- Lady GaGa »
"Why won' it downloa' quickah? S'only at sixteen pah-cent!" yelps the fifteen-year-old girl to her friend. She then makes eye contact with the guy in the seat opposite. He puts a tin of Heine' lager to his lips and then with his thick Glasgae accent, he drawls "Eeets-a class-ack! 'Waterloo Sun-sat! Ooo-wuh-oooh-oooh! Doo-ah-dooo-oooh! I am 'n para-dice!' A class-ack! 'Ave ye turned on ye fucken 3G! Kw-ackkk!!!! Wee naaarly thaa'..."
The train stops at Vauxhall. It's only then the sweaty but smiley train carriage of revellers quietens down a little as they begin to collectively realise that the dream is nearly over (...was it all a dream? All is dream...). As the sardine-packed train doors eventually open at Waterloo, we - in our ripped tees, twirled hair, smudged make-up, skinny jeans, heels and hairpins - step off. You can just about hear people gasp as their feet touch the grey terra firma. By the time they step over the yellow "mind the gap" line the silent scream becomes a sigh. Yes, that's it, a sigh: a puffed cheeked, pained, slow, sad sort of exhalation. This is possibly because at this moment it dawns on us (well, by "us" I really mean me) that we've married the night, divorced ourselves from our everyday realities and that now it is all over. Sadly. And it stops me in my tracks... As I/we/they step off the train and the fumes of Burger King fill our nostrils, the memories fade like an etch-a-sketch, shaken by thoughts of walking into our front doors to dirty dishes, debts, dogs, dust, and the dull detritus of modern life.
There will be no oxygen tank for us to sleep in. Gaga won't be whispering sweet thank yous or blowing us whisky kisses g'night. The night drips to an end. You could giddily scream the night is young, but we are not... Well, by that I mean me. I'm thirty, I've lived hard for a decade or more. I'm too old for standing up for five hours at pop concerts before drinking 'til the sun burns away the morning mist and some poor bastard earning minimum wage, who just wants to go to bed so they can get up and do it all over again, is forced to spit me out onto the streets to chase cars, to ponder what it means to chase a pavement...
I was here, at Waterloo station, just a few hours ago. Since I've been gone, I've missed that Waterloo Sunset that Ray Davies made famous. Before the train pulled out of Richmond and into Twickenham, I was in a paradise of promises. Sure, the train was filled with the orange tans of the most heinous hen nights and the crowd was interspersed with a sprinkling of the creature known as a boy-man (think Perez Hilton pre- all those push-ups, with his puppy fat and that giddy spinny-kiddie gaze), but the creaky carriage was alive with anticipation. You could sense the excitement and expectation for what lay ahead. The show in our minds was loading a little more as we inched closer. Saturday night's alright, really, and it was blossoming with possibilities.
You could say, our journey there - Twickenham, the home of Rugby - on those hot tracks was an adventure (the journey is the most important part, even X Factor teaches us that!). You could almost see it scribbled beside the lightning bolts on the Little Monsters’ faces 'Yes, I’m gonna see the Monsterball Mk2' - or the Born This Way Ball™ as it is known to those in the corporate boxes, surveying The Scene, and sippin' their bub'. What they'll see over the coming hours from this prime vantage point is a Where's Wally crowd of a mosaic of multi-coloured wigs. Hair is trussed up and rolled around Diet Coke cans. Every 12th girl I pass has flickering party-lights on her head, which on closer inspection appear to be plastic bows (battery powered fairylights, basically).
You could say, they are their hair.
When they glance away from their future-phones, those big ol’ ogres - the suits and snoots (i.e. bored broadsheet journalists, there to dutifully file copy and drink the miniatures they sneakily smuggled in) - will see Lady Starlight strutting and dancing in her Burlesque tent, blasting 80s hair metal and stuttering 70s stadium rock. It's a DJ set of songs that are heavily indebted to the Ramones, as much as they are to Sabbath and The Stones. I couldn't tell you exactly what she played, but The New York Dolls woulda fit right in.
