Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Before the Eras Tour, there was the Fame Monster Ball

Rachel Choi
Illustration by Rachel Choi.

I have vivid memories of my nine-year-old self sneaking downstairs every Saturday morning, before anyone else was awake, to watch my VCR taped performance of Lady Gaga Presents the Monster Ball Tour: At Madison Square Garden.

I was always entranced by the opening scene: Gaga walks to a convenience store in Downtown Manhattan to buy a pack of gum and a coffee before going outside to smoke a cigarette. Something about her chewing gum, drinking coffee and smoking a cig was very hypnotizing to me. She did it all so effortlessly. I waited in anticipation for her to drive to the venue and get ready, watching her get emotional at how far she’s come as she bows her head in prayer before suiting up and going backstage.

When I was growing up, Gaga was always my favorite. The music on my iPod touch always consisted of my father’s music: classic rock, namely Bruce Springsteen and the Beatles. Gaga was the first artist whose music I discovered and bought for myself. There was nothing I enjoyed more than popping on my headphones for a long car ride and listening to The Fame Monster on repeat, envisioning myself one day living with the agency and intention of Lady Gaga.

Ten years later, I found myself once again watching the Fame Monster Ball when I miraculously found a bootleg of it on YouTube one Friday night. There were so many moments my memory lost in the last decade, like theatrical scenes complete with lines about twisters and Jesus Christ. Also included was a larger-than-life “Fame Monster” puppet, as well as Gaga kicking the show off with an unreleased song: “Glitter and Grease.” 

But there were things the tests of time did not steal from my memory, like Gaga’s iconic fire-spitting pyro bra, fake blood, and a stripped-down version of the piano ballad “You and I,” which to this day does not fail to make me tear up.

I was astounded by her showmanship, something I couldn’t appreciate when I was younger. To belt her songs while doing full choreography in six-inch stilettos is no easy feat, though it is the industry standard for female performers. 

Other female performers like Olivia Rodrigo and Taylor Swift would not have the performance value of their shows and would not be where they are without Gaga blazing the trail and setting the bar. The Fame Monster Ball and all the ridiculousness that came with it make the Eras tour look like a walk in the park. Swift’s costume changes are laughable compared to Gaga’s. Not to pit women against each other—just giving credit where credit is due. The Eras tour is not the barrier breaking tour Swifties act like it is. The Fame Monster Ball, however, introduced performance elements that were previously unprecedented for a show of its kind.

Gaga’s set reimagines rock ‘n’ roll: Midway through her performance, she comes on stage with this hybrid electric guitar-keyboard-synth board that looks like something out of a Prince fever dream. The theatrics and pure element of spectacle she incorporates into her performances—all while juggling the aforementioned singing/dancing in heels stamina combo—makes her nothing short of a trailblazer. 

In the same way Judas Priest stunned audiences in the late ‘70s and ‘80s with their never-seen-before onstage antics, such as bringing a motorcycle on stage—something Gaga herself has done—Gaga adopts these performance elements and introduces them to a whole new audience: young girls, gay teens, and in some cases, both.

During the Fame Monster Ball tour, Gaga and her dancers play characters of themselves, getting lost in New York City on the way to the Fame Monster Ball. They encounter a twister before Gaga dons a Glinda the Good Witch-esque gown and headpiece. The end result is a dramatized concert-musical-spectacular that feels a little like The Wizard of Oz and Cats! had a baby. The irony of this is that Gaga’s longtime inspiration and mentor, Liza Minelli, was in the audience for the filmed performance. As rock star Alice Cooper puts it, “[Gaga] intends to be a spectacle.” 

Before the age of lip syncing and half-assed “pencil sharpener” dance moves from today’s pop stars (no shade *cough* Dua Lipa), Gaga shattered the status quo and didn’t stop, even when the whole world called her weird and crazy. Her 2009 MTV VMAs performance of “Paparazzi” was her first big performance after she released her debut EP, The Fame, and rather than traverse delicately to create something palatable and marketable for the masses, she ends her set dangling from the ceiling, covered in blood, and wailing out in agony. Iconic.

The cultural significance of this performance takes up an obscene amount of real estate in my brain. Three years later, she stunned the VMAs again by wearing a meat dress, turning heads and dominating the news cycle with the absurdity and, lowkey, grotesqueness of this choice. 

What most people don’t know is that she was actually making a political statement with this outfit, protesting the Bush era’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which made it so that gay men in the military had to hide their sexuality so as to not get kicked out. When asked about the act of protest on the Ellen show, she said “If we don’t stand up for what we believe in, if we don’t fight for our rights, pretty soon we’re going to have as much rights as the meat on our bones.”

She continues to do whatever she wants, even today. Gaga has traversed genres like no other pop artist, mastering metal in her collaboration with Metallica, folk, rock ‘n’ roll, classic musical theater in a tribute to Julie Andrews, and most importantly, jazz— launching a beautiful relationship with Tony Bennett and a multiyear jazz residency in Las Vegas. 

This kind of versatility not only paved the way for artists like Swift and Rodrigo to dabble in country-pop and pop-punk, respectively, but it was also an act of self expression that is few and far between for artists whose success relies on public opinion.

In the case of Swift, she transitioned from country to pop, only to follow what was “trendy” and most lucrative. This can even be said for albums like folklore and evermore, which both came out when everyone was going through their alt/indie phase during quarantine. 

This isn’t unique to just Swift though. Maren Morris is now following in her footsteps, and Shania Twain did it before any of these artists were walking or talking. But for Gaga, transitioning to classic jazz or rock ‘n’ roll wasn’t to keep her hits at the top of the charts or make the most money. It was to express herself and her artistry in the most authentic way she knows how. This unabashed vocation to be whatever artist she feels like is inspiring, and it also served as a reflection of the life lessons she’s learned from hardship. 

Gaga has been open about her struggles with being bullied and abused by peers and teachers in high school and college. Rather than shrink into a shell of herself, she made it her mission to be a role model for all her fans so they never feel the way she felt. This is a sentiment she reiterates throughout the Fame Monster Ball—in between thespian scenes, she adlibs with real, organic gratitude to her fans. Showmanship, balanced with true authenticity, is what makes her so versatile. While I see videos of Taylor Swift doing this at her Eras Tour performances, I can’t help but compare her to the one person who could never be beat: Gaga.

Sitting there on my P-Row common room couch, I felt an intense sense of nostalgia. Suddenly, I was nine years old again, eating Fruity Pebbles and hearing Lady Gaga say: 

“I used to not be very brave at all … But tonight, I’m going to be brave for you, Little Monsters.” 

As I ventured into my tweens, teens, and young adulthood, Gaga’s demonstrations of self-actuality, empowerment, and pride followed me like an angel on my shoulder. I would not have half the confidence or sense of identity that I do, 10 years after hearing my first Gaga song: “Born This Way.” 

In a way, I feel that watching this film was healing for my inner child. Something about watching this goddess prance around with her breasts spewing fire makes me feel like I can overcome whatever I need to—as long as I end up like her.

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About the Contributor
Meg Richards
Meg Richards, Staff Writer
Meg Richards is a first-year student from Richmond, Virginia. She has a double major in journalism and political communications. She mainly writes for the Opinion section, though she dabbles in News and Living Arts.

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