Jemal Countess/Getty Images
Lady Gaga's spectacle is so dazzling, it can be hard to wrap your head around the questions her performances pose.
Lady Gaga's spectacle is so dazzling, it can be hard to wrap your head around the questions her performances pose. Jemal Countess/Getty Images
The 24-year-old singer Stefani Germanotta, better known as Lady Gaga, has been criss-crossing North America this summer with an elaborate arena tour called "The Monster Ball." Her rebellious personality, outrageous fashion sense and outsize way with a chorus have earned her a huge and diverse fan base. Last week, she played three sold-out hometown shows at Madison Square Garden, her first time there as a headliner.
Generally speaking, I'm not a big fan of arena shows. But I made an exception for Lady Gaga, a New York City kid who, over the past few years, has cultivated a persona and a sense of spectacle that nothing smaller than an arena could contain. And, since my sister told me my 16-year-old niece Phoebe was a fan, I invited her along. While we were in the car waiting for a parking spot, I asked her what she liked about Lady Gaga.
"I like her because I would never be brave enough to do that," Phoebe replied.
Now, I thought that was pretty interesting. Because Lady Gaga's artistic mission, it seems to me, aside from making mega-hits, is like a 21st century PG-13 version of that old Marlo Thomas TV special Free to Be You and Me. Once the concert got under way, she addressed the crowd like a combination Girl Scout den mother and tent-revival preacher.
"It doesn't matter who you are — you can be whoever you wanna be, my little monsters," Lady Gaga said from the stage.
A Spectacle For Everyone
So, who are Lady Gaga's "little monsters"? Well, from the looks of it, we were teenagers and nearing retirement; male, female and transgender; black, white and beige; gay, straight and no doubt bisexual. Folks wore sneakers or stiletto-heeled platforms, polo shirts or leather bondage harnesses. And the outfits onstage were pretty impressive, too. My favorite was when Lady Gaga popped out of the doors of a fake subway car while wrapped in a translucent shower curtain, with a hat that looked like Sally Field's headdress in The Flying Nun.
Phoebe and I agreed that the staging was the most wonderfully over the top of any concert we'd ever seen. The Rolls-Royce with the electric keyboard under the hood, the illuminated monkey bars with crucifixes and, of course, the iconic spark-spitting bra-and-panty set. It was all about Young Woman As Superhero, moving through a world where she is a mover and shaker, not merely decoration.
Of course, as a dad and a feminist-minded dude, I thought the sexuality on display complicated that idea — does an emancipated woman need to dress like a psychedelic prostitute to be fully realized? Does an accomplished musician need to play the piano with her butt cheek? These were relevant questions, but the spectacle was so dazzling, it was hard for either of us to wrap our heads around them. And, before we knew it, the show was over.
The next day, I thought about this more, and I texted my niece with a long-winded question: Before the show, she said she thought Lady Gaga was brave, and that Phoebe had thought herself less so. So I asked her if she felt a bit braver having experienced the show. After 10 minutes, with impressive adolescent precision, she thumb-typed the word "Yeah." And I texted her back, "Me, too."