From their box beneath the cheap seats, them VIPs will see Justin Hawkins in his jumpsuit joined by his motley crew of pouty pomp-peddlers. As they parade and scissor-kick around the massive stage in front of a giant banner, carefully placed to remind us all that yes, this is "The Darkness" and fuckyeah they are alive (again). The good news is that Frankie Poullain is back, bandana and all. The not-so-good news is that for the first half of the set they get typical support band sound, which makes a muddled mess of their epic riffs and glass-ceiling shattering falsettos. No bother, because Hawkins is a real pro. He and his showmanship are here to leap around, crack a few jokes, and to remind us why they went from being a rag-tag bunch of irony-peddlers playing in pub backrooms to being a million selling, America thrilling juggernaut of a band that rode their blimp through the jagged heart of the noughties. He'll at times be a caricature of his heroes and of himself-which-blurs-into-an-alter-ego. At one point the penny will drop that he coulda been Russell Brand...speaking of which, has anyone ever seen them in the same place at the same time?
...And then it begins. An alien arrives, in a veil. After a few sips of my beer^, it appears She is in a sequined Predator suit, on horseback (it actually might be the real Black Beauty). Riding on this foundation, for nearly a hundred twenty minutes, Gaga rocketships through the hits, and the album tracks (her records aren’t exactly littered with filler, which may surprise those who only know the mega-hits or the snobby snark-fiends who have Animal Collective records to write Encyclopedias about....).
Later... She rides around on a motorbike. It's no big deal. She's just half-human, half-mode-of-transportation, gliding around on some sort of BatMan fairground ride...
Later still... She climbs her castle turrets. Oh yes, she has a stage set that is a GIANT CASTLE! Not just some little prop, but something that would dwarf a Tory twonks country-pile. You could almost imagine Rebekah Brooks living in there, and Jeremy Clarkson mocking her for it...
You're waiting for me to say it was terrible, aren't you? You should probably look elsewhere. I mean, sure, you could deconstruct The Show, dismiss and generally criticise Gaga from the snobby point of view of Adorno, but to do so would completely and utterly miss the point. Standing here, in this stadium, as people lose their shit all around me, occasionally uncrossing my arms to make remarks in my notebook, like a journalist, like a curious outsider, well, if I did that I wouldn't really be here and I would miss out on experiencing a genuine once in a generation sensation. The only 'right' way to sum up Gaga's #BornThisWayBall on a balmy September evening at Twickenham stadium is to try to steady myself for long enough to string together so many superlatives that it will seem so sensationalist that you could be fooled you're reading a breathless fan letter, rather than a review by someone in their right mind. Perhaps ingesting and digesting this show I'm not in my 'right' mind, but if feeling like this is doin' it wrong, I don't wannabe right...
I didn't expect it to be like this because for a while there, a year or so ago, it seemed like Gaga had lost her way. The bloated brass (see also: M83), the lounge act-era Saint Elton-worshipping, the crooning while wearing increasingly ridiculous costumes, and there was the well-worn insincere mid-song banter, as beamed into UK households at the R1 Big Weekend; all these things made it seem like perhaps The Haus of Gaga had gotten lost in a cloud
of coke and/or were falling off the top of the world. Imagine how easy it could be to munch your own hype and get lost in the craziness of the road, the parties and plane trips with Vanity Fair, and the fact you've got more followers than Jesus... It's almost impossible to imagine what it must be like to be lost in the third eye of the storm that is Gaga's life. Everyone projects onto you who they want you to be. Part of the reason why she's become who she is is because she leaves so much out, giving us all some faint outlines within which we can paint our own Gaga. She may give out little clues, pointing us one way, before throwing us totally off the scent with a video or a phone-photo on Facebook ...but then as the 'Bad Romance' chorus erupts and joy surges like lightning toward the Cleopatra spikes in the corner of Gaga's eye, you get a glimpse of what it must feel like to be the lady onstage. It's eyes shut, mouths agape: pure passion pulsing to and fro. She beams 'it' (the magic, the myth, the music) out and it comes back to her, and almost seems as if it gives her strength to sing (boy can she!) and dance almost non-stop for what amounts to a marathon. A marathon IN HEELS!!! You see her on the big screen close-ups and you imagine she must feel like she's high on the magic of the moment. Right here, right now, dancing in our memories forever...
