The unusually emotional Artpop-star defends her right to writhe around in PVC and don a giant squid costume – all while turbocharging her biggest hits
Lady Gaga has had an annus horribilis. Her coolly received third album, Artpop, saw a fraction of the sales of her world-conquering debut. She also endured surgery and split from her longtime manager. Far from being humbled, however, tonight she launches the mother of all fightbacks. “You do not need a record label or a manager to be an artist!” Gaga declares. Moments later, she’s espousing rebellion through artistic freedom, a doctrine already followed by the female members of the audience who are parading in their underwear and the man with an afro clutching an oversized handbag.
Thrilling as it is to be at a concert that provides such licence for liberation, even the fans who call themselves Little Monsters can’t hope to upstage the star: Gaga ascends and descends wearing angel’s wings and sings while straddling topless dancers, and later dons a giant squid costume for Paparazzi, giving photographers a shot of her sucking on a tentacle.
One of the many subtexts of this sweary performance is to prove that Artpop isn’t a popflop, and songs such as the electro-soul Do What U Want have been thoroughly turbocharged. Hearts momentarily sink as she declares: “If you’ve just come for the hits, go home!” But she plays them – Just Dance, Bad Romance, Poker Face and the rest, too.
Often, she is unusually emotional, making heartfelt personal statements about how she has earned the right as a woman to be respected as an artist and for pop “to exist in an intelligent space”. At times this means establishing her right to writhe around in PVC or sing about marijuana with a chair on her head.
However, when she’s alone at the piano, addiction song Dope and a torch reworking of Sonny Bono’s Bang Bang affirm her newfound credentials as the formidable jazz singer whose album of duets with Tony Bennett is currently topping the charts in the US. The most extraordinary moment comes when she movingly reads aloud a letter from a young gay fan, who joins her with his boyfriend as she sings Born This Way through hugs and tears. Gaga has often been accused of being all artifice and no heart, but tonight’s show is a powerful statement from a star who refuses to be pinned down or written off.
• At 3Arena, Dublin, on 17 October. Box office: +353 1 819 8888. Then touring.
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