To commemorate one whole year since I had the pleasure of seeing Lady Gaga live on her Born This Way Ball tour, I thought I'd finally post this article I wrote about my experience. Due to life and other obstacles it's not completely finished, but because of the date and how much the show meant to me, I thought I'd post it anyway as a part one and complete part two when I'm ready (hopefully soon). Enjoy!
A BAPTISM OF MUSIC by CATHY CHAPMAN
When the dull, yellow lights returned the castle to reality, and the thousands of scantily clad monsters crowding Manchester's MEN arena began to slowly disperse, I remained firmly in my seat with my head drooped on my boyfriend's shoulder; my soul still high on adrenaline but my body drained of all its previous energy. "I don't want to leave," were the only words I managed to string into a sentence, the rest of my vocabulary flashing around my brain like the Scheiße strobe light show two songs ago. I know to many people this may sound odd, or obsessive, but at that point in the night I wanted to strap myself to the armrests and remain glued in this moment and to my seat forever – an ironic statement considering it was the first time I'd properly sat on the damn thing since the beginning of the show, but true.
My boyfriend and I sat still together, connected in a mutual awe for a few quiet minutes. I spent this time observing the Born This Way Ball crowd that I’d been too eager to appreciate prior to the concert. Attractive, soft featured girls sported three piece suits and bow ties, boys with strong shoulders clattered down staircases in stilettos and electric blue wigs, middle-aged couples strolled back to their Audi’s with sticky Pepsi cans wound into their up-do's. It was shameless, and beautifully so. For the last couple of hours me, and all of these other freaks of nature had been united and I simply wasn’t ready for it all to end.
"My wish is that when you leave here," Lady Gaga had grinned an hour ago; wearing a buckled Armani creation and winning this magical request after ripping a Barbie's leg off like a wishbone after it was thrown on stage by an eager fan (a show ritual), "... each one of you will discover something new that you love about yourselves." The crowd screamed in adoration. Her response to this was to simply giggle like a 5 year-old playing Princess, and to exclaim "Wishhhh!" to complete the magic spell; tossing the plastic carcass back into the pit she came from. As I sat there at the end, people watching just to pass the time, I was too dazed to make her wish come true. What I did feel was completely the opposite; I'd found something new I loved about her - the untouchable, formidable, superstar - in the last two and a half hours of art pop insanity. This was her presence.
If two years ago you told me that by the time I was nineteen I’d be throwing shapes at a Lady Gaga concert covered in mix of glitter and sweat, dressed like a cheap hooker, I would’ve cringed and refused to believe it to be true. Then, music to me was a riot of power chords sung by poets with sleeve tattoos – rock n’ roll bands I refused to believe brushed shoulders with pop, because this was music with depth, and it was led by the kind of raw, dedicated talent that the manufactured genre of pop of seemed to be completely absent of. Throughout my teenage years I held a firm – and now embarrassing – belief that pop music could be likened to a glass of glittery air: pretty, but ultimately transparent and utterly pointless.
I denied myself the simple joy of listening to a song just because it sounded good for a long time, I suppose believing that my mind would rot if it didn’t have more than one layer of meaning. Paramore was the reason I branched out into the pop world in an odd way – not because I’m a huge fan or that I find them typically pop, but hearing Hayley Williams screech out of my iPod lead me to the shocking realisation that I didn’t have another female singer in my music collection. I ended up finding rock women particularly unlikeable (despite essentially being one) so I branched out in the hope of finding a lady to aspire to. I’d grown sick of learning about life through male eyes.
After a few Kylie uploads and nights of jamming to Madonna and Whitney, I bought The Fame and The Fame Monster by Lady Gaga, suddenly remembering Just Dance and Alejandro - two songs I’d soberly refused to accept as catchy, yet falling over myself to play them at parties. After taking some time to properly listen to her albums without the distraction of booze or chit-chat, I fell head over heels in love. The unabashed, bubble-gum pop music in The Fame was mixed with an intelligent, tongue in cheek humour I didn’t expect, and The Fame Monster although short, was as dark as any metal masterpiece, and as seedy as a strip club in a bad neighbourhood. What I enjoyed the most about these opposites was that they were both distinctly feminine – finally educating me about the pitfalls of female sexuality, and alternatively, how to embrace my womanhood.
Next on my list was Born This Way. This was pop but not as I had ever perceived it – Lady Gaga was actually quoting artists I’d studied, referencing films I liked, presenting image and fashion in a way that I now understood was meant to accentuate her music; transforming her songs from chart toppers into multisensory performance art. I delved into her history as an artist in the same way I researched my favourite rock stars, and learned a lot about her struggles with addiction, originality, and especially self-confidence as an artist. In a matter of weeks this woman I assumed was a passive pop starlet, begging for attention, had become an inspiration, and most importantly, a new role model.
