I went to one of the most riotously mismanaged press events ever Monday night—and that's saying a lot, considering I've been to hundreds over the past 15+ years, from rinky-dink teen parties to massive, mainstream clusterfucks. But oddly, as horrible as the press part was, the event it preceded went off without a hitch. In fact, the event—Lady Gaga's much-ballyhooed artRave—was really a blast, and would've been even more so had I not been having a bad age day and if I were more in love than in hate with her new record, ARTPOP.
I don't want anyone's "fucking throne" any more than Gaga, but I do expect to be treated respectfully, which was not on the menu.
Hear me out, Monsters, before sending me GRID-infected needles in the mail—and then if you're still not satisfied, hold your venom and just use me for the great pictures.
First, all press needed to arrive by 4:15PM at E. 35th and FDR to board a ferry, which would take us to the secret location, the Brooklyn Navy Yard. This meant it would be a torturously long evening, considering the party was starting at 9PM and rumor had it Gaga was going on around 1AM. But I showed up on time, only to find a gaggle of creatively attired Little Monsters cheerfully lined up on the pier, all hoping their chic sassiness would get them into the party, even without invitations. They were pretty adorable, but like gremlins, do not add water or all hell breaks loose. (I later heard zero fans were allowed into the event, only those with tickets, so it seems inhumane not to have rewarded at least the ones camped out and dressed up.)
The first harrumph came when I checked in, only to be told the PRs had no idea I was going to cover the red carpet, so they couldn't accommodate me. Uh, the event was structured as a press conference, tour of the space, red carpet and then party. Why on earth would I cover everything but the carpet? "I'll try to accommodate you, but it's very full," my contact said, unconcerned. Okay.
Ferried over, having to listen to some of the photographers being assholes (they're not all assholes, far from it, but they're like the dwarves in Lord of the Rings—very clannish). One woman always acts like Queen of the Event Photogs, relaying info to us like she's our union rep. Unnecessary and presumptuous.
I'm so glad this is not my living. I give much respect to my sweet pal, who was with me but who shall remain nameless so as not to jeopardize his standing in said clan, who manages to do his job without being a jerk and without letting it drive him nuts. (He's nuts for different reasons.)
We arrived and then...nothing. In the dark, we all had to stand around in the freezing cold for an hour or more, waiting for instructions. At two points, the photographers began to mutiny, led by one who's been arrested before and who once cornred and made Rebecca Romijn bawl her eyes out for not posing for him while she was going through a divorce. Watching the PR guy almost lose his shit trying to get everyone calm was amusing, and was closer to art than anything Gaga has conceived (yet).
Finally, we were herded—and I do mean herded—into this warehouse space where we could see the instantly infamous Volantis, which is billed as the world's first "flying dress." What it is is a bunch of those jet packs from the backs of '70s movie magazines lashed together with a hard plastic dress-shaped holder in the front. A bunch of cute youngsters who I assumed were models were walking about like sexy zombies, pretending (?) to check on various details.
Later, it was revealed that two of them, a guy and a girl, were the inventors of Volantis. Both looked like they were barely out of the phase of watching Saturday morning cartoons.
Gaga arrived unceremoniously, dressed in a flight suit, her natural brown hair back, looking fresh-scrubbed and lovely! She stood just a few feet away from us on a small platform with the Volantis VIPs, and began an absolutely ridiculous, absolutely earnest speech about how this and other IDEAS were going to CHANGE THE WORLD, and how Volantis means WE'RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER. Look, it's a pricy hovercraft—it's not art (nor is it presented as such), it's not useful, it cost a shit-ton of money, it's not feeding people and it's not creating tolerance. It's really just an elitist, self-indulgent (okay, selves-indulgent, since several people seem to have been in on this) flight of fancy. I was hating Gaga at this point, because even though she was in good spirits, she was just talking nonsense. Looking good, but talking nonsense.
At this point, the whole affair could easily have ended like Jonestown. When Gaga talks about unity and ideas and "It's not about me!" with a statue of herself 100 feet away, it really does feel like a fucking Jonestown waiting to happen.
She walked to the back of the chamber, stripped to a leotard, and then suited up in the dress, which then made three unspectacularly halting lurches forward, until she was back to where she started. She disengaged, expressed real joy that it had gone so well (this was allegedly its very first flight, total beta), gave a thumbs up and then answered more questions.
Before going, she brought up the inventor of the ARTPOP app, which looks extremely boring and uncomplicated, and which made for a boring and complicated demo as we sat wondering when this would come to a merciful end. She posed for copious photos, pleasing everyone there, except for that bossy lady photographer, who had made one girl move because she was sitting in front of her and she required, more than anyone there, apparently, a clear shot of Gaga from every possible angle she may choose to try. The girl asked to move was from Spin, a legit outlet, and like many others there, she was kind of over the whole thing.
