Lady Gaga made history this Labor Day weekend as the first woman artist to headline at Fenway Park. In just under two hours, Gaga demonstrated her ability to deliver at the highest level in different genres. What was most notable about the concert was the sheer emotion Gaga brought to the stadium.
The performance was part of a tour to promote her fifth studio album, “Joanne” (2016). The album was noted for its more emotional music dealing with issues of life and family, distancing itself from Lady Gaga’s reputation as a dance-electro-pop artist and the commercial underperformance that was “Artpop” (2013). The tour, by extension, is Gaga’s attempt to demonstrate not just her prowess as a performer, but her emotional depth as a singer.
Those who came expecting the same brand of wild artistic expression that was synonymous with their version of Lady Gaga were inevitably disappointed. Nevertheless, Gaga did not retire the theatrics entirely; she opened her tour decked out in a fringe-styled black cowgirl outfit and a pink cowgirl hat, performing the album’s first track “Diamond Heart” (2016) before bringing out her guitar for “A-YO” (2016) in an homage to her New York roots. The crowd got fired up when the pop diva performed her signature hit “Poker Face” (2008) before showering her fans with a slew of her classics: her debut single “Just Dance” (2008), “LoveGame” (2008), “Alejandro” (2010), “Telephone” (2010) and “Applause” (2013). While the more ludicrous costumes that we’ve come to expect from her may have gone, she nevertheless donned her signature leotard and leather costumes at various points in the show.
Throughout the show, Lady Gaga continued to spread the same message that made her a pop icon. Having protested outside Trump Tower on the night of the election, and subtly so in her Super Bowl LI halftime performance of “This Land is Your Land” (1945), Gaga once again preached to the Fenway crowd the importance of acceptance and love, especially in this current political climate. Before singing the fun, high-energy track “Come to Mama” (2016), Lady Gaga greeted the LGBTQ community and used lyrics from her song to inquire playfully, “Why do we gotta put each other down/When there’s more than enough love to go around?”
Yet the most impressive moments of the night came when Lady Gaga exposed her vulnerability to the Fenway crowd, achieving what the “Joanne” album was meant to do in the first place. In doing so, Gaga brought the same kind of stripped-down emotions from her Joanne album to life on the stage. The first real emotional moment came when she performed “The Edge of Glory” (2011) on piano in dedication to her friend Sonya, who passed away earlier this year due to cancer. She expertly slowed the show’s tempo while performing on the piano, giving her the platform to show off her vocal chops that were accompanied by raw and genuine sadness and loss.
The highlight of the night undoubtedly came when Gaga, whose real name is Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, performed the title track of the album and tour. She revealed to the crowd that the album was named after her aunt, who helped inspire her to kick her drug addiction. Her aunt had passed away from lupus at the age of 19, way before Gaga had even met her. She thus felt that this album and tour was meant to “finish [Joanne’s] business.”
While always noted for her eccentricity, Gaga expressed her desire for the tour to help connect her to the average music listener; performing “Joanne” was her attempt to demonstrate her own frailties and own fears. In line with the familial theme, Lady Gaga wore an outfit designed by her younger sister Natali Germanotta, who majored in fashion design. By drawing on her own family’s history and story, Lady Gaga succeeded in making her larger-than-life stage persona accessible to each and every individual at the ballpark. To the average music listener, this would be seen as an evolution of her music career, which began with performances at festivals like Lollapalooza. Yet to Lady Gaga’s millions of fans who dub themselves “Little Monsters,” it was just another example of what they already knew from the start — Gaga is both a powerful performer and a genuine, empathetic person with problems just like theirs.
As an encore performance, the pop superstar got back on stage to perform “Million Reasons” (2016). Reminiscent of her Super Bowl LI half-time show, fans lit up their phones and waved along while joining in the sing along, creating a warm atmosphere described by Gaga as “lights filled with love.”
Gaga saved one final thought-provoking moment for the end; she left her pink hat from the album’s cover on the microphone stand, urging the crowd to remember that “sometimes it’s important to try on someone’s hat to try and understand.”