On 30 November, Lady Gaga performed her world sell-out concert, the Born This Way Ball, to a crowd of 60 000 fans at the FNB Stadium in Soweto, Jozi.
There were fans who had waited since 4 a.m. to be the first to get into the stadium and they weren’t disappointed. The first 250 were allowed into the “monster pit,” which was basically like a golden circle for staunch Lady Gaga supporters.
The crowd had to wait more than an hour and a half after the opening acts (Lady Starlight and The Darkness) for Gaga. Jokes soon started to fly around, like “Maybe Gaga is defrosting her dress?” Classical music was playing while everybody waited and the common refrain was: “Enough with the elevator music already!”
The atmosphere was electric, but anxious as well, as the crowd waited to get a glimpse of the music and fashion icon. Eventually, a mysterious billowing curtain on stage dropped down to reveal a gothic castle with strangely shaped windows and a maze of stairs and platforms. The lighting alone was spectacular!
A procession appeared out of one of the archways with flag bearers and Lady Gaga wearing a bling encrusted outfit sitting on what appeared to be a very realistic horse (this was in fact a giant puppet controlled by people who were literally carrying Gaga on their shoulders).
The next moment, the entire castle split and folded open like a book and there, standing inside the windows of the unfolding castle, were the band members and DJ playing Gaga’s music. Inside the castle, a giant belly and legs inflated, forming part of Gaga as she was “giving birth”. The next moment out pops Gaga through a zipped opening between the legs! Talk about making a statement. The birth of a “new race” has been one of Gaga’s recurring themes in her work.
Then, a strange giant face suspended in a diamond shape, known as Mother Goat, narrated a story, in-between songs, about the government controlling an alien colony in outer space called South Africa.
Gaga introduced herself as not being a man, a woman, a creature or an alien, she said: “I am you, and you are me. I exist because of you.” She thanked everyone for buying a ticket and coming to watch her show.
Gaga asked the crowd if people talked shit about them – about their race, religion, sexual orientation, culture and background – would they give a fuck? She asked all her dancers if they gave a fuck? They didn’t. She asked one of her performers known as ‘Black Jesus’ (a very religious-looking individual wearing a crown of thorns) and even he, according to her, didn’t have any fucks to give. Gaga: “I’ll ask you South Africa, are you brave enough not to give a fuck?” And, in fact, 60 000 people just didn’t give a fuck!
For Bad Romance, Gaga was, as with her performance at the 53rd Grammy awards in Los Angeles in 2011, brought on stage in an egg. When singing Judas, Gaga mentioned how there were some people who came to watch the show but who would go home afterwards and betray her.
I commented to my man that a lot of people probably bought a ticket to come and see if what their preachers or pastors said about Gaga was true. I wonder what they thought.
At one point, Gaga rolled onto the stage on a motorbike with a sexy bikini clad dancer sitting on top of her – bumping and grinding so much it would make most lesbians blush. But wait a minute, Gaga wasn’t riding the motorbike, she WAS the motorbike!
Gaga had a very spiritual and philosophical moment on stage where she sang the ballad version of Born this Way, as well as very personal songs she had written about herself. She sang a song about committing suicide and how she would like to be buried at her funeral with her favourite pearls and lipstick on, as that’s how she’d like to be remembered.
She invited five lucky fans from the monster pit to come and sit with her on her motorbike which ‘magically’ transformed into a keyboard.
Gaga said that she had travelled the world and listened to stories from her “little monsters” about bullying. She explained that there might be people who treated you badly at school, at work or even at home, where there wouldn’t be a place at the dinner table for you because of what you believed in or who you were. But, she said, at her table there would always be a seat for you. Gaga knew that not everyone understood her but said that her creativity and expression was her way of dealing with the pain of her past.
Gaga said that while at that moment she was wearing a lot of make-up, a very expensive wig and outfits, she was no different to anybody else. She also mentioned that over the years she’s noticed how her fans had grown out of emulating or copying her to creating their own unique style and she appreciated that. One of Lady Gaga’s messages is about acceptance, not just acceptance from others but first and foremost accepting yourself.
