A Review of the Lady Gaga HBO Special

I know it’s a little late, but considering that the new album (which is destined to be heard by everyone) is almost here, a review of this special becomes more relevant.  Lady Gaga only gives brief glimpses of herself at a time, and leaves screams and befuddlement in her wake. This two-hour long concert gives a more intimate glimpse into her mind.

The fact of the matter is, whether you like her or hate her, Lady Gaga cannot be ignored. She is simultaneously the personality that both parodies and transcends the manufactured pop landscape. Every time the world sees one of her outrageous stunts, they gasp. I am convinced that she is the most brilliant performer of the current era – off stage. Like many before she, she embodies a personality so well that it is difficult to discover where the real person is. Does anyone really believe that she floats around in an egg in her spare time, or wears meat to go grocery shopping? Probably the same amount who believe that Ozzy Osbourne lived on a steady diet of heroin and bat heads.

But what about her on stage presence? Does her outlandish personality lead to a good show?

The special does get off to a good start, with a Martin Scorsese style vignette of Gaga walking the streets (in heels), ordering coffee, and genuinely looking…almost normal. She sees her friends, she buys a drink, she talks about her upcoming performance, and generally acts like a member of the Sex Pistols trying to disdain the world by merely existing. It does a lot to build up the cult of Gaga and the anticipation for the show.

But what about the actual concert? Well, I am not even sure whether I can call it a concert. There is so much emphasis beyond the singing that I am not sure what to call it. There are sketches between the songs (that have NOTHING to do with anything) and talking to the audience. It works more as a variety show with one performer, if that makes any sense. Lady Gaga tries out a variety of personalities and methods to see what will stick with the audience. It’s better than holding back, but the result still feels rather unfocused. Unlike This is It (which the directors have clearly eyed) it does not feel like there is an overarching theme to connect what is happening. She talks about equality, fame, sex, money…sometimes all at once. These are fine themes, but there need to be separations. As it stands, it is almost a sensory overload.

Of course, the music is not bad at all. And there are moments when the over the top theatricality actually helps the work. The set list is mostly taken from her first two albums, with only two songs from her forthcoming album highlighted. I guess she wants to keep as much of it as possible under wraps. Still, the set list does feel anemic at times. Gaga is trying her best to keep it going, but still, there was still the palpable

As a straightforward concert, it works wonders. But it tries to be more. At times, I could barely understand what was going on, or how much time had passed. Most of Gaga’s asides, even if they had their heart in the right place, do nothing to help the actual songs. Want to talk about togetherness? Fine, but don’t give a monologue. Give a song. It becomes particularly grating when she quotes her own lyrics. I also thought that etiquette dictated that those lyrics were supposed to be sung.

But does any of this matter? Not really. Gaga has the audience captivated, and they have her captivated. She acts like a talent show winner who still cannot believe what is happening to her. I found this refreshing (much better than Bieber’s ‘I’m the best in the world’ mentality) and it was easy to see how the audience could connect with her on a personal level. HBO also did wonders presenting the concert – there were several moments when it switched to black and white as Gaga went backstage. And as much as I complained about certain monologues, there were others that worked in context – almost like an episode of VH1 storytellers. Yea, I liked the concert.

But what about HBO’s presentation of it? Frankly, it  provides the best moment in the entire two hours. It comes right at the beginning, in that montage I described. Here, we see the facade of the character crack ever so slightly, and see the struggling person underneath. Gaga cries about the pressure she faces, and about how some people may be disappointed in her. She “still feels like a loser in high school” and is using the opportunity to shed her past.

For that brief moment, I understood the performer and what she was trying to accomplish. That high school loser is trying her hardest to take her eccentricities and use them to inspire people. That is the mentality of an artist. There, I said it. Gaga is one of the few artists working today, and will use whatever methods she has at her disposal. This special ultimately helps prove that, so that means it is successful.

But get back to me when she releases Born This Way.

Edit: Many people appear to be searching for the track list. As such, I will provide it below.
Dancer in the Dark

Just Dance

Beautiful, Dirty, Rich


Love Game

Boys, Boys, Boys

Money Honey



You and I (one of the two new songs from Born This Way performed)

So Happy I Could Die




Poker Face


Bad Romance

Born This Way

As I said before, mostly from the first two albums. I thought this could have been a great opportunity to highlight new material, but it was not to be.

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2 Responses to A Review of the Lady Gaga HBO Special

  1. Joel says:

    Interesting review. I’m about to watch the special now.

  2. Harlems_saint says:

    I thought that the lady gaga performance was pretty great overall. She performed the songs the fans wanted to hear, and personally, I think that her “stage work ethic” is 110%. I have never seen anyone… Overflow with talent such as gaga. So many costume changes, so much dancing, all the live singing, (in melody and harmony at times). I think that she is raising the bar for what it means to be a performer and an ICON. As far as her on the piano… She is classic elton john – billy joel, very stage like, and I would personally love to see that side of her some more. Still, I would watch the concert. It will make you feel so many emotions, and it feels good to feel a rush of emotion at times 🙂

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