Six years ago, Lady Gaga had to cancel the London leg of her ‘Joanne’ tour due to chronic pain caused by fibromyalgia. A condition with no known cure, the pop phenomenon once believed that she would never be on stage again. The ‘Chromatica Ball’ is an enthralling celebration of the journey Lady Gaga has endured to survive and cement her eccentric mark on music history, expressed through pulsating pop and intense choreography. Originally scheduled to take place in 2020, it is a long awaited, well deserved victory lap in the UK’s capital for an incredibly special superstar.
‘Chromatica Ball’ begins with a visual prelude that sees Gaga’s silhouette appear with robotic wings strapped to her back, along with visuals of her staring intently into the camera. On the basis of this visual interlude alone, any doubts that Gaga may have lost her mystifying creativity that first made her so popular are met with a resounding ‘no.’
The show kicks off with the sensational hit ‘Bad Romance’ as Lady Gaga belts out every syllable from a mechanical exoskeleton as she stands on an elevated platform, which from afar makes her look like an intergalactic emperor. “Put your paws up, London, jump!” she triumphantly screams, with the crowd responding with a deafening roar. The opening synth chords of her first hit, ‘Just Dance’, send everyone further into raptures. “Just dance, we’re gonna be okay” echoes around the stadium. It is a mantra for our time of struggle. The unmistakable “ma-ma-ma-ma’s” of ‘Poker Face’ are the next offering in the ‘Chromatica Ball,’ and Gaga surveys the ecstatic crowd with knowing confidence as she sings the chorus to one of her biggest hits. It is extremely rare for an artist to open their tour with three of their most well known tracks, but few musicians are as bold as Lady Gaga.
The bubblegum pop tracks are intersected throughout the night with dark, gothic interludes, splitting the night up into ‘Acts’ according to the show’s billing. The first interlude, titled ‘The Operation’ sees Gaga strapped to an operating table, bisected with illustrations of embryos and eggs, signaling imagery of a rebirth. This effortlessly blends into her return to the stage to perform the Chromatica album’s opening song ‘Alice.’ on a similar table to the one seen in the previous visuals. “Could you pull me out of this alive?” Gaga pleads, as she lays in a blood splattered, grimy red dress. Gaga removes herself from the operating table to perform fan favourite and throwback ‘Monster.’ The wristbands that every Little Monster was given on entry to the stadium come into effect during this song, creating a sea of colour as they change from red to green in time with the beat. It is a magnificent sight to behold.
We enter Act Two of the show with the gorgeous ‘Chromatica II’ instrumental that iconically blends into the powerhouse of ‘911,’ where Gaga and her excellent accompanying dancers deliver some of the best choreography of the night. An excellent rendition of Chromatica single ‘Sour Candy’ keeps the energy level at boiling point. Smash hit ‘Telephone’ proves to be a standout track, with Lady Gaga’s flawless vocal performance being accompanied by futuristic turquoise illustrations and astounding pyrotechnics from all areas of the stage.
Dedicating the song to the late fashion designer Alexander McQueen, Gaga continues with the space-age imagery for under-appreciated Chromatica track ‘Babylon’ with the opening chords sending the crowd wild. “Strut it out, walk a mile / serve it, ancient city style” declares Lady Gaga, as she commands the stage with ease in a beaming gold suit. The ‘Chromatica Ball’ stage is bare in design and appears as an abandoned concentrate building. Lady Gaga has explained previously that ‘the stage was inspired by brutalist architecture… a real savage look at yourself and what you’ve been through.’ As she introduces Act Three with the exuberant ‘Babylon,’ it is clear that the previous Acts represented her previous feelings of entrapment, but Act Three represents a rebirth of a happier, freer Lady Gaga.
Continuing with the theme of liberation, ‘Free Woman’ sees the pop phenomenon walk through the crowd of her devoted Little Monsters, all desperate to see their beloved hero up close. “This is my dancefloor I fought for” triumphantly sings Gaga, as she reaches the smaller B-stage situated halfway down the general admission pit, or perhaps more accurately, the dance floor.
“No matter what, you can always tell everybody that you were born this way” she proudly asserts as she sits down facing a piano, before launching at first into a piano led rendition of anthem ‘Born This Way.’ This escalates into a stunning full band performance by the start of the second verse and is met with a thunderous reception. “Were you born to be brave?” asks Lady Gaga, as she enters the final chorus, ending the track with a raised ‘monster claw’ hand, an expression that has become so synonymous with her image and her fanbase over the years.
Gaga returns to the piano for Act Four, wearing a purple mantis-esque headdress no less, to perform the poignant ‘Shallow’ and the dazzling ‘Always Remember Us This Way’ from the critically acclaimed movie A Star Is Born. She also performs a beautiful version of underrated Chromatica track ‘1000 Doves,’ before bringing her band back into the frame with the powerful ‘Fun Tonight’, which Gaga dedicates to those who are out with their friends but are not having fun on the inside. The enthralling, fan-favourite ‘Enigma’ concludes Act Four, with an extended outro that showcases her bands masterful qualities.
Act Five, the final act of the wondrous Chromatica Ball, begins with visuals of Lady Gaga reciting a sonnet about how life and art are interlinked. “The artist’s spirit is a plant, a labyrinth of souls, of joy… this life is only art on life support, and nature is a knight, no king or court.” This is followed by the stomping lead Chromatica single ‘Stupid Love’ and the uplifting anthem ‘Rain On Me,’ both performed by Lady Gaga and her accompanying dancers with unrelenting energy and passion. Gaga concludes with a sensational performance of ‘Hold My Hand,’ which she wrote for the movie summer blockbuster Top Gun Maverick. “You can cry every last tear / I won’t leave till I understand” she bellows, delivering a stellar vocal performance, as the pyrotechnics deliver the biggest display of the night, underscoring the emotional purity of this final track performance. Gaga closes the Chromatica Ball with an address to the audience: “I love you so much, you may not always hold my hand, but I’ll always hold yours.”
Lady Gaga is, by far, the current pop pinnacle of expression, stagecraft and storytelling, reaching heights exhibited on this tour that have not been seen since Madonna at her peak during the 1980s. The ‘Chromatica Ball’ follows her journey of struggle, perseverance and ultimately new found freedom, and cements Lady Gaga among pop’s greatest expressionists.
Words by Ester Scott
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