Lady Gaga Presents: The Monster Ball Tour at Madison Square Garden Review
Love her or hate her, there’s no denying that Lady Gaga is a global phenomenon.
Last year she became the most searched person on Google and the first person to reach one billion views on YouTube (her video for Bad Romance is the most viewed video in YouTube history). She’s the first person to hit the 10 million mark in terms of Facebook fans and she’s the most followed person on Twitter with over 7 million followers. She’s also the first person to have seven top ten hits from one album; four number ones from one album; and three number ones in one year.
All this from a 25 year-old Catholic convent girl with internet-rich, but working-class-background, parents. Born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, she was raised in Manhattan’s Upper West Side before being sent to private school and then art school.
“I’m a New York woman, born to run you down”
Given that there’s only so much to say about a Concert Blu-ray, I’ve chosen instead to offer a bit of background to the uninitiated, or to those who instinctively reject and refuse to acknowledge the talent of Lady Gaga, passing her off as just another Madonna-wannabe.
Of course it is, admittedly, quite easy to dismiss her under the weight of all the in-your-face antics: from her ever-changing, ever-extreme looks to her increasingly provocative behaviour. It’s all so over-the-top that, these days, many wonder whether there’s really any purpose behind it all other than to shock – which, ironically, it probably no longer does. The meat-dress made out of the flesh of dead animals? That bird’s nest she had wrapped around her face? The implants she had protruding from her cheeks which she insisted were genuine bones? Oh yeah, and then there was the time when she emerged from a giant egg. Who does these things?
She’s openly admitted to being bisexual, much to the chagrin of her ex-boyfriends; she’s discussed smoking weed and drinking whisky whilst writing the lyrics to her songs; she’s even wandered the streets seemingly naked – in a skin-coloured outfit with just a bandage over her crotch.
Apparently it all stems from her father’s raucous behaviour whilst she was growing up. She started learning to play the piano when she was just 4, and, reportedly, one of her very first piano teacher’s also happened to be one of her dad’s favourite prostitutes. Indeed, before she became famous she was compelled to make her money from provocative burlesque dancing.
Should we really be surprised that the clash of her private school Catholic upbringing with her own dad’s antics somehow forged the woman that we see today?
“A different lover is not a sin, Believe capital H-I-M”
Furthermore, the Madonna comparisons continue to come thick and fast – whether it’s the eerie familiarity between the tracks Express Yourself and Born this Way, or the reflection of the controversial Like a Prayer music video pulled off by her equivalent dressing-up-as-Mary-Magdalene for Judas; or even the cone-shaped bras that she sports. This very Concert Special feels strikingly similar in style to Madonna’s own Truth or Dare Documentary, even having black-and-white bookends to further accentuate the parallels. Yet still, despite all the similarities, both obvious and subtle, it feels like Gaga has had her own religious demons to exorcise, and her own shock tactic agenda to follow. Her path may frequently mirror Madonna’s, but it’s a path she’s chosen independently, and one which is heading in, arguably, an even more world-shaking direction. Some might argue that Lady Gaga neither wants nor needs to copy Madonna but for in one thing: Madonna revolutionised the pop music industry some 25 years ago, and now she wants to do exactly the same thing. Only bigger.
Indeed she maintains that she is the master of her own art; a brave creator who comes up with unique ideas in a stale world, and does not care what anybody else thinks, or whether people label her as crazy. Furthermore, she insists that everything she does is for a reason; every crazy outfit (even the meat dress – although perhaps that one was more obvious in its message) has an underlying purpose; every outrageous act has a deeper message. Is she for real?
“It isn’t hell if everybody knows my name.”
Some things are for certain: by the age of 17 she was writing essays and analytical papers on art, religion, social issues, and politics; by 19 she had written her first thesis on pop art; by 20 she had dropped out of art school, had been picked up and dropped by her first label, had had her heart broken for the first time and had reached an all-time low – go-go dancing in bars wearing nothing more than a thong, and cheerily experimenting with drugs. Thankfully it was not long before she was signed by another label, and met her now-prolific writing collaborator RedOne, writing the majority of her own work from the age of 21, and releasing her first album in 2008 at just 22 years old.
Packed with sleeper hits which went on to break records, her popularity grew exponentially and, by the end of 2009, she had toured the globe performing concerts on her Fame Ball Tour and written and released her second album, an EP of even more stunningly popular hits. By 2010 she had won a flurry of international awards and broken a dozen more records, and was already prepping for her second worldwide tour: 2011’s The Monster Ball Tour: At Madison Square Garden. 2011 didn’t stop with the tour either, with the release of her third, even more successful, album – Born This Way – to further record-breaking results, as well as her Marilyn Monroe-esque birthday tribute to former President Bill Clinton. And 2012 looks packed too, with a highly anticipated fourth album on the way, as well as yet another tour: The Born This Way Ball Tour, which kicks off in April.
There is absolutely no denying that this 25-year-old girl is a global phenomenon; that she can not only write all of her own songs but she can actually sing them with a powerful, distinct and natural voice without the need for enhancements or backing; and that she has been on a mission to assault the world with her only striking brand of sex, art, fashion and music. And it’s something which she has arguably already succeeded in; with four albums and three tours in little over four years there seems no stopping this girl.
“Hold your head up, girl and you’ll go far.”
