Notice the message on my shirt. Oops.
Gaga, The Artist
Lady Gaga’s DC concert left me disillusioned. Gaga herself was phenomenal. No matter how many times I watch clips of her on YouTube and Tivo her live performances at award shows, nothing has come close to capturing the live, in-person Gaga. Her voice pounded the air in a loud symphonic staccato. Aggressive dance moves—sometimes aerobic and playful, and at other times raunchy and sexy—couldn’t dampen the strength of the songs she belted.
Gaga was a gracious hostess at her Monster Ball. As Chris Richards of the Washington Post blogged:
“The most commanding moment in Lady Gaga’s riveting Tuesday night concert at Verizon Center had nothing to do with the arsenal of angular, asymmetrical frocks that aggrandized the superstar’s teeny-tiny frame. It came during the crescendo of “Telephone” when she ordered her fans — she affectionately calls them “little monsters” — to tuck their camera phones back into their Levi’s and get in the moment.”
Gaga knew that a dark, blurry photo taken on a smart phone would not capture the ethereal chemistry of the stage and choreography. Indeed we spend so much time trying to capture life’s moments—to prove to our Facebook friends that we did something cool or to blog to our faceless readers that our lives are filled with fun times :)—that we do a bad job of living and savoring the full sphere of the interaction, not just the small sliver we view on a screen in front of us.
Gaga, The Peacemaker
She broke up a fan brawl on the arena floor in the middle of “Monster.” Her dancers and producers obeyed instantly when she cried out, “Stop the music. Do not fight at the Monster Ball.” Despite Gaga’s warning to us fans, I couldn’t calm my anger at a woman who tapped me militantly on the shoulder, despairing, “You need to sit down right now. We can’t see the show.” I stared back in disbelief. She did know we were at a Lady Gaga concert, correct? “I’m not sitting down during this concert,” I responded matter-of-factly but with undeniably ‘tude. “I paid $200 for these tickets,” she retorted. “So did I. And I’ve been waiting for this night for a long time and I am going to do whatever I want. I am not going to sit down. I am going to dance.”
She leaned in and scowled. “What are you going to do?” I smirked like an adolescent challenging her mother, “Hit me?” She wandered back a few spots to her seat; the fight may have been over for her for the moment, but it was just starting for me. I felt insulted, judged, and stressed that the Little Monster community was not as accepting or loving as advertised. Stand up for Gaga! How could anyone sit through Pokerface, Alejandro, Bad Romance? Hasn’t every Little Monster tried to learn the dances in their bedrooms? All I had wanted was an apology. Instead I got not only a refusal to apologize, but also a snarky remark that my mother had raised me poorly. Gaga, I love you and appreciate your message of love, tolerance, and especially of no-fighting at your Mecca, but I couldn’t let that comment slide off my back and down my fishnet stockings. Our bickering filled the short silences in between songs. We parted ways at the end of the concert—each being escorted and pacified by the arms of our wiser, kinder friends.
Gaga, The Activist
Gaga knew large swaths of her audience were gay and politically minded, and her adlibs in between songs returned to the gay community’s fight for equality, not only in marriage, but also in the military. The crowd approved with raucous applause. And for anyone who didn’t share, she offered, “At least I sing live at this show.” Boy does she sing live at the show.
DC Little Monsters: Boring, at Best
Gaga was incredible. Her DC-based Little Monsters were, despite few exceptions, remarkably lame. I’ve already shared me tale of being told to sit and twiddle my thumbs—has this happened at any other Gaga concert? It wasn’t the outfits or styling that were less wild than I had anticipated, but it was the overall vibe of the DC crowd. Is there a reason for our rote, uninspired worship of Gaga?
Alexandra Petri of the Washington Post does a nice job explaining DC-celebrity culture in her article Lady Gaga and the curse of Washington celebrity. She writes,
“conventional wisdom about Washington is that we’re basically a boring, button-down town. We pay bills. We pass bills. We air grievances. Sometimes we rally for significant causes, such as improving water quality or restoring things to other things.”
I don’t work in government and I like to explore DC’s cultural scene, so I’ve always taken offense at descriptions of DC that mirror this conventional wisdom. We are cool, artsy, cultured, and freethinking, I’ve always defended.
Last night, however, I couldn’t help but be embarrassed for DC as Gaga took the stage. Gaga’s plea for those of us in the crowd to free ourselves, be ourselves, and love ourselves landed on deaf ears. The crowd—largely consisting of seemingly self-conscious 16 year olds and moms who looked like they were going to have to explain to their husbands just where exactly their daughter had been that evening and why her hair was tied up into a bow—wasn’t ready to be free and to have fun. The crowd looked stoic and programmed with an unflinching awareness of being watched and judged by others.
At the Monster Ball it shouldn’t matter if you are a Senator, a high schooler, or a nerdy research analyst like me. In the sanctuary of the Monster Ball, we Little Monsters need to understand the implicit covenant we make as witnesses to the high priestess of pop: to not judge, to be happy, to just.have.fun. Why does that seem so hard for us in DC? Oh what it must be like to see her live in New York, I thought as the raucousness waned and the concert goers searched for their seats repeatedly. In my utopia Gaga would hold small venue concerts strictly for tipsy twenty-somethings decked out in outrageous attire. I can dream.
DC Little Monsters: StarStruck and Awkward in the Presence of Fame
Petri unearths another fact about District residents: our view of celebrity is distorted, at least when compared to the celebrity of pop culture and Hollywood. She observes:
“We’ve spent the better part of our lives convincing ourselves that it’s really exciting when Glenn Beck, a middle-aged white man, shows up and gives a speech. “Here comes Glenn Beck!” we say. “Afterwards, we’ll go sit along the strip and watch for motorcades! Maybe we’ll catch a glimpse of Harry Reid!”
I admit my own sense of “celebrity” has been skewed; I conflate politicians and media heads with celebrities. I called my mom excitedly when I saw Greta Van Susteren canvassing the Capitol lawn during the health care debates. Greta who?, my mom asked. I texted my sister immediately when I stole a glimpse of James Carville heading into the Washington Hilton for a dinner honoring the White House Correspondents. I don’t know who that is, sry, she texted back.
Petri lends credence to the kinder of my two theories about why DC Gaga fans were not that impressive or passionate: We were simply “StarStruck” in Gaga’s presence. (The harsher theory is that we are, in fact, uptight and absolutely boring people.) DC’s Little Monsters were paralyzed by the awesomeness of Gaga’s commanding stage presence and fashion sense and her compete inability to say something that doesn’t sound like what she is exactly thinking. Accustomed to flip flopping politicians and watered-down speeches that lack conviction, DC-ers were blown away by what they were seeing. Of course, this is from a group of professed Gaga acolytes who would appear to relish in the ostentaciousness of Gaga; but, again YouTube and MTV cannot prepare you for the live experience. It appeared to scare fans more than energize them with renewed self worth.
I’ll find my solace and renew my sense of faith in DC’s Gaga faithful in Gaga’s own renouncement of her celebrity: “I am an artist, not a celebrity.”
Next Tuesday I’ll continue my 2-venue mini-stint as a Gaga groupie when I travel to Philadelphia. I hope that Philly fans bring it and bring it hard. If not, perhaps a larger examination of the “Little Monster” fan culture is in order. Let’s hope not.
Filed under: Concert, Music | Tagged: Lady Gaga, Little Monsters, Monster Ball, Washington Post | Leave a comment »