“Everyone is born a distinctly unique person, but somewhere in life they are enclosed in a little ring and are expected to stay there and imitate everyone around them,” my sixteen-year-old cousin, Austin says very seriously. We’re outside the Staples Center in Downtown Los Angeles, among throngs of people dressed in everything from jeans and T-shirts, latex body suits, spiked heels and mesh tops.
And we’re all on our way to see one woman: the indomitable Lady Gaga.
“People are forced to give up their individuality for social acceptance,” he continues, briefly glancing at the group of Christian protestors who stand holding brightly colored signs condemning gays, non-believers, and Gaga concert goers alike. Austin barely gives them a second look. “Lady Gaga represents all the people who bravely stepped outside of that ring and were judged for being different than everyone else around them. She truly represents the push to get people to live how they truly are: indifferent about the world’s beliefs.”
Wow, I think. Someone is totally drunk on Gaga Kool-Aid.
For those who don’t know the story of Lady Gaga, a.k.a. Mother Monster, a.k.a. Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta —and to be fair, I didn’t know her real name until I sat down to write this—she was once like many young girls who dreamed that someday they would be a star.
While she was waiting tables and go-go dancing in New York City, struggling to get by, she would look up at the big city lights on Broadway and imagined being famous. Now, she no longer has to. Once a young woman who was scrutinized by society, she is now the voice of millions of “degenerates” around the globe.
Austin is not alone in his enthusiasm. Before we even get through the venue doors, the energy outside is heavy with excitement. Loyal fans from all over scramble to get their hands on the latest tour merchandise. But, amidst the money-making, Gaga has set up a shrine to her own struggles. The Born Brave Bus, which is an extension of her Born This Way Foundation, is a way to give the nation’s teen’s free help in a non-judgmental environment. The Bus offers free private and group counseling before every show for people 25 and under who are dealing with depression and bullying.
It’s very rare to see such a passionate devotion between an artist and her fans. While Lady Gaga is known for giving courage to the gay and lesbian community, her following isn’t defined by a particular type of group or people. And though I would never have described myself a fan—I’m basically someone who liked to shake my ass to “Just Dance” and “Edge of Glory”—there was something impressive about seeing all these different types of people converging for this one woman’s music and inspirational messages.
Cue to next scene: thousands of relentless chants from the singer’s Little Monsters fill the arena, all begging for the curtain to drop. Then it happens. Gaga emerges from a three-story lit up fortress that strangely reminded me of a Disney castle play set that I had as a kid – complete with its hidden compartments and movable towers. She struts along the stage riding a motorized stallion for her opening song “Highway Unicorn (Road to Love),” performing in such a way that I almost forget she just put on a similar show the night before.
At first, I’m hesitant to stand up and let myself fall into the music – thinking the older ladies sitting behind me would throw a fit – but the infectious beats made their way from the ground floor up into my chest and I soon caught myself rising from my seat.
Mother Monster astounded us with her sea of eccentric outfits that appeared to change with every song, but nothing stands out more than the way she continuously engaged with her fans. Throughout the concert, she shed a little light on her stance for equality.
“Tonight it doesn’t matter if we have different views or like different shit. Tonight, you’re fucking free! How many of you have work tomorrow morning? I don’t give a shit because I have to work tomorrow, too. I would like you all to have a Lady Gaga hangover in the morning,” she shouted. After that, I remember thinking how rad it would be if I really did have a hangover at work the next day because of her.
Gaga’s concepts don’t always need to be understood or her storyline played out completely in order to be entertained. The bizarre futurism she employs while taking down a predator in “Government Hooker,” or giving birth to herself by means of a giant inflatable womb with legs during “Born This Way,” were all a part of her untamed imagination.
During these two songs Austin is beside himself. I kept feeling him glance over at me to see if I was having the same reaction to her outrageous act. He was thrilled to see that I was. But it was easy to become infected. Gaga’s energy and emotion was unlike any performer I’d ever seen or heard.
“We will always speak the same language. The language of music, Born This Way, and of Monsters! I don’t want to be your queen. I want to be your friend. I don’t want you to worship me. I want to worship you,” she freely mentions.
Towards the end of the show, Gaga jumps behind her piano, which is draped with an over-sized American flag, and performs “The Queen.” Afterward, we are instructed to look at our cell phones because she was calling one of us. Unfortunately, neither Austin nor I had the chance to speak with her, but one lucky fan was called and serenaded with a stripped-down version of “Born This Way.”
Ending with an encore of “Marry the Night,” she invited a few die-hard fans onto stage with her. They were so emotionally overwhelmed, not knowing whether to laugh, cry or scream – so they just flapped their arms around in hysteria. Her electricity and aura is a gift and her fans wanted to get as close as possible.
As all of this is going on, Austin nudges me and manages to say, “She is just so real. She isn’t some plastic celebrity. She is a person and relates to everyone in the crowd! I wish I was up there!”
Blasphemy alert! Prior to attending this show, I was not truly convinced of Lady Gaga’s talent. Yes, I’ll admit it – I was a skeptic. I couldn’t have cared less what kind of outlandish antics she carried out on stage or what was going on behind the paparazzo’s lenses. I never thought she was simply a gimmick but I also never had a reason to be… well… impressed.
As for today? Let’s just say that I’m learning to bring out my inner Gaga — to stop being such a hater.
Gaga’s tour began on January 11 in Vancouver, Canada, and will end in Tulsa, Oklahoma on March 20.