She’s always divided opinions – but then again, what pop star (and particularly a female pop star) hasn’t? But what absolutely nobody can deny – whether they want to admit it or not – is that Lady Gaga knows how to command a stage and instil so much joy in her fans. And especially after a two-year delay, the excitement of The Chromatica Ball finally being on tour has come to a climax. In addition, after her own admission that she wasn’t sure if she “could do it”, these series of concerts make it an extra special set of occasions for her and her legions of Little Monsters.
She recently performed two nights in a row at Tottenham Hotspur’s football stadium to wrap up the European leg, where tens of thousands of people of countless identities, sexualities, colours, creeds, nationalities and ages came together to celebrate her return to the stage in a glorious profession of self-love and love for the glam-rock-pop princess. Personally, not following her as a huge fan, though liking some of her older songs from The Fame (Monster) era and a splatter of other songs throughout her career, I was intrigued to see for myself just what the hype over her was… And I get it. A multi-talented performer who has stage presence and confidence by the bucketloads, and a back catalogue of songs that have become staples of the emerging and current pop music culture climate for the last almost fifteen years, Lady Gaga certainly gets too much undeserved schtick.
In promotion for the Chromatica album from 2020, the setlist was of course predominantly made up of tracks from it, which ultimately I was not familiar with except a couple of songs. This perhaps made me feel a little disconnected from some of the music but definitely didn’t detract from the energy and the extravagance of the performances.
The show itself was one anyone and everyone wouldn’t expect anything less than being spectacular. A hybrid concert of avant-garde pop, glam rock and a post-disco house music rave, The Chromatica Ball had everything and anything fans would have wanted. From special effects that included 60ft tall flamethrowers even people sat right in top seats could feel (apparently to symbolise her porch or something like that which she was rabbiting on about) to completely unexpected yet expectedly bohemian outfits, from tightly choreographed routines (though some were very much the same, as well as her love of dancing like no-one’s watching her in her living room) to bombastic vocals that showed off her rich and slightly rock-infused mezzo voice, and from innovative, high art sets (which also included a time for her sing whilst lying down) to creative video snippets that ranged from supernatural-looking horror elements to stripped-down, candid shoots, there was little more Gaga could have done to excite the crowd and send them further into overdrive. She even walked through parts of the floor crowd, so perhaps all that was missing was her stage diving and crowd surfing.
Although roughly half of the setlist were songs from Chromatica, she couldn’t not perform some of her other biggest hits to date, starting off with the three biggest – Bad Romance, Just Dance and Poker Face. Part of me thinks it may have been a good creative choice to launch the “ball” with these because despite it meaning to be a promotional companion to the Chromatica album, the album is already two years old and was not as successful as some of its predecessors, so kicking off with her more well-known songs made sense. Interspersed throughout were tracks such as the almost psychedelic pop swagger of Alice, the pulsing electro-pop offering Sour Candy, the very Madonna’s Vogue-esuqe (coincidental, I’m sure…) Babylon, the pro-women (including trans women) – no female pop star would truly be one without an anthem like this – Free Woman, and nearing the end of the show were hit singles Stupid Love and Rain On Me.
The highlight of The Chromatica Ball, as would be with most powerhouse vocalists, is the “ballads” section. Known as much for her pianist skills (complete with an extremely fancy grand piano) as she is for her eccentric, choreographed and fiery performances, it’s when she is sat down at the keys that she is able to truly showcase what she is capable of. And if you can enrapture a crowd of 45,000 people by just singing with a piano as you can when dancing and moving around a stage flanked by a dozen dancers and full band, you know you’re a top tier superstar. People may not like to compare her to the likes of Michael Jackson, Freddie Mercury, David Bowie or Madonna – or even Christina Aguilera, Beyoncé or P!nk, or those who came after her such as Ariana Grande or Kim Petras, but Lady Gaga most definitely shares the same or similar innate passion, talent, and the simple ability to invoke emotional, deafening screams without even opening her mouth.
The beautiful Shallow, Always Remember Us This Way (both from A Star is Born) and a piano version of the hypnotic swaying dance track of 1000 Doves were particularly powerful, as was a piano intro to Born This Way before she pumped up the tempo for a full-blown performance. However, as great a song as it is in general (despite still regarding it as an upbeat version of Beautiful), I couldn’t help wonder why she still hasn’t changed some of the problematic lyrics such as chola or Orient(al) to describe certain ethnic minorities. To be clear – the term “Oriental” to talk about East Asian people has very outdated connotations to “foreignness” and fetishisation, and should be avoided.
Aside from that, I do also feel Monster was a bit of a misplaced song to have in the show. A track from The Fame (Monster), it was not only not an official single but there are far more famous songs that she could have replaced it with. For starters, there were none from Artpop or Joanne present in the setlist (or Cheek to Cheek, but they would have definitely been out of place). Any songs like Applause, Perfect Illusion and Million Reasons from the aforementioned albums as well as Alejandro, Judas, You and I and Marry the Night could have been included instead.
While perhaps most other artists may have chosen to finish a concert with one of their signature songs, as always she likes to go against the grain. Closing her show was the rock ballad Hold My Hand, taken from the new Top Gun: Maverick film. An interesting choice for the finale, it hasn’t made huge waves on the charts and it’s hard to know how well-known it is among most fans but it definitely had the emotional, drawn-out performance an encore should have. With dramatic pauses to soak up the final cheers, hair-tingling vocal moments to keep the crowd cheering as well still be heard above them, and times for the band to shine as Gaga did her rounds across the stage one last time.
I’ll finish off by reiterating what I originally said – there’s no denying Lady Gaga’s ability to please and wow a stadium full of fans. The Chromatica Ball was a pop celebration that the singer put on almost as an apology to her fans for having to put off her last concerts for reasons that included but were by no means limited to the pandemic. It was a party everyone was invited to and encouraged to dance and sing along to (and many a time told to “put your fucking hands up!” and “bounce!”) and it was a night I’m sure where many may have been wondering what happened to the Mother Monster they fell in love who took a different musical and aesthetic direction from Joanne onwards celebrated her return to top, over-the-top form. I may not still be a recently turned Little Monster or still not fully sold on the Chromatica album but my appreciation for this lady has certainly gone way up.