Nowadays, I’m buried so far in the Little Monster fan base that I couldn’t even claw my way out with a six inch set of Brooklyn nails (but it’s not as though I’d ever want to). Like a hard drug it was easy to surrender to my new addiction, and before I knew it, I was a changed woman bedazzling denim, with my fingers sorer than the night after my first guitar lesson. I – unsurprisingly – became dedicated to getting a ticket to the infamous Born This Way Ball. I planned my outfit months in advance, took a day off work to buy two £80 tickets in the pre-sale, pushed 100 studs into that Goddamned denim jacket until I felt like ripping the thing apart by my teeth… and arranged, then re-arranged my concert partner around 50 times over. Luckily, I got there in the end. I was the proud owner of my very first Lady Gaga ticket, and it was worth every fucking penny.
The journey to Manchester arena itself was a smooth one. As smooth as it could get considering we were strangers to the city and had consumed a bottle of wine between us the train. We had the usual “where’s the nearest toilet?” confusion, got stuck inside a pub fence while searching for a cashpoint, and it took about an hour of walking around in the rain to find a decent bar to continue our boozy afternoon, but aside from that, it was quite uneventful.
Before the show, fully dressed up in my heavy-metal-hooker garb, I started to get surprisingly nervous. Wasn’t this feeling supposed to be excitement? I’d waited, planned, and stanned for over a year for this moment, and the idea of the Ball itself had manifested into everything I could ever want from a concert. Without letting on how I was feeling, I managed to calm these unexplainable nerves in the taxi, after the radio DJ announced he was playing Born This Way in commemoration of the concert. Everybody in the city seemed to be in on it – even the taxi driver’s daughter had camped out for the last couple of days to gain exclusive access to the “Monster Pit”. (A pit built into the stage available to GA ticket holders who turned up first and “dressed to ball”. A fitting treat for all of that dedication, in my opinion.)
Due to my nervousness and the fact that by this point, we were verging on drunk after day’s worth of drinking, meant that we were late enough to miss half of the opening act’s set – The Darkness! A band I’ve loved for years! – and that the queues for merchandise, toilets and drinks were huge. After navigating our way through all three of them, we entered the arena to discover that our seats were beyond amazing. The arena was so small that every seat in the house must’ve had a brilliant view. It felt great that we were all a part of something so unusually intimate for the Ball, which I knew was used to spanning across stadiums with crowds tripling the attendance of our night.
My boyfriend and I sat tight in our seats for what felt like an eternity. The advertisement for the Lady’s perfume, Fame, appeared on the big screens twice; causing me to almost trip into cardiac arrest, and signifying that she was next to take the stage. Compared to every other concert I’ve attended, the atmosphere in the arena from the moment we sat down to her introduction was incredible – there were that many full, enthusiastic Mexican waves that I lost count after five, and the continuous excited chants of “GA-GA, GA-GA, GA-GA!” echoing right up to the rafters from the front made me tingle in anticipation. Just as I leant to my boyfriend to ask for the time, the arena turned pitch black. The previously cute, excitable atmosphere and crowd turned into complete, unregulated, insanity, and without a second to waste, the beat and opening vocals of Born This Way’s Highway Unicorn pierced our adoring screams. My heart felt like it had flung itself up from my chest and into my head – from then until the end of the closing number, assuming the reigns of my mind as if my brain couldn’t handle the passion.
The tickets may have been expensive, but you sure get what you pay for at a Lady Gaga concert. The first quarter of her show was laden with heavy-duty, yet surprisingly wearable props, adorned by the woman herself and in a spectacular way, her dancers. Her entrance was on horseback (hence the song, Highway Unicorn). Supported on the shoulders of her faithful dancers, Lady Gaga appeared with either leg astride a Chinese dragon-like mechanism; a roaring, jet-black unicorn, steaming at the mouth and rearing up in response to the eager monsters who were clawing as close as they could possibly get to their queen of the castle. Knocked half-senseless by adrenaline, it took me until her journey around the stage’s grand catwalk was almost completed to realise that the beast was in fact, a cleverly constructed assortment of shoulder pieces, hand-held anatomy, and headdresses, all bore by her strictly trained and talented dancers – up until that point I actually believed it to be a real horse.
