The music stops, and from it swells two things: a sea of deafening applause and the labored breath of a pop star willing to sacrifice everything for his audience. Lady Gaga, arguably the most devoted and still provocative pop star of her generation, lets you hear it: the high inhales and exhales, the mark of a marathon-level musical icon.
Lady Gaga has a desire to impress people, not satisfied by the mundane or the mediocre. It’s been over four years since she last toured with an album, 2016’s Joan, but the show was mired in setbacks and cancellations, due to her suffering from fibromyalgia. It’s chronic pain that has made what made her a star – leaning into pop theatrics, dancing and singing in elaborate acts – nerve-wracking. It still feels like some sort of bodily betrayal: a unique talent in a generation battling against its own biology. But the idea of half-measures does not interest her: it can hurt, but still, she is ready to devote every piece of her energy to making shows as miraculous as the Chromatica Ball.
The result is his most macabre, profound and personal show to date. The Chromatica Ball, a much-anticipated stadium tour with just 20 dates compared to Joanne Ball’s 49, shortens the length of the tour and allows her breaks between shows to recover properly. It’s a move that ensures everyone will land like a lit firecracker in stadiums across Europe, America and Asia by September.
Lady Gaga’s live show has always been a memorable event, steeped in allegory under neon lighting and jaw-dropping set design. She gave meaning to her music where few cynics thought possible: put on a sordid monster show in New York with her second The Monster Ball tour; built entire castles and turned into motorcycles for the Born This Way Ball. Although bells and whistles have long been his thing, the surprisingly sterile set of the Chromatica Ball tour acts as a brutalist and ominous canvas for his deeply introspective ideas.
This makes sense in the context of Chromatic Musically: His number one album, which fell in 2020 weeks into the pandemic, disguised the malaise of his personal life – grief, anxiety, addiction – under the big screen dance beats of producer Bloodpop. “If you’re in pain and listening to this music, just know that I know what it’s like to be in pain,” she said. Paper around its release. “And I know what it’s like not to let it ruin your life.”
This second statement is important when it comes to distinguishing the Chromatica ball and what it represents.
It is staged as an all-powerful career retrospective; the stage is akin to a gallery space where viewers observe his radio pop songs through a performance art lens. It is divided into an epilogue, four acts and a finale, each accompanied by an interlude directed by longtime collaborator Nick Knight. But each feels tonally different from the last: a bug-like Gaga, dressed as Gareth Pugh, silhouetted as a flesh-eating savage is the focal point of one; later, she will be adorned with flowers and adorned with jewels, her face bare. While the Chromatic Artwork and music videos of the era were defined by a kind of Power Rangers, turbo-technicolor feel, The Chromatica Ball’s staging is stripped of all colors: austere and gray. “Inspired by brutalist architecture…” Gaga said. “…materials, textures, rawness, transparency. A real wild and hard look at yourself, at what you’ve been through. Instead, we’re witnessing Gaga’s metamorphosis into characters from her past. During “Poker Face,” for example, a 3D rendering of Nick Knight’s statue for his 2010 UK tribute to Alexander McQueen flashes onscreen in gumball red. When she performs “911,” she wears the kind of Berlin leather outfit that seemed prescient during the born like this time. In some ways, it’s like all those characters are still swirling around inside her.
It begins with its three consecutive greatest hits – “Bad Romance”, “Just Dance” and “Poker Face” – performed from within a cocoon-like structure that, piece by piece, falls, like a metaphor for the prison of success and public expectations. It’s a symbol of his audacity: his ability to take out three huge crowds before the shows even start.
Her imprisoned pop section is followed by her savage sacrifice: “Alice” is performed on a floating operating table before dropping to sing “Monster,” where she is enveloped by her dancers and emerges in a crimson jacket with padded shoulders. and sunglasses, like a character from her The Glory Monster time.
Fashion credits are also plentiful, both custom and archival: moire gold capes and suits for “Babylon” and a leather studded biker jacket courtesy of Alexander McQueen. A handful of Gareth Pugh’s custom and archive looks also appear, a throwback to his “Bad Romance” performance on The X Factor.
The sacrifice leads, of course, to her rebirth: a “free woman” wandering through her crowd in the McQueen moire as her dancers sail around her. Even her expansive piano section – where she delivers “Shallow,” “The Edge of Glory” and a stripped-down live debut of “1000 Doves” feels healing, even if she appears incongruously dressed as a praying mantis.
By the time we reach the pyrotechnics-filled final act, marked by the punch of “Stupid Love,” Gaga pushes her vocals further, the effort paying off with her immense vocal belts, flaunting it all on stage. That pants off of her radio mic continues as she lays on the stadium stage floor, before effortlessly leaping into a perfect “Rain On Me.”
Pain and sadness are rarely seen as fuel for big stadium pop shows, but Lady Gaga’s Chromatica Ball makes the art both brutal and brilliant with its pain. Witnessing that is seeing Lady Gaga both channel her, and for two euphoric hours, put her to bed: it’s her deepest stage statement to date.
Tickets for Lady Gaga’s The Chromatica Ball stadium shows are on sale through Live Nation now.