Moreover she has managed to prove herself far greater than many of her counterparts, both in skill and in substance: she is stunningly good at live performances, whether on stage at a concert or just performing with a piano as part of a chat-show interview; and furthermore most of her work carries underlying or even overt messages which seem to have had a genuinely positive effect on her fans and followers and the world around her. Neither Britney, nor the more obvious comparison, Madonna, are this good at actually singing; they do not have this skill when it comes to live performances, despite all of their visual panache, and so, with Gaga, we get an all-round package.
She’s someone who somehow managed to make swearing at a former US president into a statement of respect, who has made pointed public statements against the military’s policy with regards to homosexuality, founded her own non-profit organisation designed to mentor and help guide youngsters who are being bullied and who need some direction in life, and donated several hundred million to AIDS and HIV research and preventative measures, as well as other charities.
The Monster Ball Tour – Madison Square Garden
For those disbelievers, however, perhaps the clearest example of her sheer talent is this release, an HBO-recorded feature documenting the February 21st and 22nd shows of her 2011 Monster Ball tour, which were hosted in Madison Square Garden in her New York City hometown.
A near-two-hour concert special it offers up brief bookend moments with Lady Gaga, seemingly showing us a little insight into the girl behind the act, with some 19 of her most popular hits sung live in concert in between. It’s amazing that, in and of themselves, we have so many hits from such a young performer, and that this concert is just packed with songs that you will recognise and, more often than not, can’t help but be contagiously swept up by.
“J’ai ton amour et je veux ton revenge.”
Do her words mean anything? Is Poker Face really about her bisexuality? Is Born this Way truly a statement to all those out there who are a little different to embrace their uniqueness and be themselves? Does it really matter? The effects of her songs have either been utter success through sheer playability or rampant positivity amidst their purportedly intended circles – at worst, they’re just great hits; at best, they give a genuine voice to people who do not always have the courage to stand up and stand out. She may not be one of the many outcasts herself, but that probably doesn’t matter either: the effect she has is still an unquestionably good one. And it comes at little expense: a little outcry, a little justified or unjustified outrage – none of it really matters if the overall effect is still a beneficial one.
The concert is a testament to that, and a statement of her proud declaration of war on the music industry. She is here to spark a revolution – has made that much clear on many an occasion – and is using everything in her arsenal to pull it off.
Of course, aside from getting the opportunity to see her sing, scream and cheer her way through her discography with all the energy and commitment that only a genuine article live performer could pull off, we also get to see the sheer spectacle that the Haus of Gaga have come up with to visually stun the audience. Gaga’s always been a ‘complete package’ entity: you don’t just get great, catchy lyrics over dozens of hits; you get crazy fashion, boundary-pushing art and an all-round experience.
She’s got that biker chick look (like the cover to her album Born this Way); she sports a purple jacket with gem-encrusted shoulder pads that could land a small helicopter (like Prince on steroids); wears an almost transparent nun’s outfit whilst riding on a subway train full of half-naked men wearing strange face-masks and what look like giant nappies; operates what looks like a mechanised white feathered gown and, of course, has that metal bra with volcanic sparklers that erupt out of the nipples.
In amidst the furore, you still get the feeling that there is quite a vulnerable girl beneath it all, her quiet words of uncertainty in the face of her concert crowd might ring out as false to many, but we’ve seen this face on her before – in many live performances – and it does feel genuinely emotional, like a rabbit-in-the-headlights feeling has suddenly crept over her. The fact that the sheer spectacle of it all takes over, and her in-your-face sexuality blows away any hints of doubt, does not mean that it wasn’t there in the first place.
“In the religion of the insecure, I must be myself.”
Perhaps most telling, however, are the tracks where she takes to a piano, or a capella, and offers up nice little ballads that show off her true singing talents beyond the visual accoutrements. That’s the thing about Gaga: many complain about her over sexuality, and get frustrated by her extreme behaviour, but, strip that all away, and you still get one hell of a singer. I doubt any of the biggest pop stars, from Britney to Rhianna, could deliver these kind of intimate, unaccompanied (but for her own piano playing) tracks with any kind of degree of real skill and genuine talent. Lady Gaga may cover up her abilities with ludicrous attire and provocative dances but, at the core, there’s still a consummate professional who can actually sing, a surprisingly rare thing on today’s pop sensation battlefront.
At the end of the day, Lady Gaga is so many things rolled into one. She’s the singing talent and performance spectacle of Michael Jackson coupled with the brimming sexuality and musical revolution of Madonna; she’s boasts a crazy style that borrows from everybody from Andy Warhol to glam-rock artists like Queen and David Bowie. She’s a classically-trained artist whose sees her skills in writing and performing tracks as being thanks as much to her focus on Beethoven as her focus on the prostitute who was teaching her to play. And with her inexorable rise to fame – so much so that Universities are already commissioning courses dedicated to studying her stardom in academic sociological terms – it seems clear that she is most definitely here to stay.
So here’s your chance to embrace the global phenomenon; the girl who was a little-known student just a few years ago and who has since dedicated her life to instigating the next musical revolution. And who may just succeed in that quest.
“I’m a warrior queen.”
2. Dance in the Dark
3. Glitter and Grease
4. Just Dance
5. Beautiful, Dirty, Rich
6. The Fame
8. Boys Boys Boys
9. Money Honey
12. You and I
13. So Happy I Could Die
17. Poker Face
19. Bad Romance
20. Born This Way
21. Bonus: Born This Way A Capella