Lady Gaga talks early struggles, denies lip-synching, shouts-out Liza Minnelli and Marisa Tomei at Madison Square Garden

lady-gagaImage Credit: Kevin Mazur/WireImage.comNot only was she born this way, she was born right here. Lady Gaga flaunted her New York roots at Madison Square Garden Tuesday night, marking her final hometown concert before her Monster Ball tour wraps in May. And with heartfelt reflections on her early career struggles and shout-outs to the in-attendance Liza Minnelli and Marisa Tomei, she saved the best for last. For someone who says she doesn’t want to be thought of as human while on stage, Gaga seems to be one of the rare artists who can turn a stadium concert into a personal event, even when—or especially when—HBO’s cameras are rolling for a special to air May 7.

Like Gaga herself, the Monster Ball exists in flux, evolving and shape-shifting from city to city and month to month. Sure, the Day-Glo Pop-art-inspired sets have mostly stayed the same, roughly etching the bare outlines of the Monster Ball’s loopy, Wizard of Oz-style plot. There’s still the fluorescent-lit alley with hilariously pithy neon signs like “Drugs,” “BBQ,” and “Gold Teeth.” (Will Gaga next embrace dental fashion, a la Kanye?) The subway set for “LoveGame.” The twisted fairy tale forest—or Central Park, for the New York crowd. But there are a few tweaks here and there, mostly with the addition of pseudo-religious imagery, like the deranged nun’s habit she now sports during “LoveGame” (something Luis Buñuel would have loved), or the weeping angel statue that presides over “Alejandro.” She’s also upped the gay content, closing out “Alejandro” by having two of her male backup dancers share a long, lingering kiss. As far as the songs, former mainstays like “Brown Eyes” have had to make way for new additions “You and I” and “Born This Way.”

But the most significant change lies in Gaga’s attitude. Her career has always been a kind of visual essay about the power of self-creation: that the overlooked, insecure Stefani Germanotta could remake herself into the force of nature that is Lady Gaga. Her costumes have never been self-promotion gimmicks so much as tools for facilitating the flowering of her fragile ego. The fact that she opened up as much about her personal history and insecurities as she did last night—more than I’ve ever heard her talk about them, anyway—shows how comfortable she now is in her own glittery skin.

As in her previous New York City engagements, Gaga reiterated that she grew up “just 20 blocks away.” But unlike those other concerts, she also described the bullying she received at the hands of girls who “weighed thirty pounds” less than her. And the discouragement she faced at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. She recalled drama professors telling her, “You’ll never be the heroine, the blonde, the star. Your hair’s too dark. You look too ethnic.” To which she claims she replied, “What about Liza?” And behold, who should be in the crowd but Liza “With a Z” Minnelli herself! (The hearts of gay men everywhere collectively skipped a beat.) Also on hand in the audience?  Marisa Tomei, whom Gaga recently said she’d like to see play her in a movie about her life. And now we know why! Because when her acting classes staged dramatic readings of screenplays, she was often assigned Marisa Tomei’s parts. (If Gaga had been in My Cousin Vinny, would she have received an Oscar too?)

She also raged against lip-synching. “Never have, never will,” she said during an interlude in the middle of “Teeth.” “I won’t be the bitch to lip-synch her way through an HBO special…especially not in front of Liza!”

That was abundantly clear during her performance of “Born This Way,” which opened with a terrific-in-theory, poor-in-execution, gospel-style intro. She was supported by three backup singers who had apparently forgotten they were to be just, you know, backup. Their vocal acrobatics somewhat drowned out Gaga and proved the florid counterpoint to her own, more refined abilities.

There’s an immense emotional intelligence behind the way she uses her voice. Almost never does she overwhelm a song with her vocal ability, recognizing instead that artistry is to be found in nuance rather than lung power—something many of our other songstresses in the age of American Idol have yet to grasp.

Perhaps the most symbolic moment indicating that Lady Gaga is no longer merely Stefani Germanotta’s mask, but who she really is, came during the by-now traditional interlude when she asks the audience, “Do you think I’m sexy?” In the past, she’d demurely reply to the audience’s cheers with “I don’t believe you!” Yes, it’s a silly moment of trumped-up theater between Gaga and her adoring audience, and so it deserves to be taken with a grain of glitter. But I can’t help but think the fact that she didn’t express her disbelief at that moment last night means on some level, however superficial, she’s fully merged her art and her life, Gaga and Stefani. Time will tell if her art will retain its teeth without the fuel of her insecurity; as much of an earworm as “Born This Way” has proven to be, let’s face it, it’s pretty toothless.

Maybe the rebellion is over and the celebration has begun.

(Follow the Music Mix on Twitter: @EWMusicMix.)

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Comments (103 total) Add your comment
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  • dark angel

    If Gag had kept her real name & hair color & joined a band then I probably wouldn’t hate her so much. I can’t stand divas & pop tarts. There’s already too many of them as it is. Gag is so phony & stupid. She could’ve been a gothic heroine like Amy Lee or Cristina Scabbia. God made her a brunette for a reason.