If you wander into 'the monster pit' and pick almost any moment of tonight's feast (more than two hours) of bombast in a castle (yes, I’ll say it again, a fucking C-A-S-T-L-E!) and you are - if you're me - soaring upon a sea of glee. These are songs crafted and reconstructed for entertainment purposes, so the fact they have become the earworms of a generation is more than a bonus. Then again, these aren’t just people who ‘quite like Gaga’ these are devotees, who haven’t just bought in to the hype, but who have connected with the subject matter of her lyrics and the human being who could easily be cowering behind the flash-bulbs, but instead becomes a super-hero. I haven’t seen such adoration for an artist since Marilyn Manson and the last time I saw such an intense crowd was at a Slipknot show. Seriously, these aren’t just ‘I’ll take a bit of everything’ sorts who’ve paid £75 to hear a few songs they like, instead of I dunno, going to see Jack White at the Roundhouse... I mean, what kinda idiot goes to see a man hump the wrinkly faux-blues corpse of rock’n’roll when they coulda-shoulda seen a pop alien land and gawped into the abyss that is the future? Oh yeah, you Mojo-reading berks love the comfort of nostalgia. Godforbid you might have your mind blown.
The fact that Gaga managed to make The Darkness quick fade in the memory like some smalltown support act, is an incredible feat. I mean, this a band who a decade ago went from zero to megastars, due to how overblown they were - and it’s not like time has turned them down from eleven. The way in which this show filled the arena, and the reaction in ‘the monster pit’ was incredible, also somehow managed to take The Monster Ball show I saw a few years ago, and turn it into not just a more professional show, but also a surprisingly more genuine and credible feast of creativity and music, and entertainment. Gaga has never really had her name besmirched or dismissed as a fly-by-night, yet she still manages to slip in a little cuss to the non-believers, some of whom appear to reside at her label, one of whom clearly put Gaga’s nose out of joint by saying her new album was for a ‘weird little niche’ to which she took the opportunity at this, the first of her two sold out nights in Twickenham to say "I quite like our little stadium niche."
It's no accident that an album about the Fame game saw her ascent to stardom. It's no accident that she followed it up with a party/remix album just before talking her near self-bankrupting Monster Ball out on the road. It's hardly surprising that she followed it up with a lengthy album of anthems which double-underscore the individualism of herself and her fans. You could cynically look at this as a well executed marketing campaign bolstered by a few hits, but you should really fear "it". This is someone building a global cult. As she teases us with talk of her new album and tees up #ArtPop [insert a knowing wink to Warhol here] the app, which will take her littlemonsters.com social network (yes, she has her own social network!) to another level, you can't help but feel this is an artist not just at the top of her game, towering over the rest of humanity, but you start to fear she's only just gotten started. If the first two and a half albums, the plaudits, 'the prizes' and the hugely successful sold out world tours are just Lady GaGa in beta-mode, then god only knows where she's going to take us and herself when she’s finished limbering up...
It will take weeks for me and my fellow Little Monsters to realise that seeing Gaga as blood and flesh makes 'things' - like equality, peace and yuhknow having a good-good time... fun I hear they call it - seem far more possible. As I think about the Scottish guy and his instance that this young girl who’s just seen one of the best gigs of my life, must hear Ray Davies blubbering on about a sunset, I start to see the tectonic plates of generations splitting and the magma bubbling in between is a glittering shade of neon, and it’s from this place that Gaga was spat out. Makes me dizzy just thinking about ‘it’.
- Singles Are Dead! Long Live Tracks...?
- The Monster Pit, The Castle and Me: Lady GaGa in London by Sean Adams
- 10 Ways to Fail as a Mainstream DJ by Lady Starlight
- DiS Does Pop #5: In search of pop's biggest sell out
- Win: Sonos PLAY:3 Wireless HiFi + Deezer Premium+
- DiS Does Pop: The Xmas Bumper Edition
- Drowned in Sound's Albums of the Year: 5-1
- DiS' Favourite Albums of 2011: 49-21