I saw Lady Gaga live last night. And I finally got it.
She moves her fans not with the power of sex, or the joy of music.
She moves them with a driving message of independence and individuality.
F— you, she tells them. I’m a freak. You be one too.
It’s not a gentle message. She beats her fans about the head, and in Oakland they loved every minute of it.
“Put your paws up, Oakland,” she growled at the crowd. ““I’m gonna kick your ass.”
And then she did.
They clamored for her and just before 10 pm she arrived, a Ziggy Stardust silhouette on a giant white screen. She was singing, but not moving. Suddenly she swiveled a hip. The crowd went wild.
The screen rose to reveal Gaga in a purple sequined jacket with matching sunglasses and dirty yellow hair the color of Gulden’s mustard. Prince Valiant bangs. In French she would be called a “jolie-laide” – an ugly beauty.
Behind her is more of the same aesthetic: three men-women with shaved heads, bare chests and kilted skirts in a dance cage.
Every edge in the Gaga show is jagged. The dancers are muscled and their loins bulge provocatively. The dance moves are sharp with the uncoiled, frantic energy of a nightclub in the Village in 1985.
She unleashes her hit “Just Dance,” fast, elegant footwork, and when it’s over, she addresses the crowd in that low, take-no-prisoners voice: “Tonight, in Oakland, you’re gonna be super-free little monsters! All the freaks are outside, and we’ve locked the doors.”
Part of the revelation at a Gaga concert is how personally she talks to her fans. She told them that she was bullied as a child. She told them to ignore anyone who told them they were not superstars – or too fat, or too thin, or too weird.
It was barely two years ago, she recalled, that she was playing in clubs with 50 in the audience, all of them looking at her sideways. What was she exactly?
Now she could play huge stadiums, but instead she’s in smaller venues where she looks her fans in the eye. At one point she wielded an oversized flashlight and started casual conversations with people at the edge of the stage.
At another point she called a fan on a cellphone (not sure how she got the number) high up in the stands. He was shivering with the thrill of talking to his idol, in front of the entire arena.
Dance music is usually liberating, but Gaga enslaves her fans, who willingly submit to her dominatrix tone. “Put your hands up like this!” she orders, with a scissoring motion. The whole arena scissors their arms.
Her next song features her in a nun’s headress, a clear latex sheath and a bloody claw on one hand. More orders: “Get your dicks out!” she barks. “Now dance – you f—-s.”
There is the affection of the familiar in these orders. It says: I suffered. I sacrificed. You have too. And I feel your suffering.
And she thanks them profusely throughout the show: I am here because of you, and only for you, she says.
Gaga’s show pulses with the triumphant power of the once-maligned and the formerly-marginalized. And everything about it is empowering.
That was show 144 on her tour. Five days ahead of Gaga’s 25th birthday, she wrapped up and headed to Sacramento.