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November 21, 2017

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Lady Gaga keeps it weird (and wonderful) at MGM Grand with ‘Born This Way Ball’


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Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way Ball” tour.

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Lady Gaga's "Born This Way Ball" tour.

3/25/11: Lady Gaga at MGM Grand

Lady Gaga at MGM Grand Garden Arena on March 25, 2011. Launch slideshow »

Lady Gaga at MGM Grand Garden Arena

Lady Gaga performs at MGM Grand Garden Arena on Aug. 13, 2010. Launch slideshow »

Polarizing pop star Lady Gaga returned to MGM Grand Garden Arena on Friday night with her “Born This Way Ball” tour, a two-hour extravaganza involving heaping doses of camp, fashion, theatrics and a couch made out of meat.

Wearing a high-fashion variation of a nun’s habit-cum-bridal gown, Gaga kicked off the night with a call-to-arms rendition of “Government Hooker,” flanked by an army of backup dancers across the stage and a diamond-shaped catwalk extending into the crowd.

The gown soon gave way to what can only be described as an inflatable pregnant torso, as the singer born Stefani Germanotta launched into tour opus “Born This Way.” The opening numbers served as a thesis of sorts for the show’s plot line, which ostensibly tells the story of “Mother Monster” (Gaga) vs. “Mother G.O.A.T” (Government Owned Alien Territory in space), the latter of which narrates the show and was personified in a giant floating animatronic replication of Gaga’s head.

The smoke and strobes of the opening number cleared to reveal Mother G.O.A.T. hovering down above the towering three-story set, a castle-cathedral-dungeon hybrid featuring iron gates, carved crucifixes and a stone watch tower to house each member of Gaga’s standout, four-person band.

Aesthetic oversaturation is Gaga’s signature as a performer, and her creative team and she have mastered the delicate art of keeping the audience equally focused on Gaga as an individual as they were on the rest of the set and performers. After all, fans don’t just come to see Lady Gaga -- they come to see a Lady Gaga show.

Gaga herself stood out, but never detracted from, her backup dancers in a bubblegum-gothic variety of costume changes that included a flowing pastel pink wig, black latex, white lace -- wedding dresses abounded -- and her signature fishnet stockings.

“I’ve been wearing these fishnets since I was 16 years old,” she declared during one of the many self-affirmation speeches that are a hallmark of the “Born This Way” tour. “I’ve been wearing this leather, too. And you know I would’ve worn this wig, but I couldn’t afford it. You better believe I can f*cking affording it now!”

As for the set, each song came with its own over-the-top accoutrements: For “Bloody Mary,” fog flooded the stage for an eerie graveyard setting as Gaga and two dancers rolled around the stage in animatronic, zombie-like bride costumes. During breakout hit “Just Dance,” the second floor of the castle opened up to reveal a dressing room, complete with career-referencing details: a pop art portrait of Gaga, a framed sweetheart photo of herself in drag and a clothing rack retrospective of her most iconic outfits, such as her Kermit the Frog dress and the white geode dress popularized in her video for “Poker Face.”

Her most notorious garment -- the infamous “meat dress” -- was absent from the rack but made an appearance later during “Americano,” for which the set was transformed from a wedding scene into a literal meat market, complete with human meat grinders with flailing dancers’ legs -- and beef carcasses hanging in place of her outfits in the dressing room. A meat couch was eventually rolled out, upon which she languished during the sultry tango of "Alejandro."

The visual overload is a wise decision on the part of her directors and set designers, keeping the audience distracted while set pieces were changed or when Gaga slipped away for a costume change. As a result, the show rarely lagged at any point during its 120 minutes.

The same can't be said for the crowd itself, which had more than a few empty spots in both the stands and on the floor. While Gaga devotees in the main "monster pit" closest to the stage jumped and screamed with their trademark fervor, the spectacle seemed to wear off more quickly for those standing elsewhere, many of whom seemed more preoccupied with taking iPhone photos than getting lost in the sights and sounds.

But if Gaga's button-pushing brand of spectacle is starting to feel old hat -- some would argue that Rihanna has dethroned her as the reigning queen of pop -- she'd be the last person in the arena to let you know it. She clearly has a perfectionist streak, and simply watching her nail each dance move while vamping for the crowd and, yes, actually singing, was exhausting. Call her "Mother Monster" routine stale all you want; it's her commitment to performing that keeps her fresh and exciting.

The show’s plot, however, faltered when compared to the linear journey-through-New-York saga of her previous “Monster Ball” tour; it did little to hide its thinly-veiled attempt to force a story out of songs selected for their popularity rather than their narrative logic. The role of Mother G.O.A.T., for example, was unclear until Gaga emerged to “kill” her with her disco stick during “Paparazzi.” The show also relied on many of the same spectacle tropes that defined her “Monster Ball” tour: A keyboard was hidden on the handles of her motorcycle, much like the previous tour featured a keyboard under the hood of a car; Gaga once again “called” a fan in the crowd to surprise her (though it was a nonetheless tear-jerking moment); and there was yet another monster to fight on the road to glory.

On the other hand, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.. Gaga isn’t a musician -- she’s a showwoman, and those tropes, gimmicky though they may be, highlight what ultimately set her apart as a true pop star. The hidden keyboards set solo moments to showcase her very real talent as a singer; the phone calls exemplify her commitment to maintaining a connection with fans; and the monsters capture the “us vs. them” ethos upon which she built her career, and that allows her to be at once relatable and larger than life.

Gaga wrapped the set with a promise to “take over the world with Art Pop” -- a reference to her upcoming album. When it comes to performing, there's little doubt that she will.

The second night of Lady Gaga's "Born This Way Ball" kicks off tonight at 7:30 at MGM Grand Garden Arena with openers DJ Starlight and Madeon.

Follow Andrea Domanick on Twitter at @AndreaDomanick and fan her on Facebook at

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