Lady Gaga made her live return at the iTunes festival last night and debuted seven songs from her new album ‘ARTPOP’. Reactions from critics have been mixed. Long-term believer Eve Barlow went down to London’s Roundhouse to observe Gaga’s sink or swim moment

IT BEGINS WITH A WORLD OF UNCERTAINTY

There’s a sense of the unknown about Lady Gaga’s return to the stage tonight. For a start, she’s been away for a long time. Technically, she’s been absent mere months – but in 2013, months can feel like YEARS. Remember the first time you heard ‘Get Lucky’? That was only four and a half months ago. As the omnipresent star of the internet era, Gaga knows too well how sands can shift in an instant. She has manipulated social media and light-speed connectivity to her advantage, she became a God among mere memes. And now she sets another new precedent by being the first ever star of her level to effectively disappear, then attempt to come back. How it’s going to work out is anyone’s guess. Can she still dance post-‘hip’ surgery? Does she still have her musical ear to the ground? Is she going to be even less predictable than before? What is this #swinefest she’s been tweeting about? Does it involve her slaughtering a piglet onstage? Who knows what the audience has let itself in for. The fact Gaga’s so late doesn’t bode well. Maybe she’s bottled it. Hey Gaga, shall we just go to the kebab joint over the road instead?

THEN SHE APPEARS! WHAT A RELIEF!

Hold that thought – Gaga’s onstage looking shit hot in a ninja mask. Or is it a Burka mask? Oh, who cares, it really suits her. She’s locked herself in some weird sex toy canon and as I sit in the firing line I wonder whether she’ll be launched at me from the middle of The Roundhouse (or RoundHAUS, riiiiiight)? She’s surrounded by naked ninja men, or maybe they’re Imams. So many questions as usual. Gaga hasn’t so much built up a back catalogue over the past half decade in so much as she’s developed installations in an ever-expanding modern art museum (The Gaganheim, if you like). It’s all open to your interpretation. This opening song ‘Aura’ is much better than the dodgy version that leaked a few weeks back. Before it has time to sink in, Gaga starts stripping into her bra for the first of many occasions, for this second slice of new material – a song called ‘MANiCURE’. It’s about nail art. No wait, it’s about her addiction to men. Woah, I got it: it’s about trading her addiction to men for an afternoon in the nail salon. I think.

THINGS GET CONFUSING

There seemed to be a consistent theme developing in the first 10 minutes: EDM by way of cockrock, lots of black lycra, hot hard torsos, dungeon sex (well, that’s more inferred). Then some old geezer with grey hair comes on (he looks a bit like John Lithgow) and helps Gaga get entirely starkers. It takes a surprising length of time considering she doesn’t really do clothes. Gaga has changed into an outfit made of shells. I use the term ‘outfit’ loosely. She’s glued two shells to her boobs and one… use your imagination. She’s also acquired her second hair-do of the night, apparently from Shakira. The mane soon becomes the main event, overshadowing everything else that’s going on, including this hip-hop channeling ‘Jewels & Drugs’ song, which apparently features T.I. who Gaga reveals is not allowed in the UK. He shouldn’t be allowed on the track. Gaga’s face is on the backdrop video blowing bubble gum with the wig on. How the gum doesn’t get caught in the wig is life’s latest mystery. The greatest mystery of all however, is Gaga’s speech (the first of many) in which she claims to have stopped creating a character for herself, instead choosing to reveal the woman under the make-up and the wigs. Right you are, ShaGagakira. Does this mean we can call you Stefani now?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q1vdDrOmr9s

PIGS DO FLY

Pigs! Human pigs! Bouncing up and down from the ceiling! ‘Swine’ graffiti’d everywhere! Gaga confessing that she may have been abused in her early years in New York while her fans throw soft toy pigs at her! Soft toy pigs soaring through the air! Whatever #swinefest means, it’s terrifying enough to put you off Percy Pigs for life. Believe it or not, though, there’s something even more terrifying than cuddly pigs, men dressed as pigs, Little Monsters with pig snouts on top of their noses and Gaga shrieking ‘SQUEALER SQUEALER SQUEAL OUT YOU’RE SO DISGUSTING’. It’s a ballad called ‘I Wanna Be With You’. The last time Gaga took to balladry at Twickenham Stadium, she sang a song called ‘Princess Die’ which tragically segued into ‘Imagine’, a trite tribute megamix to both Diana and John Lennon. ‘I Wanna Be With You’, however, is far worse. It’s about Gaga’s addiction to her superfans. It’s petrifying. She paints herself as a dead corpse whose life support is her audience’s affections. “But when the lights come on,” she sings. “You lift me up and I feel strong.” Tell you what would make me feel strong: ‘Bad Romance’ dropping right about now.

SILENCE FILLS THE SPACE

As proceedings come to an end, the melancholy of what we’ve all just witnessed sets in. Nobody knows quite what to say. Even the Little Monsters seem deflated. Or perhaps that’s just exhaustion, they’ve been camping outside for days. The promise of ‘ArtPOP’ seems slight. The concept of failure feels possible. Actually, the concept of failure seems necessary. Gaga must fail. She must fail, she must go away, hang out with some normal people for a while, switch off her Little Monsters website, tell Terry Richardson to leave her alone for five minutes, listen to something other than the din of late-night post-show European clubs, forget about art, jesters, performance technique, forget fame, expectation, pursuit, success and the notion that time is never on her side. Then maybe, just maybe she will learn to laugh on her own again. And then we’ll all laugh in turn. Because Gaga was funny once. She sang about “bluffin'” with her “muffin”. And she wore an outfit made of Kermit The Frogs. And she seemed to know that it was all a bit ridiculous.

Check out our gallery of 10 Things We’ve Learned About ‘ARTPOP’