The Born This Way Ball

Mother Monster, cult leader, harbinger of souls, "I want to consume your creativity," freak, self-marginalised somebody, wired to her fans, wired. The Born This Way Ball is a well-worn spectacle. The clothes look tatty, the stage tired, the dancers hen pecked.

The play house of a Disney castle, with its mechanised stairwells and movable facade from which Gaga appears dominates the stage. "Is it a castle housing a monster or a princess?" asks the sub-text. Before we are asked to question "Who is the monster?" as Gaga appears as both Valkyrie parading on a horse, snaring her warrior fans, and as a Gamesmaster head, floating in a cage of neon, bulbous eyes and disfigured profile. Gaga has more facets to her character than most.

"We're not just a pop show. My dancers here are not doing it because I hired them…" she proclaims as part of one of many incoherent monologues. This one a thinly veiled attempt at a staff motivational talk. What she's trying to get across is that all her staff, her production team, dancers, band, caterers and drivers have all bought into the Gaga "cult". They are part of the singular entity that works together for the same goal. She is the mother, as a colony of ants, sat in the centre of the stage, before all her fans feeding her, and feeding off her. This is the culture of capitalism. Capitalism as culture: "You [the paying public] have made us into a culture," she continues.

That she would even bother to go into the political mechanics of her business is but a slither of light into the political makeup of the show - which by-and-large resembles a Republican Party conference. "A new freedom… you could explode," she imagines, in a segue vernacular of a wide-eyed political candidate. Hers is the freedom to carry arms. There are a lot of guns in the show: the vengeful bride, the all-American bandana gunslinger, the fem-bot ammunition brassier, the sartorial warrior. Hers is the freedom to swear, "Fuck. Bitch. Cunt... did I say cunt?" "I don't give a fuck, bitch." Hers is the freedom for sexual liberation. De-regulation, no government control, open the markets, “Romney, you have my blessing”.

Like Jeff Daniels' anchor man in The Newsroom, Gaga occupies the enviable position of being both a hard right Republican liberals can love - demanding greater liberties upon the citizen. From this, she can act the neutral, equating her desire for absolute freedom to the civil rights battles such as sexual equality. And in doing so, harnesses the pink pound, and bleeds it for all its worth. I suspect she hates the Tea Party movement on the grounds she has a penchant for aggravating conservative Christianity. "Black Jesus," she repeatedly names one of her dancers, in a move that scarcely references beyond the Madonna video. Such is the focal sphere of the show.

What hillbillies does she take us for? It's 2012 for Christ’s sake! What are you doing shoving out-dated commodified Queer down our throats? We, Manchester, the only town in Europe to host European Pride twice, are so far ahead of this tacky Sex and the City garbage. We are Queer as Folk. Your vision of progression is backwards to us.

But there are these people that do exist in Manchester. One has been brought up on stage. Another is sat right in front of me. Some, notably the debutants, need to channel Gaga to find liberation. They need her to envisage their dreams, and the need her blessing of acceptance. It would be liberal fantasy to argue that Gaga is not needed in London or Manchester tonight. That ours is a culture far more progressive that that of Moscow (where the tour also visits). Even our great cities with their fantastic queer communities are fragile, and vulnerable. That they too need this ridiculous woman to sweep in and deliver her marketing message as if it were a political rally. It is to the credit of Gaga that she mothers these little boys lost.

The drum beat continues, its crashing symbols and over-produced toms. It is the ‘80s stadium rock beat. It is the George Bush Snr. It's the Reagan beat. It's Guns N Roses. It's the sound of Texas. It's Journey. So rarely does the show stray from the rigid pop machine, it leaves it cold and impersonal. As the narrative develops Gaga sheds her skin. From the ankle length dress she paraded in with a jewelled helmet shielding her face, we are offered a slow strip tease down to knickers and thongs. Emotionally the headgear is lifted, and in a bandana she offers what best resembles a punt at an Oscar. With her voice crackling as she delivers her love to the crowd, and set in the metre of the show, the heartbreak feels feigned.

If Aaron Sorkin was writing this…CORRECTION: Were Aaron Sorkin's ex, and the eight writers he recently fired writing this, they would praise Stefani Germanotta for being "the greater fool." For being the one who dared to commit, who dared to take the risks. And in a way she does. This festival of capitalism sees teams of ghost writers sit down and pen songs. Consultants dancing in the shadows. A social media machine greater than any other. A 2.0 website that is going to change the face of the pop industry for ever. Gaga is a great pop star in the same way a modern politician is great. She has the power, ability, and character to connect to a massive core of society that may otherwise feel disillusioned.

It's a shame that her world is so entrenched in American culture. Leaving the only transposable thread that of "Freak" fetishisation. That she continues the “you are what you buy” mentality. I'm a freak, you're a freak, "we were all born this way". That when you buy Gaga you become Gaga. To go to a Lady Gaga concert is to be sold a political ideology, one that will never benefit you, but one that will try to inspire you. There's a lot of smoke and mirrors, and there's a lot of bullshit, but when you see her riding in on an inflatable pregnant woman, legs akimbo, tatty and that closer resembles a supermarket chicken you can't help but laugh along.

A recent portrait has emerged of Michael Jackson in the LA Times. It's of him, drunk, locked away in his London hotel room. His manager frantically emailing an executive at the promotions company (AEG Live) back in Los Angeles, "He's an emotionally paralysed mess riddled with self-loathing and doubt now that it's show time."

Lady Gaga, in all her regalia is the perfect image of self-loathing and doubt. Hers in a paradox between the "strong” and “confident” figure her critics and fans project upon her, and in her heavy layered eyeliner, a ghost of a broken Winehouse haunting her silhouette. She has brought the idea of the sullied celebrity - the Lindsey Lohan, drunk, high, emotionally fractured - and embodied it as if it were an act of grace. Tragedy as a clown would wear a mask. Holding onto her dominance before it is her in the London hotel. Hers is the live of love and death. Of Eros and Thanatos.

When the Lady Gaga team is at their best she can be this sharp, this dangerous, this deadly. She can embody this world. But tonight she didn't.

Words by Samuel Breen
Photo by Yoshika Horita
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