    • Tarc

      So what? Serously, do you think anyone cares?

      • Alice

        You should ask yourself that question, Tarc!

    • DRG

      Lady Ca Ca farts and EW reports it. Enough already!

      • GAGA

        Britney goes to get fat at Sonic…Madonna gets botox and god knows what else…and who cares about them chicks anyway?

    • LG

      Make room for QUEEN GAGA!!! Can’t wait for the album and HBO special! I went to the Monster’s Ball and it was excellent! 2011 is her year again!

    • Tiffany

      Dark angel, that is so superficial! Juging someone based on whether they dye their hair or not. Wow. So you hate 70% of America?

  • HaHa

    I might have to get HBO back.

    • SXiPPY

      I’m sure it’s already on youtube; why waste the money honey.

      • gagasucks2

        NO! don’t repaet anyof her songs in a cheesy Way!do it straight Forward! Hey guys I like caw caw F.Y.I

        Not realy just givin example

  • Fit

    She really does seem to be a genuine person and that is one of the reasons why I like her as an artist.

  • chantal

    Like her music, think she is talented, BUT SO TIRED and OVER the theatrics, just sing already.

    • Valerie Va-Jay-Jay

      I agree and for anyone who had the displeasure of seeing her on The Tonight Show, cutting into Sophia Vergara’s air time, it’s so obvious she tries too hard to act and be funny. She is corny and the theatrics only drown out her singing. 15 minutes will pass soon enough like a kidney stone.

      • Sean

        She’s been around for a good two years now, 6 number ones and a secure fanbase consisting of millions of people around the world who worship her every move, she’s not going anywhere pal.

  • Dana

    This reviewer describes Born This Way perfectly in a single word: Toothless.

    It is a mediocre song, which would be completely fine if Gaga hadn’t completely hyped it to the heavens before it was released. If you’re going to claim something in great, you’d better deliver. And she didn’t.

    • JillyRo

      Agree, Express Yourself was already a good song, no need for Gaga to repeat it. Yet she overhyped this like the 2nd coming.

    • Tarc

      Gaga didn’t hype it – the press did. Just the facts…

      • bb

        Nope it was Gaga. She even declared the album the greatest album of the decade. If she claims that, then the first single should be an indication that it will be, but its not.

      • Dana

        Exactly. SHE is the one who claimed it would be the album of the decade. The press merely reported it. Just as they report her every manufactured outrage.

        I liked her for a while but … Bored now.

      • kittykat

        Tarc should get his fact straigth…Gaga herself claimed it would be the best album of the decade, she spoke about it like it was the coming of Chris wrapped up in a CD.

  • Bibi

    I’m finding her act tiresome. She’s really talented, and shouldn’t need it

  • ia

    Would you call FREDDY MERCURY stupid? Would you call DAVID BOWIE stupid? Would you call PATTY LaBELLE stupid? They all performed in an elaborate way and garnered fans wherever they sang. LADY GAGA is no different…in fact, these are artists she admires. Let LADY GAGA continue her performance-style of performing. She is great! Is it any wonder all the pop singers out there have jumped on her band wagon? (ie RHIANNA, KATY PERRY, NICKI MINAJ, et. al) They all want to be like her. BUT there is only one LADY GAGA!! Keep it up, LADY GAGA. We love you!

    • anonymous

      Yeah, but Gaga should keep her outrageous costumes and stage person where it belongs, on stage. Walking around in her undies in everyday life making her looking like she is trying too hard to be edgy.

      • SS

        Ooh, I can agree with that.

      • kittykat

        AGREE, it’s like leave the costumes to the stage!! She should have taken her cue from Beyonce and create an alter-ego à la Sasha Fierce. But going to a Yankees game in a bra, I`m so over her costumes.

      • jeremy

        BUT she IS Lady Gaga, that’s the point. She’s GAGA all the time. This is her life. She’s given her life to this. For other artists, their music is their work, their job.

    • other guy

      Don’t. Ever. Compare. Lady gag me to david bowie. Ever.

  • wormfood

    I still cannot figure out why she is liked. Her music is terrible. Dressing flamboyant draws your eyes away from the real show, which sucks.

    • Alice

      Why do you need to figure it out? She doesn’t appeal to you. Hey look! The world keeps spinning. Move on and take your negative energy with you.

  • Justin

    Would have liked the set list.

  • tma6469

    I read the negative comments about her and it further reminds me of Madonna in the mid to late 80’s. and I love Gaga theatrics just as I loved Madonna’s and hope she’s as successful for the long haul. Its simple people if you dont like her singer, her “act” or anything else about her, dont listen to her, dont buy her music and most importantly dont comment on her in an article about her.

    • Ian

      That’s exactly the point. We already had a Madonna, we don’t need another attention-whore who can’t get headlines without acting like an escaped mental patient to sell mediocre records.

  • ProfLinus

    NEVER compare Lady Gaga and Freddie Mercury EVER again. Freddie Mercury probably had the best voice in rock and roll history. The man thought up the entirety of Bohemian Rhapsody in his head IN A BATHTUB.

