If you want to understand how much the gays love Lady Gaga, venture into the first five rows of a Lady Gaga show and you’ll begin to experience what living is.
I have been a huge Gaga fan since sophomore year of college. To a young gay kid not quite out, Gaga was a saving grace. She’s brash, artistic, and fashion forward. No artist of my generation has navigated a career quite like hers and with such an unapologetic attitude.
Of course, I wasn’t alone with these thoughts. Gaga is a pop star who speaks deeply to the LGBT community. She’s vocally embraced the community as long as she’s been a relevant pop culture figure, speaking at gay rights events and performing at Pride events. Her album “Born This Way” can almost be seen as an homage to the gay community. And gay fans have responded accordingly. Those who love Gaga, love her fiercely. The Little Monsters are loyal fans who have never waivered in their support for her.
Before “Joanne”, I had only seen Gaga once in 2011 when she toured “The Fame Monster Ball”. I decided right then and there, it was one of the greatest shows I had ever seen and even though I was alll the way up in the nosebleeds, I was LIVING. Perhaps because I’ve grown into adulthood with Gaga (and the Monsters) I feel a special kinship to her music. It makes me nostalgic for art school and the gay clubs I frequented throughout college. I miss the gay friends I had then who encouraged me to be as fully gay as I wanted to be. All of the nights I’ve spent dancing in clubs to Gaga records and watching queens perform her biggest singles have made me a bit nostalgic for those years.
It’s 2017 now and most of Gaga’s superfans, known as Little Monsters, are older. The closeted teen who locked himself in his room to listen to “Born This Way” has graduated from college and is now working at a museum. We’ve all grown up with Gaga – as she’s matured and toned down the antics so have we. Those anything-but-clothes art school parties have given way to cocktail parties. But there is something still vitally exciting about seeing Gaga live, and she’s still just as relevant to the LGBT community now as she was years ago.
Seeing “The Joanne World Tour ” live is a testament to her impact. The tour isn’t out to prove anything – Gaga has already proven herself to music fans. The tour is instead a chance for her to stake her claim and survey some of her greatest moments. The music is sprawling; unlike the ArtRave which focused almost entirely on “Artpop”, “Joanne” takes fans from “The Fame” to her most current release, and one of the best, “The Cure.”
But back to being in that pit.
I was lucky enough to snatch a Come to Mama pass as soon as tickets were on sale which granted me early access to the show. It can be terribly tedious to wait for a show to begin when you’re in general admission but for all of the awful gossip I’ve heard about the Monsters, I found the ones in St. Louis to be some of the kindest fans I’ve met. My friend Charley and I were lucky enough to meet several fans who became our friends for the evening, including two incredible drag queens who’s faces were beat to the gods. The queens made a beeline to stand by the piano stage once we were let into the arena and received a shout out from Gaga midway through the stage.
To understand just how dedicated the Monsters were who bought Come to Mama passes, you should probably visualize 200 fans screaming and running into the venue as soon as concert doors opened.
Being in general admission with several fans who are as hyped as you for the show to begin creates a sense of community. Beyond general excitement for the show, many fans at Gaga shows have a similar love of creativity and art. Some of my favorite conversations and laughs of the weekend came from chatting with fans around me in line or waiting for the show to begin. I’ve always believed that fandoms are not simply born from devotion to an artist; they are about a community of people coming together to have a shared experience. From front row I was on the front lines with Monsters who had traveled to multiple shows. Some were driven by friendship, others by pure love of Gaga. Near the end of the concert a group of fans threw a letter onstage which Gaga read aloud. The letter was signed by several fans who had met at shows in years past and this year had decided to travel together to twelve tour stops. “We are a group of fans who have come together from all over the country. This is our last night together,” the letter read. “And we’d like to thank you for bringing us together as friends.” Along with the letter the group of friends gave her a jacket signed by each of them with their favorite lyrics handwritten on the jacket. “I’m gonna keep this on for the next song,” Gaga said, tearing up. “There’s a lot of love on this jacket.”
I was moved by moments like this because they reflected what makes concerts and fandoms so important. Communities are formed at pop shows for LGBT fans feeling disenfranchised. As fans grow older, the community bond becomes stronger. We’ve survived this, you begin thinking, together.
But if you’re going to pick any show to see up close, it has to be Gaga’s. The fashion is to die for. The visuals are stunning and conceptual. And you feel like you are seeing a real icon in the flesh. There are so many incredible moments in the “Joanne” tour. From the entrance of Gaga performing “Diamond Heart” wearing a glittering pink cowboy hat to the insane pulsating energy of hearing “Scheisse” live as the stage tilts and turns, it is an electrifying show. Gaga uses state of the art production to create a concert experience unlike any other. Module runways drop from the arena ceiling for Gaga to travel across to satellite stages. The main stage rises and tilts with a huge video screen behind it. The tour interludes are also gag-worthy – one of the best features Gaga gunning it in a car leaving the viewers in the (pink) dust. And one of my favorite moments came when Gaga performed “The Cure.” As she sings, “So baby say yes,” scores of gays screamed out “YAAASSSSSS” making for a moment that gave me a bit of a laugh.
“Joanne” is about the aunt Gaga never met, but the album is also about her. Gaga’s middle name is Joanne and the album is a reference to Gaga returning to her roots of who she really is. I’d argue the same concept for her fans. Many fans attending the tour have never met Gaga and probably never will, but what she stands for is a part of them. Staying true to who you are and knowing you’re a superstar no matter where you come from are two principles Gaga has preached since the beginning of her career. Everyone I met at the “Joanne” tour stop in St. Louis is a true superstar. If you’re looking for one thing to admire about the Monsters, admire that they all choose to be themselves and thrive in a world that still doesn’t understand the meaning of equality.