view, but I had faith GaGa would be outsized enough in her performance to shine through them and I hoped the mountains would discourage short girls from attempting to go through me only to wind up in their shadows. But as hard as it is for me to grasp why people are willing to risk death to scale Everest, they do, and it wasn’t long before adventure-seeking wannabe climbers made their move.First, it was two brassy, stout, beer-fed Jersey girls. They easily slipped past my weak comrade on the left before he knew what was happening, carrying their drinks and behaving as if they needed only to get to a formerly held position ahead. Miraculously, a tallish woman in front of him turned them down. More miraculously, they turned tail and retreated. At this point, I could hear the half-pints behind me openly strategizing about when and where to make their move. Next, a frazzled blonde with an accent tapped me, two beers in her pale hands, asking to get through to her friend who was up front. “Oh, your friend? Who’s your friend?” She was nonplussed, which might mean the opposite of what you think it means if you are like I was at one point. “Oh, who’s my friend? Oh, well…uh, Sue’s my friend…” “Forget it. This always happens, and it’s always a girl trying to get through to the front. No.” “Aw, come on,” she moaned, “There’s always a guy who won’t let a girl through. No more general admission!” Then she moved away, muttering about the absence of gentlemen. I later saw that she’d broken through my area and was ahead of me, but was stymied by the mountains and continuing to the left in search of weaker points of penetration.
But the best of the night was the one I saw coming literally through the back of my head. I was staring straight ahead, yet could see the tallest woman ever approaching from behind. She was black with very short hair and looked like a model. “Excuse me,” she said into my ear, attempting to squeeze in.I turned to face her. She was a head taller than I am. My reply? “No.""What did you say?"
"I said, 'no'."“I don’t need YOU standing in front of me,” I said, and that was that. With me. The giantess moved (with a short female friend, who I hadn’t noticed before) to my trainer, who also turned her down. When she attempted this with the people next to him, my trainer told her off and she sneeringly told him she wasn’t talking to him. “But I’m talking to you,” he repeated over and over, “and you’re talking to all of us and you’re not getting past.” It got heated and nobody made a peep as they barked at each other. Finally, she left, attempting—as so many of the most spoiled women at general-admission concerts will do—to mock her foe. “You have a good show, honey!” she cooed with fake sweetness. It was impotent. It usually is with gay men, who know this game. Everyone immediately congratulated us; fair-weather friends. But it was okay. She lost. The show is over: Let the show begin.
Recycled tag alert: Expressionism yourself!GaGa opened weak, as she had the last time I saw her, with a creative but unsatisfyingly staged “Dance in the Dark,” performed in silhouette. I don’t need grand entrances at the beginnings of concerts, but I do appreciate entrances. The rest of her show I would describe as adventurously staged and fearlessly performed. By this I don’t mean to say she hits every note and every step and has no conceptual duds, but there is something to be said for a performer who confidently executes everything she sets out to do without worrying over every false move. That kind of confidence is contagious; it put the audience at ease. On the down side, I’ve seen her perform three times in short succession, so I am beginning to tire of her show; I am saying now I won’t see her again in early ’11 (is this woman really touring non-stop halfway well into next year???). Her show—which has to be measured against Madonna’s many mega concerts because who else is doing such a theatrical series of numbers for stadiums?—is reminiscent of Madonna’s both in spirit and literally (a circular set piece that sits for a spell at the end of her catwalk reminds anyone who’s seen Sticky & Sweet of “Even the Devil Doesn’t Recognize You”), but it’s hardly déjà vu every 10 seconds.
The devil wouldn't recognize you...but I do! I do!
Yet despite being in Madonna’s ball park, she’s still not in her league; as messy as Madonna’s usual conceptual triptychs are, they usually wind up being hat tricks for me while GaGa’s own show is far less cohesive. If Madonna errs on the side of overplanning, GaGa could use more of it in order to make several exciting performances all the more rewarding. The theme is (still) the fame monster; I feel like that is such a great, solid idea that it should be easy to stick to a program that would harp on that over the course of a two-plus-hour showBut on the plus side, virtually everything she sings is well known to everyone in the room, and her music—despite what some rock critics may contend—is iconic pop that will be hummed and referenced for years and years. Seeing it served up live is what it’s all about, and GaGa’s presentation is exciting and uninhibited even if it’s not perfection.
Stalked by the fame monsterWithout doing a song-by-song analysis, I would say her “Paparazzi rendering is indelible, a tiny GaGa vs. a massive, literal monster, and it feels like the world is coming to an end in a good way when “Poker Face” ma-ma-ma-mas into view. GaGa is game-game, appearing as a sexually-charged (not sexy) nun and pointing out that her hottest backing dancer is bisexual, and therefore is, “Like Jesus…he loves everyone.” She’s not a gifted dancer but does it fine and is not a great beauty but vamps with a gutter glamour that’s far more interesting anyway; it’s not a beauty pageant (but wouldn’t it have been fun to see her as a contestant in one as part of her show?).
Elton JoanneLoved seeing her play the piano with her ass and make love to it. I love a girl with a sense of visual humor. I have to believe her insistence on fishnets and skimpy outfits minus the work-outs is a part of this; I can’t fathom how any of GaGa’s biggest detractors (who seem to feel there is a full-time job at this for which they’re always auditioning) could spend their time arguing how ugly she is when the conventional quality of her looks and body is so beside the point. She seemed genuinely touched to be playing Madison Square Garden, remembering what it had been like to see big shows there when she was a fan—maybe she was one of those pushy and pushing girls who annoy me so?—even crying when the show ended. As much as I am OVER hearing her refer to her fans as little monsters incessantly, I found her appreciation affecting. She’s got a carefully crafted persona, but is simultaneously the real deal.
So happy they could dieMaybe it’s odd, but one thing that affected me most about the show was watching the two guys in front of me. I'd assumed them to be straight, but the two handsome guys in their twenties, one Middle Eastern and one black, danced ecstatically throughout the show in their work shirts, holding hands and embracing, even kissing briefly at one point. Each time a song kicked in that was meaningful to them, they would look at each other and delight in each other’s reaction; I almost felt like I was in their apartment with them as a GaGa album played and they goofed around or made out. (Wait, maybe I am romantic after all!) And if GaGa’s confidence is infectious, so is her nowness. I have no way of knowing, but I would guess those guys like Madonna, too. Even if they do, provided I’m guessing their ages correctly, Madonna would always only be a sort of daunting legend, someone whose body of work precedes their bodies. GaGa could be an It girl they discovered together at the same time the rest of their generation of fans did. In the same way Madonna is oftentimes my pop-cultural language, GaGa will be theirs. Like English and Spanish, there are enough similarities if you listen hard enough.
That's what people who like both mean when they intimate that GaGa is the "new Madonna"; it's not that Madonna's accomplishments can be so easily replicated, it's that there is a need for another brainy broad with a penchant for dressing up and acting out sexually. When people tell you, "Oh, brother, she's trying to be Madonna," you should say, "Someone's got to be."
Worshiping at the altar of GaGa
Like loving Madonna back in the day was almost an identity, a piece of information from which other fans (and anti-fans) could make many accurate guesses about my tastes, loving GaGa, too, is now an identity for guys like the ones who bounced in front of me. And as much as I truly like and appreciate GaGa, I couldn’t become a GaGa fan in the same way someone younger could. Tucked into the G.A. crowd, I was on the inside looking out.