    All of Lady Gaga’s songs sound THE SAME (although I’m far from a great musician, I have a decent enough ear) and her lyrics consist of “Roma ma” and “I’m not a drag, just a queen.” Really? THIS is what is considered brilliant in our society?

    • sls

      Agreed. Her songs sound like something a foruth grader would come up with. To top it all off, her fans try to find a deeper meaning in every song/video that she does and call it art. Its both pathetic and comical.

    • Jimmyjo

      Hush and clean your mouth!!!!!Gaga should not be compared to Freddy Mercury ever!!! Not even in the same sentence!!! Freddy M. was organic and a natural talent and each of Queen’s songs sounded different. Plus Queen was not theatrical for the sake of promo, they were the real deal, their music was like mini-operas, Freddi Mercury was theatrical!! Gaga screams just doesn’t feel real, just all promo to stand out fromt he pack.

    • Tiffany

      Right…and Freddie sang about loving to ride his BICYCLE!
      Lyrics are sometimes created because their syllables go with the SOUND the person wants to make (like ‘rah’). Sometimes lyrics are created because of what they mean. Getting all up tight and judgemental really doesn’t make sense. All songs are apples and oranges.

    • True Blue

      Um, the song that Freddie supposedly wrote in a bathtub was “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”. Bohemian Rhapsody was a long work in progress that he spent years conceiving in his mind. The lyrics were written on the back of a telephone book. Know your facts, please.


  • The

    Yes Gaga we know you don’t lip sync. We know you write your songs. You don’t have to tell us every 5 minutes. We get it. It would be like Oprah constantly telling us she’s rich. WE KNOW.

    • bella

      Oprah does tell us she’s rich all the time. She just doesn’t say it in those terms. Instead, she constantly reminds us how poor she was. Oh and she buys her audience cars and exotic vacations.

      • Me

        Oh, bella, get real.
        Oprah does not pay for those cars or the vacations they are donated.
        She’s doing nice things for people by using her celebrity for good.
        So, no, she doesn’t tell us how rich she is all the time.

  • kittykat

    Am tired of Gaga already, talented but I want to hear the voice in my music, not just the showmanship and she is danger of becoming only about the show. People are tiring of the thin voices with all show (Rhinna, Kate P, ect.) and the public starting to want REAL voices without all the theatrics, like the talented Adele (just her and guitar is more amazing than Gaga and her pointy fleshy shoulders and wigs).

    • Bob

      I love Adele! Such a nice break from all these over stylized, soulless pop stars.

      • Ellipsian

        Again…why is it about either/or? It’s all subjective, people: you can have it BOTH ways. I love Gaga AND Adele, and you can, too. It’s not a competition.

      • Bob

        Are we being bombard with singers like Adele? NO.

    • Tiffany

      Gaga can bring it with just her and her piano. Obviously you have never seen her perform live.

      • Jeremy

        Truth. Gives me chills…

    • True Blue

      GaGa and Adele are too different to be compared. Both are great talents in different packages. It’s like comparing David Bowie to Bob Dylan and saying Bob is better because he’s not disguising anything with over-the-top theatrics. Both are very talented, they just present their talents differently. Theatrics aren’t evil, guys. Lots of respected artists use them, and they co-exist just fine with their plainer counterparts. And no, I’m

    • True Blue

      And no, I ‘m not comparing GaGa to Bowie, I realize that artistically speaking, they are not remotely comparable at all. I’m just making a fair point.

      That being said, I find myself gravitating much more towards Adele these days. GaGa, much ad I usually love her, is grating mu nerves as of late.

      • other guy

        Or its like comparing Framing Hanleys version of lollipop to little waynes. They both are their own way, but u don’t fight over it


    • True Blue

      * MY nerves.

  • DavidJ

    Whether Lada Gaga is as original or brilliant as people say, I don’t know… but she definitely makes some DAMN catchy songs. Anyone who can’t enjoy a song like “Just Dance” has a serious problem, and needs to just get over themselves already.

    • Ian

      I have a serious problem because I find her music to be cliche, boring, repetitive, and below average? Her lyrics are like something from a junior high girl’s diary, the music is nothing I haven’t heard before (and didn’t like the other times too), and I don’t find any of it the least bit catchy, which is all pop music is good for anyway, a few catchy tunes. Sorry, her music is unenjoyable to me, and I have about 6,000 CD’s in my own collection that says I can enjoy plenty of different kinds of music. No problems here, rest assured.

  • NCLady

    Anyone who has heard her sing live would know she doesn’t lip sync…she sucks to bad for it not to be real! Another case of a studio artist who can’t sing live and is more theatre than substance. I do like some of her songs…as long as their on the radio or cd and not her squawking them live.

    • Ana

      You’re kidding, right? She actually sings well live. The Grammys performance of “Born This Way” sounded almost like the studio version other than the breathing and a skipped line.

    • jjj

      yeah…you must not have heard her live then, NCLady. She’s sounded great every time i’ve seen her

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