As anyone who followed my tweets during last night's Lady Gaga concert knows, a lot of things bugged me about the experience. But for all my objections to the cult of Gaga, I walked out of the Schottenstein Center entertained.
Gaga is ripe for dissection: unashamed of her most extreme desires, full of contradictions and eager to get a rise out of people. She knows how to get her contingency stoked and how to push her opponents' buttons. She's genuine in her compassion for society's outcasts, and she has no problem fashioning herself as just the deity to save them.
As usual, she referred to her followers as her "little monsters" in an effort to empower them — the idea being "embrace what makes you you; you were born this way!". But to me it seemed more degrading to watch thousands of grown men and women reduced to Gaga's subjects, responding with a hand gesture like trained dogs. During one of her many monologues, she boldly proclaimed, "I don't want your money. I want your soul, Ohio!" Yet I didn't notice anybody dispensing refunds on the way out.
As a relatively wealthy straight male WASP, I'm definitely not part of Gaga's core audience. If she's the goddess they want to worship, more power to 'em. No matter what your worldview, there's some truth to be found in Gaga's message that you should embrace the person you were born as, and there's no doubt many downtrodden folks out there are getting a needed self-esteem boost from Gaga's mantras. Still, to me she seems no better than a traveling preacher, dispensing hope even as she fleeces her congregants for every last dollar, not to mention every last drop of adulation. (She and Ian Brown would likely have a lot to talk about.)
That said, for all its philosophical frustrations, Gaga's show was a masterpiece of musical theater. The sets and costumes were mesmerizing, the dancers and musicians virtuosic in their craft. Gaga herself is an expert ringleader and an exceptional singer, if you can believe her assertions that she never lip syncs amidst all that choreography. Not sure why she had a harpist in her band, but that harpist definitely rocked the eff out last night. I walked out of there impressed by Gaga the entertainer, viewing her less as a Madonna clone and more a natural extension of Madonna's legacy.
Most importantly (this being a music review and all), I was equally impressed with Gaga the musician. Only the stodgiest and most stubborn among us would resist the pure pop pleasure that is "Bad Romance". Has there been a better disco track since John Travolta's dance floor heyday? Doubtful. The rest of her hits, from the Ace of Base ringer "Alejandro" to the unimpeachable hook of "Poker Face", proved she has the pop chops to keep this up for a long time.
And as long as she's around, we'll certainly have something to talk about.