Sunday, September 9, 2012

Review: Lady Gaga, Born This Way Ball, Twickenham Stadium

Lady Gaga has some information. It's complicated information and she wants to make sure we understand it, so she repeats it a dozen times during this two-and-a-half hour gothic pop extravaganza. "Do not be afraid to be who you are," she commands. "This is the greatest freedom we can know".

This message is the foundation stone of the Born This Way Ball.

It is also the message of Disney's Aladdin.

Still, you can't deny its impact. Twickenham Stadium, home of English Rugby, is rammed full of heavily made-up acolytes (Gaga calls them "monsters") who've been inspired by Gaga's outré outfits. There are neon wigs, coke can hairdos, all manner of ill-fitting lycra and some truly terrifying bum cleavage. Even the disabled section houses the most pimped-out, pink sequinned wheelchair I've ever seen in my life.

How will Gaga up the fashion ante in the face of this? For one thing, she actually appears as the human motorbike from the Born This Way album cover, her limbs entwined with the machine which later, amazingly, becomes a piano.

Other outfits could be loosely described as Intergalactic bee-keeper; Statue Of Liberty bondage party swimming costume; and "I can literally see your vagina".

While the costumes are breath-taking, conceptually the show is all over the place. The story goes that Gaga is an alien fugitive who's escaped from a medieval castle where she was simultaneously being kept prisoner and owned a walk-in wardrobe, and now she's visiting other planets to "absorb all culture", before "invading earth" as "your pop star" and... OH JUST GET ON WITH IT, WOMAN.

When that pop invasion finally happens, the Born This Way Ball is up there with the best: not least because Gaga sings 100% live, even during the more exhausting dance breaks. There's a section that runs Bad Romance, Judas, Fashion of His Love, Just Dance, LoveGame, Telephone that is almost perfect - a 30-minute shot of adrenalin in your earballs, eyeholes and dancebones.

Other moments drag, however. Particularly the more teutonic, tuneless tracks from Gaga's second album. And a lengthy speech about new song Princess Die ("I wrote it about Princess Diana, I wrote it about myself, I wrote it about Amy and Whitney") isn't half as moving as she thinks; settling somewhere between trite and astonishingly dumb. The same goes for the song itself.

Still, I suspect I wasn't the target audience for these bits. Gaga plays solely for her core audience of freaks, fashionistas and misfits. An audience who, she reveals, her record label once branded "too niche".

"Well this is a big fucking niche," she crows. "I quite like our little stadium niche."

She is pelted with gifts from the "monster pit" - including a barbie that she tears apart, limb by limb, and a t-shirt labelled Art Pop (the title of her new album, announced just this week), which Gaga gamely picks up and wears for the back half-hour of the show.

Eventually a lucky few get to join Gaga on stage (one, bravely, wearing nothing but hotpants and two strips of masking tape on her breasts). They are struck dumb, on the verge of wetting themselves - but they get crowned audience ambassadors, and lead the 55,000-strong crowd in a final, full-throated chorus of Marry The Night.

It is a beautiful, mad, chaotic mess.

As I said on Twitter: Gaga brought us to The Edge Of Glory, to The Edge Of Insanity, and to The Edge Of Pornography.

I had a thoroughly good night.

Highway Unicorn (Road to Love)
Government Hooker
Born This Way
Black Jesus † Amen Fashion
Bloody Mary
Bad Romance
Fashion of His Love
Just Dance
Heavy Metal Lover
Bad Kids
Princess Die
Imagine (John Lennon cover)
Yoü & I
Electric Chapel

The Edge of Glory
Marry the Night

Full disclosure: The above photos are all general shots from the last 45 dates of the Born This Way Ball world tour... I only had my iPhone with me, mainly resulting in "detailed" and "perfectly-exposed" shots like this one.

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