In October 2008, my friend Arjan asked me to cover Lady Gaga‘s CD release party at Highline Ballroom in New York for his brilliant music blog, ArjanWrites.com. At the end of her show then, I speculated on the question that was being asked at the time: Is she the next Kylie or Madonna? Fool that I am I said no, but I did say it would be fun to watch her take off. And take off she did. The first to reach 10 million fans on Facebook, 15 million albums sold, 40 million digital singles sold, six number one hits, infinite miles of head turns and fashion innovation, and being immortalized on Glee!, Gaga rules the world. She’s gone from the Bitter End to the Highline to Terminal 5 to Radio City to the granddaddy of all concert venues, Madison Square Garden in just 18 months (three sold out shows at MSG I might add). Impressed.
Lady Gaga is cut from the same cloth as Madonna, but I believe the print is different. Britney was supposed to be “the next Madonna” along with a number of pop tarts over the years, but they never delivered the goods. You can’t predict if Lady Gaga will be the next Madonna, but she’s different from the rest, and the path she’s following is eerily similar. The Monster Ball, her first arena tour, reminded me of Madonna’s first arena tour, the Virgin Tour in 1985-1986. Both had two No. 1 records under their belt, both ascended to superstar status in light speed, both were redefining the pop culture and fashion landscape, and both had powerful messages of expressing yourself (Madonna) and being yourself (Gaga) to share. It’s an irresistible phenomenon that captured the heads, hearts and hands-in-the-air of boys and girls who succumb to their spell. I’ve been a sucker for both of them.
I got to Madison Square Garden early to take in the freak show. It was awesome. Every Gaga look was in attendance. Gaga understands the gravity of the moment. It’s a pinnacle in her career. The hottest selling t-shirts celebrated the moment with three simple words: Madison Square Gaga. Throughout the show, Gaga reminded her little monsters that “we’ve made it,” acknowledging the accomplishment of rounding up her monsters inside the most fabled venue in her hometown. She lamented how hard it is to be away from the city she loves for such long stretches of time. She also thanked her fans, some 20,000 of them, who packed Rockefeller Center that morning for her concert on The Today Show.
Lady Gaga’s longtime pals Semi Precious Weapons opened for her. The glam rock/shock rock boys fronted by the androgynous Justin Tranter opened for her back in 2008 when I saw her for the first time. I love that she’s loyal to the people who’ve believed in her all along. It’s a testament to her loyalty and her appreciation for where she’s come from. What’s really interesting is that Gaga used to open for them just two or three years ago.
Finally, the arena goes dark and the Lady appears in silhouette for my favorite single on The Fame Monster, “Dance in the Dark.” It fascinated me that she performed almost the entire song in silhouette. Hot, hot, hot. Finally the screen ascends to unveil a New York street scene with smoke coming out of the hood of a car. After a long, long dramatic pause (very effective by the way) that allowed her little monsters to soak up their Gaga, she lifts the car’s hood revealing her signature instrument, a piano. Then the opening chords of “Just Dance” put her fans in a delicious frenzy. From there she went on to perform a number of songs off her debut record, The Fame, including the disco stick obsessed “LoveGame,” “Beautiful, Dirty, Rich” and a song for her legion of gays, “Boys Boys Boys.”
For all the slick electro dance tracks Gaga is famous for, it’s her stripped down, “Gaga on the keys” performances that really differentiate her from Madonna because it allows her to showcase her vocals. Let’s face it. Madonna is not known for her vocal prowess. Plus, Gaga can write a killer song and has a knack at finding the big hooks. “Speechless,” written for her father, is about his ongoing battle with alcoholism. While she joked that we should all keep drinking so she can keep inspired to write songs like this, it really is a beautiful song and reminiscent of Mr. Elton John. “So Happy I Could Die” similarly falls into this category. But it’s her new song, “You and I” that’s going to continue to elevate her credibility as a serious songwriter, vocalist and artist. This song is going to be major. She said, “I performed this song one week ago and you, my little monsters, already know all the words. They say I’m all about the costumes and pageantry and you’re proving them wrong. It’s about the music.” I couldn’t agree more.
Product placement time: Virgin Mobile. Gaga calls one fan inside MSG and invites them to the front of the arena for the rest of the show. A girl I saw before the concert started got the call. Another Madonna reminder. A vast number of fans have gone all out dressing up like Lady Gaga. In the ’80s it was that dirty East Village cobbled together look of fishnets, black leather, fingerless gloves, and streaked hair teased to oblivion. With lights shining on this girl’s tear-stained face, she sports Diet Coke cans in her hair as rollers (inspired by the “Telephone” video of course). Oh wait, the phone rings again, “Beyonce?” Madness. She doesn’t make an appearance, but I would be lying if I didn’t think it might happen. Gaga goes on to perform “Telephone” sans Mrs. Jay-Z.
For the final set, she recreates a “scary part of Central Park.” I’m thinking the Rambles. It’s the perfect setting for her next three songs: My other favorite single off her latest EP: “Monster.” “He ate my heart, he ate ate ate my heart. He ate my heart and then he ate my brain.” Sigh. Next up was “Teeth.” I have not been a fan of this song as I find it a little creepy, but it was great in concert! Lots of sneers and smiles. And finally her latest single, “Alejandro.” To keep the Madonna conversation going, this is her “La Isla Bonita.” She closes with “Poker Face” before coming back with a two-song encore: “Paparazzi” and “Bad Romance.” In the end, she stands center stage to take in the adoration of her fans in another dramatic pause. Then she showed us her teeth one last time, and a paw, and it was over. Respect.