As soon as the lights go down, Lady Gaga, completely covered by mask, armour and netting, rides out on stage on a mechanical horse – boom, there she is. And yet The Born This Way Ball is slow to start. As she is led around the catwalk she performs album filler ‘Road To Love (Highway Unicorn)’ which gets everyone singing along, in high anticipation of the Lady revealing herself. But as the song ends she indulges in a skit – Kill The Bitch – where she shoots dead a dancer, before performing album filler No.2 ‘Government Hooker’ – still covered up to the extent that we can’t see her face. Finally, after simulating giving birth, she erupts into ‘Born This Way’, and we’re off. For all its comparison to Madonna’s ‘Express Yourself’ and criticism for failing to live up to her ‘anthem of a generation’ title, ‘Born This Way’ is a great song, and it ignites the crowd, now geared up for one night to be carefree about life, and serious about music.
For the next five songs however, Gaga insists on some sort of spoken ‘intermission’ in between each one, which keep the running of the show a bit stuttered, and leaves me a bit confused. Surely there’s supposed to be themes here – a concept – a reason for the songs being divided into ‘acts’, and yet I don’t understand it. I, who know as much of the shows of Jackson, Madonna, Bowie and Grace Jones as Gaga does, and who knows her own music inside out, am completely lost. So there’s little hope for many of the young teenagers and middle aged couples making up a surprising percentage of the crowd. Many of the tracks were short – a dozen songs only had a verse and two choruses performed – whilst many of the ‘monologues’ were more drawn out than most of the audience cared for. She took several minutes to declare “I am not an alien. I am not a woman. I am not a man”, before the bloke next to me shouted “What the fuck are you then?!” Yes, for anyone over 16, sometimes the Mother Monster garb can be a bit much.
‘Bad Romance’ and ‘Judas’ sound incredible in the surrounds of Twickenham Stadium. Launching into ‘Just Dance’ she declares, “Sometimes I think, what if I’d never written this song…none of this ever would have happened.” A dramatic thought, but probably very true. Gaga’s success was hard earned, but it was that one track, and that one cultural explosion that catapulted her into the electronic superstardom she inhabits today. But, for many people her greatest moments remain her isolated piano performances – in this show, that’s a keyboard stemming from the handlebars of the motorbike she is seated on. Her acoustic rendition of ‘Hair’ stirs the goosebumps alright, and we even get a sneak peak at ‘Princess Die’ – a song about (you guessed it) Princess Diana, which Gaga happily announces “will be controversial”. Telling us about how her record label feared she was aiming the Born This Way album to too much of a niche market, she looks around the stadium and declares “this is a pretty big fucking niche”. In these moments I’m always struck that Lady Gaga could pull off a whole show – probably in a more intimate venue – just at a piano. Indeed I’d be highly surprised if MTV Unplugged don’t come a-kocking within the next few years.
Gaga announced the show was running 30 minutes late, so she was going to “rock on before they pull the plug”. Unfortunately for us, rocking on meant skipping ‘Americano’, ‘Poker Face’ and ‘Alejandro’ – usually performed as part of the solid set between ‘Electric Chapel’ and ‘Paparazzi’. It seemed unfortunate that big tracks like these were sacrificed for so many album tracks – particularly the likes of ‘Electric Chapel’ and ‘Heavy Metal Lover’, or tracks that were never even released, like ‘Fashion Of His Love’. All is forgiven however, by the time we get to the grand finale and the Lady flexes her musical muscles by dropping ‘Paparazzi’, ‘The Edge Of Glory’ and ‘Marry The Night’ as if she just has too many goddam hits to get through. ‘The Edge Of Glory’ was a truly beautiful moment to send people packing home with, and it was the stand-out stadium anthem I imagined it would be as soon as I heard it.
As much as I felt the concept of the show was a bit misguided, and didn’t live up to the strong message of the album, anyone who would basque in the thought that she’s ‘running out of ideas’ is still wrong. Her recent 5 minute promotional film for her perfume ‘Fame’ is one of the best things she’s ever done, and her forthcoming third album ArtPop is already being raved about. There’s many more years left in the Haus of Gaga.