MANILA, Philippines – If not for a few outspoken individuals determined to put a stop to it, Lady Gaga’s concert earlier this week would have been just another show in the long line of foreign artists coming to perform in the country in recent months. I thought the protests were a bit bizarre considering she’s been here before (August 2009), but I found out the objection is mostly about newer songs like “Judas” and “Alejandro.”
It was with this frame of mind that I arrived at the venue last Tuesday, the second day of her two-date stop in Manila for her Born This Way Ball tour. Would she prove her detractors wrong and put on a performance that was the epitome of grace and charm and “high morals?” Or would she be herself and go all out, censors be damned?
The singer and songwriter had the honor of christening the brand new SM Mall Of Asia Arena. The newest sports and entertainment venue can seat up to 20,000, and it certainly seemed that many were making their way inside when I got there. There were concerns that the Arena would not be ready in time for the show, as a few days prior there were still work being done in and around the area.
It turns out there was no need to worry; Lady Gaga’s first show Monday night went off without a hitch.
A gigantic multi-level castle onstage welcomed audiences inside the Arena. The hitmaker is known for her fancy live performances filled with highly visual elements. Concert producers clearly spared no expense in crafting the elaborate stage set-up for the show.
When the lights came down at a little past 9 PM, the artist (or somebody with the same built), slowly snaked her way out one of the towers down to the stage to the song “Highway Unicorn.” (I wasn’t sure because she was wearing an extravagant headgear that almost completely covered her face. Exactly what we would expect of someone known for wearing the most bizarre outfits in her shows).
It wasn’t long, though, before Gaga pulled the mask off and faced the spotlight in all her wild yellow-haired, full make-up glory. She and her coterie of back-up dancers were wearing yellow costumes that looked like recycled radioactive garbage bags. She disappeared for a few minutes and came back as a gigantic pregnant woman, complete with distended belly and spread-eagled legs. She crawled out the figure’s, er, nether regions, and was symbolically “born.”
It was, of course, the cue for her big hit, “Born This Way.”
Song after song, the Lady displayed confidence, charisma and pizzazz. She twirled around fifty feet up in one of the towers wearing a full-length pastel dress, gyrated on top of a bike in a barely-there bondage ensemble and did her trademark claw dance with her crew at stage-level.
The whole performance was joyful and energetic, each song taking audiences up to higher levels of ecstasy. There were a few in the crowd who imbibed the Lady Gaga spirit a bit more obviously than others — like the well-known socialite in her blinking lights attire, though this isn’t exactly the first time she dresses that way — but most everyone in the Arena sang, applauded nonstop and danced along and jumped up and down with Lady Gaga when she asked them to.
“I’ve missed you,” she said “And it’s only been 24 hours.”
From time to time, in between songs, she conversed with her “little monsters,” her pet name for her fans. She also was not afraid to address head-on the controversies hounding the production.
“I’m not an alien, I’m not a woman, I’m not a man and I’m not a creature of your government, Manila. I’m all your dreams and I’m all your potential. Let me be all your insecurities and your fears. I’m your future, I’m everything that makes you sad and angry. I’m you, little monsters. Tonight’s not a statement, tonight’s us coming together because we believe we were all born this way.
“Everyone’s allowed to have an opinion,” she continued. “I respect that. But I cannot respect homophobia. I cannot respect hatred and intolerance against the gay community.”
Loud applause and expressions of agreement and support reverberated around the Arena. Gaga has spoken out before of her advocacy of acceptance and tolerance for the gay community, but hearing her in person, injecting her beliefs in the middle of a pop concert in the middle of an adoring crowd, made me respect her more.
While I can understand how some people can see or hear something and believe it to be “the work of the devil,” I’ve never subscribed to the idea that pop culture personalities deliberately promote messages of blasphemy and evil. So-called guardians of decency have railed against artists from Elvis Presley and The Rolling Stones, to Alice Cooper and The Eraserheads.
Lady Gaga isn’t the first and she certainly won’t be the last.
Anyone who bought a ticket to the show expecting to hear her sing all her hits likely wasn’t disappointed. She sang “Just Dance,” “Lovegame,” “Telephone,” “You and I,” “Poker Face,” even “Judas” and “Alejandro” (which the moral police called her out on).
By the time she sang her encore songs “The Edge of Glory” and “Marry The Night,” happy smiles were plastered on almost everybody who was there, even me. It was two and half hours of pure entertainment, with a brief lesson on inclusiveness and tolerance.
What could be wrong with that? – Rappler.com
Paul John Caña is the managing editor of Lifestyle Asia magazine and is a live music geek. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @pauljohncana
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