Last night I attended the fourth of five sold out Lady Gaga shows at Rod Laver, with some friends of mine. I thoroughly enjoyed it. As a spectacle, it was audacious. Her performance put to rest any lingering doubts I might have had regarding her talent, particularly in terms of her vocal abilities, stage presence or songwriting. In all of those areas, she exceeded what I would normally expect of pop artists of her ilk. A decidedly commercial act she may be, she is no empty fabrication, unlike many of those that might be considered her peers. I was thoroughly satisfied with my $130 outlay.
Some people might be surprised about all of this. Whilst I have always been a fan of a wide range of genres, most would assume that electro-pop might not be one of them. My headphones are almost always filled with rock, metal and hip-hop. But good songs are good songs, whatever genre they might be. Underneath slamming house kicks and layer upon layer of synth, Gaga’s work is simple but engaging. Most could be stripped back to a piano or guitar and stand up as a solid piece of songwriting.
Having said that, some approaches speak more to me than others. Seeing fans on the floor going ballistic to ‘Poker Face’ was terrific, but the it felt to me like an like I was an observer: I felt like I was watching something cool rather than participating. The big spectacle is great, but my preference is for less. Less flash, less glamour. Seeing great performers doing what comes naturally to them. I don’t object to staging, or big video screens, or flashing lights. The big arena pop show, like musical theatre, is about pomp and extravagance. It’s awesome, it’s just not my style most of the time.
Gaga’s dancers were great, but something sits uncomfortably with me when you’ve got a bunch of performers move in lock step with another person for hours at a time in front of a screaming crowd with disco beats underneath. It feels a little like fascism to me. That’s probably stretching the analogy a little bit too far, but there’s something fundamentally unnatural, something inorganic about that.
I might be in the minority on this. Five sold out shows demonstrates that a great arena rock show captures the imagination like almost nothing else. Once again, I don’t wish to deride the concept of the spectacular, because it has its place. Counterintuitively, my preference for authenticity may be fundamentally unrealistic. It just comes down to something innate, I think. I love seeing great performers playing, that’s it. Sometimes nothing else is necessary.