In this first quarter, the technology used to individually represent each and every song was astounding. To come away from the show was to feel like you had just witnessed the height of pop performance art in the 21st century, for this aspect alone. Her castle stage – a spectacle itself, being the largest scenic construction to ever be built on a tour – transformed mechanically, like a doll’s house, to personalise each and every track. Out of nowhere came a circulating wardrobe presenting all her legendary outfits, a presidential desk, an sniping tower, and an ice rink to name a few. My personal favourite performance from this quarter was a dark, gothic number named Bloody Mary. Gaga floated out from the depths of her castle, like a sleek, alien ghost, haunting the crowd with the slow-paced, rhythmic lyrics and a blood-curdling scream to end. Visually and vocally, it was stunning.
But, for Gaga to continue her show in this elegantly detached, robotic way wouldn’t be like her at all. When this section finished – the only thing signifying this was the change in her performance style, as each individual song still continued to be personalised through outfit changes and props – she leaned out one of the 1st floor castle windows, bathed in a singular spotlight, and beamed at the audience. The crowd went insane, as this was the first time we could fully see her face, and the first time she properly addressed us. The introduction was over, and now it was time to get into the glorious thick of it. “Hello… hello, Manchester!” she waved, grinning. “Has anybody seen my clothes? I can’t find them anywhere…”
And so began Act 2; the only mechanical aspect of this section of the show being the movement of the castle. Between verses and songs, Lady Gaga, chart topper and global superstar, opened up and really let loose with us. She laughed at the signs hand-made by the crowd, interacted with anyone she set her eyes on, invited packs of fans backstage (again, a ritual), and told anecdotes about her day, and playing Just Dance at the gay clubs in Manchester before Poker Face catapulted her into super-stardom. It was impossible not to fall in love with her. She embodied attractiveness, from her sexy, feminine figure, to her confidence and enthusiasm to perform. And, as odd as this may sound – despite how many thousands of fans there were, living for the moment and dancing their leather-clad arses off around me – I felt like she truly appreciated every one of us. Sure, I may seem like the kind of delusional super fan that just eats up the speeches about love, and acceptance, and how she adores us, her fans, more than anything else in the world, but I’m not stupid. And neither are fifty million other people. There’s something about her as a performer and as a person that feels genuine, and that’s because compared to everyone else she just is. You don’t get that from a lot of musicians these days – and that’s in any genre, not just pop.
The show continued in this way. She got us to sing and dance to the classic hits, this time skipping around a beautiful bedroom revealed from yet another castle transformation. After performing four or five numbers this way, she disappeared backstage and I heard the filthy, throbbing beat I have spent hours poring over in adoration. My favourite song, Heavy Metal Lover, was about to be performed. Out from a thick cloud of fog, Gaga appeared as one with a motorcycle – one big, bad, black American chopper – ridden by a beautiful dancer, gyrating up and down her legendary behind. I danced so hard that I actually think I smacked a girl behind me in the face. I lost myself. “Just go!” I remember my boyfriend yelling at the top of his lungs, the boom of his voice still only slightly cutting through the beat: “This is YOUR SONG! FUCKING DANCE!”
It was magical. After an explosive finish, the Lady detached herself from the motorcycle and took centre stage, collecting “presents” thrown at her by fans in the pit. Upon picking a few she liked to show off to the crowd (a black dido, a mannequin’s hand and the Barbie, finishing by wearing a fan’s handmade denim jacket and asking its creator to see her backstage), she began not the first, nor the last speech of the night about the integrity of her performance art. It’s a shame that these speeches with the same content are such a significant part of the show, but in a pop climate of Nicki Minaj and Katy Perry, I can understand why. To sum it up, here are five things that will be continuously drilled into your mind at a Lady Gaga concert: 1) Lady Gaga always sings live. 2) Lady Gaga writes her own music. 3) Lady Gaga will not waste your hard-earned money. 4) Lady Gaga loves her fans. 5) Lady Gaga will continue to do these things until the day she dies. Simple messages, yet often completely lost in the universe of manufactured pop.
“Oh!” The Lady suddenly exclaimed, standing up after her gifts were collected and heading to the parked Heavy Metal Lover motorcycle to the right of the castle. “It seems that my motorcycle has turned into a piano.” The crowd laughed as she straddled the hog, and tested the conveniently placed instrument with a familiar chord. It was in that moment that the ball seamlessly transitioned to Act 3; when the dancers, props and towering castle seemed to melt away – leaving this sold-out arena feeling like we were huddled around her piano in a dimly-lit blues bar, hanging on her every word as though she was a talented friend performing songs she’d written about our lives.
So, that's the end of part one! Thank you for reading. Hopefully I'll have chance to finish this off, because it was a very important experience for me and I'd love to keep it as a memory.