Next, Gaga left and we all went to the party space, which was close by and—yay!—heated. I'll tell you what: I may be cynical about Gaga, and Jeff Koons may be my pro-drug (I love kooky art, but he's always struck me as a phony...I prefer Madonna's taste in hifalutin artistes, such as Cindy Sherman and Jean-Michel Basquiat), but that party space was gorgeous, and the Koons pieces were really fuckin' cool in person. Walking in behind the giant Buddha—I mean, Gaga—was really breathtaking. It was huge and otherworldly, like something you'd find on a distant planet in 2001: A Space Odyssey, with monkeys dancing around it, or like something the fundamentalist Muslims would be dynamiting in Afghanistan.
I was right in front of it when Gaga entered in a new, really cool outfit. She had her whacky eyewear on, making her look like an haute couture inventrix. A Madge scientist. She could have removed the glasses, spun around, and turned into Wonder Woman, and it wouldn't have been surprising. Instead, she gave us a (much better!) speech about her event, and how she planned to open her performance at the statue (which was revealed to be an actual Koons)—"art"—and walk to the opposite end, where a giant, cute stage was waiting—"pop." I liked the concept a lot, the merging of ARTPOP seemed much cooler in this incarnation, simpler, as in my beloved track "Artpop" from the album.
I got great shots of Gaga here, especially when she came right in front of me to make a point. Clear eye contact, and she seemed a little more like a person with a sense of humor during this encounter. When she asked if we had questions and the photographers kept murmuring about wanting her to turn, she said, resigned but with a smile, "You want a picture." She posed for a while, then promised us hamburgers. (Part of the schedule had stated we'd be fed, considering we were there for hours 'n' hours.)
Back outside, we realized the Frites & Meats food truck we'd seen was our food source. It was free, but it was also understocked...even though we had to fill out order slips, they announced they were totally out of food, directing the rest of us to wander the grounds in search of other trucks...which were not open for biz yet since they were meant to service the partygoers. We wandered aimlessly in the cold with no food (and no bathrooms!), but all of the PR people ate hearty. And I was still told my red-carpet access was unlikely.
As we walked around looking for food, we were continually and brusquely questioned as to our business there, having to show our wristbands at every turn.
Finally, a taco truck arrived. A supersexy, supertall Swede (pictured at left) who works for Reuters (yay, PR peeps, let's treat Reuters like trash!) and I were first and second in line, staring down the cart as its hapless employees prepped it. You never realize how many factors go into making a simple (and teensy) taco until you spend 40 minutes watching. Then, when we were handed the results, we were stuffing them into our mouths without even leaving to eat like civilized humans. It was all very Lord (Lady?) of the Flies, which was spooky because I knew I was destined to be the fat one.
After I ate, I went to the carpet area. Now, keep in mind...we are at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. It is massive! I think they've built aircraft carriers there. Yet the red carpet for one of the albums of the year is a pup tent. I walked in and stood at the back, determined to get...something. Because I did not freeze all that time and go hungry just to miss out on any morsel of celebrity therapy.
The photographers around me were pretty clique-ish, but a few did talk, one of whom kept trying to start a, "Bull-shit! Bull-shit!" chant since we stood around forever in the now sweltering heat (space heaters are better than the freezing cold, but when you're in a tent on top of a bunch of photographers, "hot" gets old fast). He told me he's covered events for 20 years (including the Iowa State Fair, of which he said Ron Paul's food booth was the fastest since he probably didn't care about food inspection—every man for himself!) and that this was the worst.
The carpet turned out to be uneventful, but it was still a turning point in the evening. First, it was fun seeing the decked-out Monsters streaming past on the far left—the entry to the party was next to the entry to the carpet, so whenever a particularly eye-popping creature happened by, the image-hungry press would moan for them to come over and pose, but only one such amazing party-goer made the leap from guest to star, a shirtless guy whose outfit looked ready for an A-list movie.
Tony Bennett was the first star, there was an artist I'd never heard of, Gaga's co-conspirators Marina Abramovic (whose outdoorsy, nudie projections of Gaga were also incongruously seen in the party space), and pretty much no one else: Just Christian Siriano, DJ White Shadow, an artist, a producer. Darren Criss was rumored to attend, but he was nowhere to be seen...yet!
Gaga came out and I gotta say: WOWZA. This was the first time I felt she looked exquisitely beautiful, willowy and chic. She was avant-garde, but not a joke. She had reverted to her Fame-era blonde bob (is four or five years too soon to be "nostalgic" for a "classic" look?) and was clad in a shiny plastic gown with portions that were sheer. All black. And with a cool headpiece that slipped during one interview but always looked amazing. Flawless. She posed a long time, but when she went to do TV interviews, the still photographers, enraged that she hadn't given them a solo, posed shot yet, began chanting, "Solo!" and "TV, get out of the way!"
