February 4, 2013 by Scott Finley
Gagaism Heads to the Born This Way Ball Part One: The Born This Way Ball Review
(Note: Our Born This Way Ball review is based off of two separate visits to the Born This Way Ball made by Scott Finley, the first being at Twickenham Stadium in the United Kingdom on September 9, 2012 and the second being at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on January 20, 2013.)
The show begins just as dramatically as you would expect from Gaga, as the Lady is taken for a ride across the stage atop a shockingly convincing faux unicorn (some have called it “mechanical” but it is actually human-powered), escorted by armed guards carrying flags that read “G.O.A.T.” for “Government-Owned Territory in Space.” Dressed like a sexy vixen version of the Xenomorph from Alien, Gaga belts out a few lines to Highway Unicorn before riding off the stage. For an opening number, it’s oddly short, but it works, serving as a sort of prelude to the rest of the show.
Seconds after exiting the stage, a floating disembodied head resembling Mother Monster in her Born This Way video referred to as Mother G.O.A.T. informs the audience that Lady Gaga is a “space renegade” who has escaped custody and must be killed before she fulfills her mission to birth a new race. (From this point on, Mother G.O.A.T serves as a sort of narrator, explaining to us in rather cryptic terms the sublimely bizarre plot unfolding before us.) After Mother G.O.A.T.’s introduction, Gaga returns in her Alien-inspired costume and descends a long staircase while writhing around suggestively to Government Hooker. By the time the song has ended, Gaga has simulated oral sex with a guard before stealing his gun and using it against him (the gun has been replace by a metal bar for the North American version, presumably in response to the Newtown tragedy), welcomed us all to the Born This Way Ball, and exited the stage for the first of many, many costume changes.
From here on out the show just gets weirder and weirder in ways you can’t imagine. From giving birth to herself, to riding around on stage as a motorcycle (similar to her notorious Born This Way album cover), to processing her dancers and herself through giant meat grinders, Gaga hits us hard with “WTF” moments throughout the entire show. It’s absolutely bonkers–and utterly fantastic. Aesthetically, the Born This Way ball is in a class of its own. Both stark and warm, foreboding and inspiring, there is a constant fusion of seemingly incompatible characteristics that is utterly fascinating. The oppressive feel of the bleak and monolithic set juxtaposed against Gaga’s bubbly message of love, rebellion, and freedom of expression is particularly brilliant, as it is a perfect representation of Born This Way’s unique blend of cold, mechanical dance beats with heartfelt crooning.
However, rather impressively, Gaga never lets the show’s aesthetics upstage her. Every single moment Gaga spends on stage is one is which she commands attention like few artists can, using not only her incredible star power, but also her jaw-dropping vocals as well as some truly spectacular and eerily precise dance moves. As fantastic as the Monster Ball was, it was more a demonstration of Gaga’s stage presence and creative genius than anything. Now that those aspects of her talent have been thoroughly established, Gaga has wisely decided to use the Born This Way Ball to push her singing and dancing to the next level, with stunning results. During Scheiße, Gaga and her troupe perform a dance routine to rival Janet Jackson. (Incidentally, this particular number is reminiscent of Janet’s Rhythm Nation in all the right ways.) While singing The Edge of Glory a cappella, Gaga proves that she has one of the very best voices among her contemporaries. Virtually every song showcases her voice and/or dancing ability beautifully, with the only major exception being her oddly underwhelming performance of Electric Chapel, in which Gaga plays the guitar and sings in an odd tone that quite honestly sounds rather mediocre compared to the fantastic vocals she lays down on the album version. One not-quite-amazing routine aside, there is no shortage of talent demonstrated at the Ball.
That said, the most impressive among these talents is Gaga’s unmatched connection with her fans. Never has an artist managed to make it so big and yet maintain such an intimate, powerful, and ever-loving connection with their fan base. When Gaga speaks to the audience, telling concert-goers to dream big and love themselves, you can tell she means it, and so can everyone else in attendance. Any other artist laying on the affection so thick would risk coming across as insincere, but seeing Gaga in person and watching her interact with her fans proves beyond any doubt that her love is genuine. Even with her powerhouse vocals, once-in-a-generation showmanship, and mind-boggling creativity, Gaga’s ability to be a pop idol, a mother figure, and a friend to millions of people simultaneously is her greatest gift. This is what makes Gaga a truly revolutionary artist, and it has never been so apparent as it is at the Born This Way Ball.
Twickenham vs Staples Center:
There were quite a few differences between the version of the Born This Way Ball we got at Twickenham versus what we got at the Staples Center, though both were essentially the same show.
The main differences are in regards to the structure of the middle of show, which has been changed slightly for the North American leg of the tour. At Twickenham, Gaga took to the piano mid-way through the show for largely acoustic renditions of Hair, Princess Die, John Lennon’s Imagine, and Yoü and I. At the Staples Center, she performed the studio version of Hair (along with a new dance routine) and used the piano for stripped down performances of The Queen, Yoü and I, and a reprise of Born This Way. All in all, the acoustic portion felt longer and more relaxed at Twickenham, particularly since it featured Gaga’s signature “show and tell” break, which did not occur at the Staples Center. On the other hand, the overall energy level was higher at Staples Center, and the routine she performed for Hair was great.
Most other differences were aesthetic in nature, such as different costumes and–perhaps most notably–different pianos! At Twickenham, we got the now-familiar motorcycle piano whereas at the Staples Center Gaga showed off a new piano that looked a bit like some sort of underwater ruin with spiky mines attached to it. Also, the guns featured in the Twickenham show were not included in the Staples Center show (with the exception of the guns brandished by the guards during Highway Unicorn), as they have been removed from the North American leg of the tour for the time being. Finally, it would seem that more minor details were added to the set at Staples Center, but it’s possible that they were present at Twickenham and that I simply could not see them due to being seated farther away from the stage. Overall, both shows were equally impressive to watch.
-Government Hooker for its scandalous raunchiness and Gaga’s unforgettable alien-couture costume.
-The acoustic portion of the show for Gaga’s breathtaking vocals and connection to the audience.
-The trio of Americano, Poker Face, and Alejandro for its campy and provocative meat motif, elaborate routines, and overall fun factor.
-Scheiße, for featuring the most impressive dance routine Gaga has ever performed.
-The Edge of Glory a cappella because it may very well move you to tears.
We hope you enjoyed our Born This Way Ball review. Please share it with a friend and check back soon for more of Gagaism Heads to the Born This Way Ball!
Gagaism Heads to the Born This Way Ball Part Two: The Guide
Gagaism Heads to the Born This Way Ball Part Three: The Analysis
(Top image: Jeff Vinnick / Picture Group)