Few artists begin a two-hour stadium show with a triple whammy of their biggest hits, but few artists have the gumption of Lady Gaga. Her opening salvo of ‘Bad Romance’, ‘Just Dance’ and ‘Poker Face’ – era-defining pop songs all – isn’t just daring but clever. It’s still light when she comes on just after 8.30pm, and London’s 63,000-capacity Tottenham Hotspur Stadium looks even more enormous with Gaga’s stark stage at one end of the pitch.
That stage was inspired by Brutalist architecture, Gaga has said, and designed to provide “a real savage and hard look at yourself and what you’ve been through”. We’ll get to the tough stuff later, but for now a crowd of Gaga’s adoring Little Monsters and more casual fans are hollering along to “p-p-p-poker face, p-p-p-poker face”. Instantly, this show blasts away the venue’s intimidating vastness.
The classic bangers bridge efficiently into sections – or “Acts”, as this show bills them – featuring dance-pop tunes from Gaga’s 2020 album ‘Chromatica’, which hasn’t been toured until now. She sings the heady house gem ‘Alice’ lying on an operating table, slightly shocking staging that underlines the thinly veiled mental anguish in her lyrics. “Where’s my body? I’m stuck in my mind,” Gaga sings pleadingly.
It’s a striking set-piece, but two songs later Gaga embraces a more playful form of darkness by vamping her way through ‘Monster’, a campy fan favourite about a hottie who “ate my heart”. It says a lot about Gaga’s rock-solid songwriting at the start of her career that a 12-year-old deep cut still sounds like it should have been a single.
A few songs later, the show gets even camper when Gaga sings the ridiculous ‘Babylon’ (“Serve it, ancient-city style!”) dressed in a gold Alexander McQueen suit. She’s giving flamboyant gay uncle at a wedding, a look that surely chimes with the many LGBTQ+ fans in the crowd. Touchingly, Gaga dedicates ‘Babylon’ to McQueen, the self-styled “bad boy” of British fashion who died in 2010.
Later, she also gives shout-outs to high-end hatmaker Philip Treacy, style icons Daphne Guinness and Isabella Blow, and fashion designer Gareth Pugh. It’s a sweet reminder that she takes every look seriously, even the one that makes her look like a Doctor Who villain who’s part-human, part-praying mantis.
Gaga’s praying mantis moment comes when she sings ‘Shallow’ at her piano from a B-stage in the middle of the stadium. She sounds tremendous, and her Oscar-winning ballad from The Star Is Born turns the venue into sea of lights. A stripped down version of ‘Chromatica’ banger ‘1000 Doves’ is equally affecting. Gaga presages it by telling us she was in a pretty terrible place when she began the album: “just sitting on my porch and smoking cigarettes.”
Actually, there’s something fundamentally cathartic about this entire show, which was originally scheduled to take place two years ago before the pandemic intervened. Gaga’s last full-scale tour, in support of 2016’s country-flecked ‘Joanne’ album, never made it to London because chronic pain caused by fibromyalgia forced her to pull the last 10 dates.
Fibromyalgia, a long-term condition with no cure and no known cause, must feel like a constant threat for Gaga when she’s on tour. But you wouldn’t guess from the full-throttle choreo she delivers during the show’s uptempo moments. Gaga has always understood that a pop star looks even more powerful flanked by backing dancers, and throughout she gives us thrilling variations on this image. After she drops to the floor at the end of ‘Stupid Love’, she begins penultimate song ‘Rain On Me’ singing flat on her back. It’s dramatic, theatrical, and classic Gaga.
She ends with ‘Hold My Hand’, the ’80s-style power ballad she recorded for summer blockbuster Top Gun: Maverick. Gaga’s scorching vocal is set off by some genuinely dazzling pyro, but it would take a surprise appearance from Tom Cruise to make this tepid song feel like a megahit. By now, though, Gaga has built up so much goodwill that she could get away with singing a nursery rhyme.
Tonight underlines her unique place in the pop pantheon: the missing link between showstopping ’80s icons like Madonna and Prince, and today’s more open and vulnerable superstars. “Thanks for loving a weirdo like me,” she says at one point, before adding modestly: “I’m really nothing special.”
She’s right on the first point – only a wonderful weirdo could conceive a show like this – but off the mark on the second. On this evidence, Lady Gaga continues to be an incredibly special performer: one with the guts to match her gumption.
Lady Gaga played:
‘Born This Way’
‘Always Remember Us This Way’
‘Rain On Me’
‘Hold My Hand’