For Electric Chapel there was a beautiful chapel scene with two crosses and the entire castle and stage ablaze with every colour of the gay flag rainbow. I wondered if the theme related to same-sex marriage, a hotly debated topic in the USA. We already know how Gaga is a fighter for equality and LGBTI rights.
Gaga brought out the South African flag on stage with her motorbike and waved it around as she skipped about to the roar of the crowd. Pity she didn’t have the Gay Flag of South Africa with her!
Within minutes, the stage was transformed into a butchery, with carcasses all over the place. Gaga, wearing a form fitting dress made from (hopefully, fake) meat, was brought in as one of the hanging meat items on display. Gaga told the crowd “So, because I’m a woman, am I a piece of meat to you?” The legs of female dancers were hanging out of giant meat mincers and later Gaga raised herself from under the stage on a couch that looked like a giant piece of meat.
This scene was a perfect example of how people often misunderstand Gaga’s work or the artistic meaning behind it. The day before the concert, when my man and I went to buy bread and milk at the shops, the cashiers asked us what our plans were for the weekend. We mentioned that we were going to see Gaga. A rather conservative lady in front of us turned around and said: “Do you know that she is a Satanist and baths in blood?!” I was livid and asked her: “So are ALL artistic types Satanists?”
Back at the concert, Lady Gaga dedicated the song Alejandro to all the gay people out there and proudly paraded her male dancers, most of whom are gay, to her fans. (An audience member commented that we could easily play a game of “spot the gay” at the concert, and that was definitely true – not to mention the very hot talent that came out to watch the show.)
What amazed me was how quickly Gaga could change from one outfit to the next. It sometimes felt as if she took only seconds. And the amount of fabulous costumes she wore was staggering! No wonder she brought six vans to transport her outfits, along with an entourage of 200 people!
In one of the most emotional moments of the show for me, Gaga told the crowd that when she was about 12 she did a show at a bar with only three people in the audience: her mom, her dad and the bar owner. And, now, she was doing a show in front of 60,000 people! Gaga said that you should never stop dreaming and be prepared to put everything on the line for what you really want and believe in.
When everyone thought the show was finished and people were screaming “we want more”, up popped Gaga to perform The Edge of Glory and Marry the Night with a beautiful dance sequence. Gaga invited 10 more people from the famous monster pit onto the stage before disappearing again. And we knew it was, sadly, really over when the stadium lights came on.
All in all it was truly a night to remember and it was worth every cent to go watch this show-stopper’s concert. If that means I have to cancel Christmas this year then so be it! My man commented on the way home that to really appreciate Gaga one needs to watch her concert.
During the show, Gaga told the crowd that when she goes on her next world tour she would not forget to make a stop in South Africa as she had learned and grew a lot from her visit here. One of Lady Gaga’s tweets after the show read: “Johannesburg was so wonderful, i can’t really put it into words. I’m so happy, I haven’t slept yet. Laying in bed dreaming of the next tour.”
What struck me about the concert is that Gaga is a unifying force. For probably one of the few times in my life, here in South Africa especially, I saw people from every religion, race, culture, sexual orientation and background coming together, putting all their shit aside and enjoying a show. One just has to wonder why we can’t do that more often, but people love to hold on to what divides them. It gives them a sense of security and a comfort zone. Gaga is definitely not living in a comfort zone.
What I learned from Gaga:
* She told the crowd that five years ago she was a waitress in New York, working three jobs, but she wrote and made music every day of her life. This stuck with me. I see in my own life that work and responsibilities are drowning out what I really want: To be a performer and activist.
* Gaga is not what some Christians make her out to be. She may be artistic and weird, even outrageous, but she is a motivating person who preaches a message of genuine love and acceptance. Something the church needs to take notes on.
* I want to be in the monster pit when she comes to visit again.
Were you there, or in Cape Town? What did you think of Lady Gaga’s show?