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Lady Gaga in Oakland: A Bossy, Euphoric Monster Mother

March 23, 2011

At last night's show, the pop singer made "Norman Bates’s mother look like the Virgin Mary"

The video for “Born this Way,” the title track from Lady Gaga’s soon-to-be-released album, is full of grotesque birthing imagery. Pulsing, vagina-like forms swirl around the screen, wombs explode and sticky objects emerge from the space between the performer’s splayed legs.

At just 24 years old, Lady Gaga has somehow come to represent motherhood for millions of people around the world.

But like cultural history’s most divisive maternal figures – a line which spans from Medea to the pushy stage mom in Darren Aronofsky’s movie “Black Swan” – the performer sends out mixed messages to her children. She is exceedingly hard to please.

Over 15,000 of Gaga’s “Little Monsters” (as the performer affectionately likes to call her fans) turned up at the Oracle Coliseum last night to pay homage to their “Mother Monster” on the Bay Area leg of her “Monster Ball Tour 2011.”

Many attempted to gain the star’s affection by alluding to her lurid sense of style. Brightly colored wigs dotted the arena. Fans posed for photographs in assorted nun’s habits, sparkly unicorn horns and skeleton faces. Recalling the dress fashioned from hunks of meat that Gaga wore at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards, one woman even had on a belt fashioned from miniature plastic cuts of beef.

Other fans threw offerings for the performer on the stage. Adoring text messages poured out on the huge screens that flanked the auditorium before the concert began.

Though she cooed over some of the gifts, humbly thanked the crowd for buying tickets to her concert and, at one point, interrupted the music to have a conversation with an audience member on her cell phone, Mother Monster reciprocated with a tough version of her progeny’s apparently boundless love.

In some ways, Lady Gaga is the most doting of parents. She spent a great deal of time during her two-hour show massaging egos with statements that sound like they come from a soap opera script. She told us we’re heroes from the moment we come into this world, that we can be whoever we want to be and that we should love ourselves however we are.

This message comes across most palpably in Gaga’s soulful acoustic version of “Born this Way,” the only down-tempo part in an otherwise bestially high-energy performance. A beatific blue light bathed the artist, momentarily softening her mustard gas-hued tresses as she sung at the piano.

My mama told me when I was young
We are all born superstars
She pulled my hand and put my lipstick on
In the glass of her boudoir
"There's nothin wrong with lovin who you are"
She said, "'cause he made you perfect, babe"

This marked the only point in the show when Gaga sung with unmannered ease. There’s a depth and sweetness to her voice that runs completely counter to the throaty, machine-like tone that she adopts for many of her aggressive hit songs including “Bad Romance” and “Poker Face.”

But the lullaby was short-lived.

For the rest of the performance, Gaga created such a terrifying vision of parenthood that she makes Norman Bates’s mother look like the Virgin Mary.

There’s nothing remotely maternal about Lady Gaga’s appearance. All of the many costumes she wore on stage exchange feminine curves for sharp angles. At the start of the show for the number “Dance in The Dark,” the performer strode out in a navy blue biker jacket with shoulder pads that would make Colin Powell cower. For her performance of the plucky disco anthem “Love Game,” Gaga wore a translucent rubber nun’s habit with protruding hips and an outsize beast claw on one hand. And she made an appearance towards the end of her show sporting her signature brassiere and panties —that shower sparks.

So much for mother’s milk.

She’s also extremely domineering and bossy. Gaga’s songs might be peppered with monosyllabic utterances reminiscent of baby talk like the “Ga-ga-ooh-la-la” of “Bad Romance.” But when she yelled, “Put your paws in the air!” to the crowd, everyone obeyed instantly.

Coupled with the air punches, writhings and squats of Laurieann Gibson’s fecund-aggressive choreography, Gaga’s show ends up being less of a pep talk for her Little Monsters than a place they are sent to get a good whipping.

If this is motherhood in the 21st century, then it’s a maternal nightmare worthy of a Philip Roth novel.

Yet Gaga’s approach to parenting is intoxicatingly compelling. Her energy and charisma induce a state of euphoria and songs like “Alejandro” and “Telephone” force even the most flat-footed of her fans to get up and dance. Just as there’s a little of our parents in all of us – both good and bad – so Gaga dramatizes the relationship between mother and child through exploiting its dual humanizing and monstrous sides.

Try as we might to sever the bond, we can’t help but be tied to Mother Monster’s warped umbilical chord of pounding beats, flashing lights and acres of flesh.



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