Assured by her handler that she'd come back, they clammed up and Gaga did her TV interviews before posing against her album cover. She was 100% accommodating.
In fact, one photographer in front of me had randomly followed her after that first warehouse event, and she took him to a room at the party that was all decked out in computer chips, where she gave him an exclusive while she explained the ARTPOP app and did a pic-with for his fellow shooter, a middle-aged fanboy!
Sated, I made the leap to the line for the party, through which I'd already seen my superfan guest pass (he is a longtime BoyCulture.com commenter and diehard Gaga aficianado), as well as supermodel Garrett Neff (I've met him at Madonna and Cher events...someone loves his divas!) and Broadway superstud Nick Adams.
Sure enough, nothing was going to be easy—the PR guy stopped me and said, "Excuse me, who are you with?" I told him my name and outlet, and he said, "We can't have cameras inside." My "big" camera, a pro instrument, was in my camera bag. I didn't snap at him, but was ready to. I just said, "I was invited to the party, my guest is already inside and I of course have my camera from the press stuff...I don't have anywhere to put it!" He relented, but made me promise not to whip it out inside or I would be kicked out. I promised, and I never did take that out. That's what my small camera is for.
Inside, it was a whole new world. The space, which I'd already seen and decided was beautiful, was alive with youth and with youthful creative types. The crowd was ethnically diverse, even split between boys and girls, and over 50% populated by people who had spent a month's rent on outlandish gear to wear for the night. Many of the twinks—so skinny—were blotto from booze and/or drugs, bobbing and weaving through the crowd with distant smiles on their pupil-dominated faces.
I wanted to photograph every person...but I was exhausted. I snapped a few, but gave up once I spotted some people I knew: Tim, the owner of the Adonis Lounge; zexy actor Marc Sinoway; and of course my guest, Sean. At midnight, as DJ White Shadow (boo! hiss!) spun a great party mix (available now from K-Tel!), it turned into Sean's birthday, and he seemed to be loving spending it in the shadow of a giant Gaga.
I told him Gaga was set to kick off her performance by the Koons, so we camped out there. Just before she started, I spotted illegally adorable Darren Criss a few freaky folks behind us, in a trench, looking absorbed by his phone and a few friends. I felt he was trying not to call attention to himself, so I didn't want to risk that. But I knew I had to "have" him.
Around 12:45AM, Gaga walked in, encased in a ridiculous, hooded costume, and began miming "Aura." (I will not argue with fans on this point—"Aura" and the next song, "Artpop," were 100% mimed, and the entire concert to the mid-way point, when I left, had heavy track mixed with her indisputably live and strong vocals...just making the point that even artists who haughtily denounce lip-synching do it). It was fun being so close to her! Her rather attractive bodyguard shot us all glances to discourage anyone from reaching out, but I'm sure I'm visible in the feed on Vevo if you watch.
As promised, she then moved across the hall to the main stage, where she wound up singing I don't know (but you probably do) how many songs from the album, at first in an all-white, Fame-friendly outfit. Looked and sounded great. Made me like the songs much more in these versions.
As soon as she was in the distance, I told Sean he was taking my picture with Darren, thrust my camera into his hands and approached Darren. I introduced myself, shouting over the music that I'd been the editor of Popstar! and had written about him so often and was so pleased to meet him. "I'm Darren!" he announced. I knew—my favorite Darren since Dick Sargent. When I asked him to pose he readily agreed, giving me a big smile after, as if to say, "Was that good?" Definitely one of the nicest stars I've encountered. He then did the same for Sean. We thanked him profusely and went back to Gaga-watching.
Eventually, around the time Gaga spoiled the fun entertainment by beginning a speech against "the persecution and harassment of the artist" (I don't think she mean Kim Novak's rape comments about that Oscar-winning film...), I just checked out emotionally and physically and had to depart. I slept on the ferry, then walked to 1st Avenue, where I upstreamed all the people waiting for cabs (sorry, Monsters, this is how Madge fans roll) and snagged one, arriving home at 2AM. That led to two hours' worth of photo editing for my agency and a bedtime of 4AM...and I'd skipped her last four songs!
So to recap: The press event was a D, Gaga herself was an A- (that pretentious babbling was overcome by the accessibility and eventual warmth) and the party was a damn A. I challenge anyone to do a better, more NYC, more of-the-moment, more creatively interesting party than artRave.
And no, I did not drink the Kool-Aid. Well...maybe a couple of sips.