Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Ball is an extravaganza in almost every conceivable sense of the word. From the second that the mauve laser lights kick in and the stage is gradually lit, revealing an impressive façade of a Gothic castle, there’s the sense that this is a show that will make good on the promises of the songs it showcases, both revealing and revelling in their layers.
Yes, there are intricate set pieces, elaborate lighting displays, dextrously gifted dancers, a crack band and, of course, the tiny woman at the heart of the maelstrom, Gaga herself. But there’s also something else, a sense that you’re sort of being taken by the hand and encouraged to participate in Gaga’s performative vision. And vision, both artistic and musical, is something the diminutive New Yorker has in spades.
See Gaga’s Little Monsters camping out and lining up for her Brisbane show below:
June 14th, 2012
Over the course of the two-and-a-half hour first show of her Australian tour, Gaga gives her all, performing a vocally and physically demanding show that is as visually stunning as it is quixotic and musically inventive. The show opens with Gaga riding onstage atop a horse. Veiled in black, like a widow in mourning, she makes her entrance to the heightened and dramatic overture of ‘Highway Unicorn’ and thereafter ploughs her way mightily through both ‘Government Hooker’ and ‘Born This Way.’
In one of the show’s most brilliantly bizarre visual sequences, Gaga and her dancers momentarily disappear. The stage is plunged into darkness and then slowly re-lit, revealing a hugely inflated pregnant woman’s belly, legs akimbo and clad in black-and-white striped tights. Seconds later, to a soundtrack presumably designed to evoke the sounds of a woman in labour, Gaga and her fellow performers tear their way out of the giant vagina and again launch into song and dance.
“When she spoke, her voice quavered with real emotion.”
Is it surreal? Well, yes. Is it a little discombobulating and strange for the unsuspecting? Yes, judging by the reactions of some folks I overhear talking when the show is finished and we’re all filing out of the building. But, really, as the woman standing behind me in the bathroom after the show observes, how many people there weren’t familiar enough with Gaga’s avant-garde leanings to at least appreciate, if not fully understand, such visual grandiosity?
As completely surreal as it was, it was also classic Gaga. The whole thing seemed a little reminiscent of one of Frenchwoman Louise Bourgeois’ large-scale works dealing with perceptions of the grotesqueness of the human body. Frankly, given Gaga’s love for Alexander McQueen’s dazzling haute couture and Damien Hirst’s animal carcasses submerged in formaldehyde, it’s not entirely impossible that maybe, just maybe, she was indeed cheekily, knowingly channelling Bourgeois.
Photo: Yoshika Horita
Over the course of the songs that follow the birth scene – ‘Bloody Mary,’ ‘Bad Romance’ and ‘Judas’ among them – she and her dancers build up a feverish momentum, eventually launching into a rousing rendition of ‘Just Dance’ that makes it feel as though the venue is actually quaking as everybody heeds Gaga’s command to jump up-and-down. When she later disappears and then reappears, clad in a costume that’s an homage to her now infamous meat dress, she sings ‘Americano,’ ‘Poker Face’ and ‘Alejandro’ as she gyrates madly on a couch that purports to be made of muscle and sinew and is a sly nod to her feminist politics.
Explicitly referencing an infamous 1978 Hustler magazine cover that featured a woman’s body being fed into a meat grinder, the image captioned with publisher and pornographer Larry Flynt’s sarcastic, disingenuous declaration that his magazine, and others like it, “will no longer hang women up like pieces of meat,” this section of the show is one of the night’s best, brilliantly marrying Gaga’s physical, visual performativity with something altogether more polemical.
As a performance artist and musician, it might be said that Gaga is the living embodiment of the feminist maxim that “the personal is political.” Though her detractors would have the world believe otherwise, Gaga has fast risen to become a cultural icon and she’s been far from shy in demonstrating her desire to transgress boundaries of all sorts, be they personal, sexual, political or social. Her shows, however, are rarely tiresomely didactic. The underlying inspiration for the meat scenes were probably lost on many in attendance, though both the imagery and Gaga’s commentary were stirring enough to give a girl hope some folks might have gone home and Googled some combination of ‘Lady Gaga, meat, women, meat-grinder.’
Photo: Kentaro Kambe