August 16, 2010
@ HP Pavilion
Better (more entertaining) than: A Broadway show, a music video, and a rock concert.
Note to all future pop stars: You are screwed.
Last night, Lady Gaga
brought a flaming piano, a giant, fish-headed fame monster, a spark-shooting bra, lots of swear words, and a dress with automatically extending wings to the HP Pavilion in San Jose. The garish spectacle alone arrested, decimated, exploded, obliterated, halted, and otherwise begged for 30 sentences of hyperbole to fit inside. But along with the visual dazzle of her hilariously expensive show, Gaga cussed out confessions and contradictions ("SexyUgly," read one revealing sign onstage) that you, dear future pop star, are probably not going to brave or bother with.
Even if you do, say, string together some hazy narrative about kids going to the best party ever (the "Monster Ball") and impregnate the story line with hugely popular cuts of Eurotrashy dance-pop -- even if you do, say, surround yourself with a coterie of hot abs and asses to writhe and shimmy with -- even if you do, say, show up nearly topless with tape over your nipples and wear a black bikini bottom with lines of studs suggesting pubic hair -- even if you do, say, get two male models to make out on stage after you rather forcefully and profanely champion gay rights -- all of that is now just plain ol' pop-star stuff.
Gaga performs aesthetic jujitsu as a live, two-hour music video, and even if her attack only lands blows on the surface, it still lands a lot of blows. Along with "SexyUgly," the neon-sign set piece that hinted most clearly at Gaga's aim to destroy our aesthetic preconceptions while explaining her own distressed chic, she could have added "TruthFantasy," "LoveDeath," and "StraightGay." Oh, and "OriginalCopy," as the more inveterate pop-concert ladies of last night compared her constantly -- and favorably -- to Madonna, and Gaga's debt to Michael Jackson is pretty much infinite.
For the explosion/fusion of "TruthFantasy," we have the contradiction of Gaga's now-famous "fuck the truth" -- repeated last night -- coupled with her raspy, seemingly sincere shouts for personal freedom and gay rights. "I prefer a giant dose of bullshit any day over the truth," she spat, after informing us of such apparent truths as the fact that she can't see well but refuses to wear contacts. So we're left with fantasy as truth, or truth as what the fantasy finally leads to -- the endpoint of Gaga's telling thousands of young girls in the audience to "forget your insecurities -- you just have to know that you're a superstar." Gaga believed what was once a fantasy, and now she's a superstar.
Master Shake from Aqua Teen Hunger Force
), and also get totally fantastical (the pointy white gown that seems to breathe and splay wings on its own). Between-song videos dissolved Gaga's face into a cigarette and skull, hid it behind a torture-device-like rubber mask, and also let it look angelic.
As for "SexyUgly," get ready to reveal yourself completely, future pop star, in gruesome moments and elegant ones. Gaga cuts an awkward profile on stage -- she's shorter than nearly all of her dancers, the ribbons of red and black around her facial features look cartoonish, and her face probably wouldn't land alone on the front of a national magazine. Instead of chasing beauty, her look challenges the human form. She wears a moppish blonde wig throughout the show, which looks pleasingly fake. Her costumes range from utterly revealing (the black-and-stud bra and bikini mentioned earlier) to completely disguising (a white, fringed cylinder that made Gaga's upper torso look like
Along with that, future pop star, you will have to make us feel -- or try your hardest to make us feel -- that you'd be perfectly happy if some immediate apocalypse claimed all human life save for your "Little Monsters." (Oh, you'll have to think up a good name for your fans, too.) "My religion is you, San Jose -- tonight and every night, my religion is Little Monsters," Gaga groaned. When you play us a new song, tell us your only concern is whether we like it: "I don't really care about making music for people who aren't my fans already," Gaga fawned, after playing a new lovey rock tune called "You and I." "You're enough for me," she continued. "I don't need anything else."
The Fame. The better-known they were last night, the more they dazzled -- and the thump of "Paparazzi" and the ecstatic disco of "Bad Romance," for all their obliteration, could have been even more powerful. But the music is mere accompaniment to Gaga's overwhelming spectacle -- it's just a juice to transmit her pop serum. Other than during her big singles, many in the crowd were too busy gaping at the stage to bother dancing.
What you don't need, future pop star, are too many new songs. Gaga's been touring for several years behind "Just Dance" and others on
That doesn't mean you don't have to prove yourself as a musician, future pop star. At her best moment last night, Gaga turned off the lip-synching and the backing tracks, put the dance mob away, and belted out a beautiful "Speechless" from behind a piano. For an undistracted minute, her voice shone. And then the piano caught fire, sending a tornado of flame spiraling toward the high-up roof of the giant arena. The yellow light reached back to light Gaga's twisted, singing countenance, and for a moment, both the spectacle and the music conspired, dear future pop star, to make your job even more impossible.