Last night, I ended up at the Lady Gaga concert at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Friends of ours — friends in their 60’s, I might add — couldn’t use their tickets and gave them to Courtney and me. I didn’t go into the Gaga show as a “Little Monster,” or even as a particular fan. I, of course, had heard her music, because it is ubiquitous. And I don’t hate pop music.
What I did know about Gaga came from a brilliant essay by James Parker in The Atlantic, calling her “The Last Pop Star“:
In the current generation of Pop divas—Ke$ha, Rihanna, Shakira, Britney, Katy Perry, Beyoncé herself—there’s no match for the alienness of Gaga. Pop in 2010 is thoroughly pornographized and tattoo-demented; the mainstream, as you may have noticed, is not very mainstream anymore. But there perches Lady Gaga, in paradoxical elegance, her plumage bristling, with an uncanny feel for just how much of her freakery we are prepared to absorb. She has successfully managed the rumor that she is a hermaphrodite. (She’s not.) Sweetly and demurely, she has ridden the couch of Ellen DeGeneres: “Who doesn’t love Ellen?” she cooed to the audience. The culture will not victimize her. Rather the reverse: with songs like “Paparazzi” she is, as English soccer commentators are fond of observing in the wake of a particularly jarring early tackle, “getting her retaliation in first.” Watching her stalk onstage with her retinue, one has a particular sensation—of aberrant sensibilities on the march, rive gauche visions, a whole underworld of transgression breaking the surface.
That is very much the experience I had last night when she walked on stage. The concert was sensory overload: a huge set, a dozen scantily clad dancers, lights and fog and strobes, and Gaga getting rear-mounted on a motorcycle by another woman. She shouted repeatedly, “I don’t give a fuck!” and told us that she’d birthed us from her “monster pussy.”
But Gaga seemed to know that this concert wasn’t really about the music. I suspect she might even know that her music isn’t that good. In fact, she spent more time talking to the crowd than any performer I’ve ever seen.She told us that we were brave to be there. She told us that she loves us and that we’re beautiful. She told us that we should see her face in the toilet when we’re throwing up today from our “Gaga hangover.” She cried — really cried — when she told us about her grandfather. She called a girl in the crowd on her mobile phone and sang a song to her from her piano.
And the people loved it. All the Little Monsters went crazy every time Gaga spoke.
But it really came home to me during the encore. Gaga came out in a robe with a hood on. She walked to the front of the stage and chose seven fans from the Monster Pit just in front of her, and security helped them on stage. She had hundreds of fans to choose from, so it was interesting that she chose all teenagers. And not just any teenagers. She chose specific teenagers, teenagers I recognized from my two decades as a youth pastor. They were misfits. They were gay and edgy and left-out and scorned at their high schools.
These seven teenagers climbed on stage and cried and hugged Gaga and sang along with her at the tops of their lungs. As the StarTribune reviewer Jon Bream wrote this morning,
For the encore of “Marry the Night,” she handpicked seven fans from the audience to join her onstage. Even though the rendition of the big dance hit turned out to be all introduction without the big disco climax, this presentation made it clear why Gaga, even though she’s no longer hot, still matters to her Little Monsters: Those seven fans followed her around like she was the Pied Piper of the misfits and the misunderstood.
As the song ended, Gaga and those seven fans descended through a trap door in the stage. Her disciples went into the tomb with her, presumably to be taken backstage for more love from their savior.
And then it occurred to me: Lady Gaga is a youth pastor. She is reaching out to kids who are marginalized, and telling them that it’s okay that they were born that way. She’s shouting that they shouldn’t give a fuck if their parents don’t approve of their sexuality or if the jocks at school pick on them.
Gaga is preaching that teenagers should have grace with themselves and with each other.