The Chromatica Ball: proof that Lady Gaga remains pop music’s greatest living act.
A long journey ended for me at the Tottenham stadium: I finally got to witness my idol live and in the flesh.
Lingering in the comment section of the profile page for Prince on BestEverAlbums is a sentence from user Ashowka that sets in stone the legend’s status: “Nobody close, not even within eye shot”.
Who are they to apply such astonishing hyperbole on one person? Who are they to define their love of the man in a way that excludes all other competitors? Few artists are truly deserving of such impossible applause, but who has the right to ascribe it to someone so easily?
At the end of the day, comment sections like these and websites like BestEverAlbums are built on the power they afford their users. Our favourite music is ours to define in whatever terms we wish. Disagreers must settle for putting any anger into pointless replies. The tide is firmly with mere Ashowka.
So here I am, applying the same logic to my experiences and writing it on my own corner of the internet. Lady Gaga’s Chromatica Ball is the first big stadium tour I have ever seen. It’s the first time I’ve bore witness to her in person. I have nothing to compare it to, nor will I try to. I am totally of the belief that there is no one else within eye shot of her or what she can deliver right now.
You may have had a more personal, intimate experience with an artist you love at a smaller set. You may have experienced that untouchable thousand-person-crowd euphoria that the very best festival headline sets create, and indeed I have this summer already. Lady Gaga may mean nothing to you, and the idea that she could mean so much to someone else may aggravate you to no end. I will defend your right to feel this way about any music, so long as it isn’t hateful or objectively shite.
But, my undeniable belief that there is no one within eye shot doing what she is doing right now will remain. The Chromatica Ball is peak pop; the greatest living pop star – at least those in their prime – delivering the greatest set they’ve ever done. Taking in the full scope of their 14 years of stardom, the weight of the pandemic years, plus finally giving Chromatica its due time on stage, the Ball is a phenomenon in of itself.
“Some have donned pink wigs to pay homage to her current era, others have already bought their tour t-shirts; all have come to sing, to worship and to awe.”
Having spent the day spotting fellow monsters on the tube, and bumping into a few whilst at the pub in Camden, we clamber on the gayest Overground train in history, packed with fellow concert goers in every outfit imaginable. Some have donned pink wigs to pay homage to her current era, others have already bought their tour t-shirts; all have come to sing, to worship and to awe.
We get off at White Hart Lane, and the Tottenham Hotspur stadium comes into view. In an era when football is becoming more accepting of queerness, this feels particularly touching. Enter into the arena, and there lies the alter. A monolith brutalist stage, accompanied by a smaller one in the middle of the pitch, steam venting occasionally from its edges. All the years since I first heard her music, all the inspiration she has given me, all of the steps taken towards discovering and embracing my bisexuality suddenly feel like they’ve reached a final destination.
Gaga didn’t bother with support, and centering the experience on her was all the better. The build up begins – a cheer every time a light changes; the crowd is eager. The screens behind the stage suddenly darken, the intro begins. Out of the mystery of the visuals comes a familiar silhouette – the crowd roars. The extended intro to ‘Bad Romance’ announces her arrival: she’s here.
And she’s arrived in a coffin. Surrounded by dancers, she draws astonishing animation out of the grey obelisk she’s encased in. Before long, the coffin is dismantled, and we enter into the five act show. In its soaring first hour, you can barely catch a breath as you stand in astonishment that, yes, she is real and she’s on stage barely 100m from you. A small while later, ‘Replay’ kicks in; Gaga leads into the chorus with one of the many punkish screams she lets out in the night, and the whole stadium practically takes off.
“Replay’ kicks in; Gaga leads into the chorus with one of the many punkish screams she lets out in the night, and the whole stadium practically takes off.”
In between the acts, Dune-like audio narrates yet more visuals, revealing yet more outfits and themes. It’s a total feast for the eyes. Gradually, the energy reduces to the mere spectacle of Gaga and her alien piano. The intimacy is immediate, and the softer renditions of her dancier songs are outstanding. Nothing, however, compares to ‘Shallows’; I’d never been its biggest fan, until that night at least. The rendition was breathtaking.
The final act delivers the emotional punch it needs to; our journey through both Chromatica and what Lady Gaga is today is complete. Ending with new Top Gun: Maverick single ‘Hold My Hand’, the stage ignites as Gaga dances in a timeless combination of a studded leather jacket and black boots. It’s her all over. She hugs her dancers and her band to truly round out the theatrics.
In the most lasting moment of the night, she takes one last look to the crowd, make-up smudged and tears in her eyes, raising her clawed hand as a parting of ways. You suddenly feel closer than ever before, but she stays true to herself, breaking back into character to scowl like a monster before running off stage through the flames with child-like glee. It was a magic like no other.
“This is a superstar getting to experience, for the first time, the power of retrospective.”
Accusations that she might have lost her edge in recent times fall flat against all of this. Yes, she is more mature than during her early 2010s days. We no longer experience her amidst the burgeoning excitement of the social internet, wowed every time we’re able to watch one of her videos in 480p on YouTube of old. If she had truly abandoned her roots, she wouldn’t have panged out three of her most iconic hits in the intro alone. Nor would the outfits have been as exciting, the setting as stark and the intensity as thrilling. This is a superstar getting to experience, for the first time, the power of retrospective.
Beyond the sheer unbridled love she imbues in her music, particularly for the queerer and more outcast among us, her most prolific talent is her ability to bring spectacle with intimacy. The sheer scale of her live shows is perfectly balanced by her weirdness and prowess as a performer. She looks totally, completely alive on stage, which in turn makes The Chromatica Ball feel like a truly unbounded project. And with a power like that, you simply have to bask in the wonder of Gaga; there is no one within eye shot of her.
Lady Gaga, The Chromatica Ball, Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, 29th July 2022