Lady Gaga at Staples Center: The latest rotation of 'The Monster Ball,' for those who were 'Born This Way'
Glowing antlers. Thigh-exposing tutus. Cubist dresses. Silver foot-high platform boots. Leather bikinis. Meat dresses made out of pink and red thread, complete with steak hats. Lady Gaga’s "Monster Ball," which returned to Staples Center on Monday, lies somewhere near Burning Man and ComicCon on the spectrum of fan devotion and costumery.
Monday's performance was special for another reason: It was Gaga's birthday, and her little monsters, as she affectionately calls her fans, paid homage to their hero with home sewing kits and goodies from their favorite Halloween store. Two women skittered by in studded bikinis and soda cans rolled into their hair, borrowing iconography from the video for “Telephone.” A little girl, with her frightened-looking mother in tow, looked like Andrew Lloyd Webber’s version of Lady Gaga, replete with feather plume, pink opera mask and a lacy cream and white dress.
It was a night for classic fandom, not the kind that requires Internet sleuthing or secret locations. Before Lady Gaga took the stage, the arena even did the wave five or six times. As Gaga has often said, once the curtain rises on her visual feast of a show, all anyone needs to do is show up and be yourself -- your screaming, worshipping, dancing self, ready to buy her new album (out May 23).
At one point, Gaga lay on the ground and said she was like Tinkerbell, who would die without applause. “Do you want me to die?” she shrieked. “Scream for me!” The audience roared in response, waving colorful blinking light toys and several homemade signs wishing her a happy birthday.
Throughout the two hour-plus spectacle, Gaga danced in an assortment of sartorial audacities, including something that looked like a nun's habit crossed with a latex condom (with Xs over her nipples), a giant red cape with a bow in front and a conical bra that gave off sparks. She grappled with several keyboards and guitars that were affixed together or sheathed in monstrous scales or puffy contraptions. Her piano was also no average mortal instrument -- it was licked by flames as she pounded through "You and I."
"The Monster Ball" has been touring, like a recently discovered planet around the sun, since 2009, drawing new fans and new levels of devotion into its outrageous orbit. As the release date for “Born This Way” nears, its title song already at the top of the charts, Lady Gaga is now using her tour as part advertisement. Cleverly but also with what seems like genuine care for her fans, she has infused the phrase “Born This Way” with an empowering message.
Sitting at her piano in a leather studded bikini, her bright yellow yarn hair sticking in clumps to her neck and face, the woman born Stefani Germanotta told a story that had special resonance on her 25th birthday. She brought out a pair of ruby red slippers, one of the actual pairs worn by Judy Garland in “The Wizard of Oz,” given to her by her wardrobe department.
“ 'The Monster Ball' was created as a sort of a punk rock answer to ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ ” she said, before getting into a tale of auditioning for the coveted Dorothy role, only to lose it to an older high-school girl who poured Coca-Cola on her shoes to keep from slipping. Gaga may have been banished to chorus girl then, and bullied by this older Dorothy, but as she said with a smile, things have worked out differently for her since.
“Now these ruby red slippers are mine,” she said, launching into a piano version of “Born This Way.” It swelled into a big rock blowout, the Muppet-like characters of her back-up band thrashing on their respective instruments, and then came back down again, allowing Gaga to thank Interscope Records (“There’s no place like home”) and her fans (“You are my ruby red slippers”).
Throughout the evening, whenever Gaga told her audience not to be ashamed, to not hold back because “you were born this way,” it did everything she probably wanted it to do. It made her fans feel beautiful and accepted, and it sold one more copy of her new album.
Some of the most successful kinds of advertising have preyed on our fears and insecurities. Gaga seems to be trying out a new paradigm that’s perfect for a generation that’s been taught to seek validation and praise wherever it turns: I’ll make you feel good, if you’ll make me feel good too.
-- Margaret Wappler
Photos: Lady Gaga performs at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Monday. Credit: Kevin Winter / Getty Images