It is dangerous to speak out against someone with so many legions of fans and devotees, and--make no mistake--Gaga has an army of little monsters who will do her bidding at the drop of a couturier's hat. Even so, it has to be said that watching The Monster Ball is akin to seeing a pop culture god assemble numerous key images from classic performances, cram them into Lady Gaga's dainty frame (a metaphorical blender), and then hold her hair back as she regurgitates absolutely everything that has already been done before.
It is nothing new for Gaga to be compared to others or accused of co-opting someone else's (ahem, Madonna) style, but actually viewing a two-hour performance of the unstoppable meme drives home the point that her entire career is based on "being weird" and "outrageous"--feats achieved primarily through wardrobe choices. Her shtick of encouraging and embracing those who are deemed outsiders (an unintentional euphemism for the GLBT community) is another integral part of her success and the reason why so many of her fans have glommed on to "Born This Way," an unwitting anthem for not bothering with self-improvement.
This niche she has created for herself is indicative of Gaga's farsightedness with respect to her career. Any argument against the human pastiche has never suggested she wasn't intelligent, brazen, and talented. But she does not seem to use any of these attributes to create her own trends rather than grafting them almost exclusively from Madonna. As the show commenced in the unnecessary city of Sacramento last night, it became evident that Gaga's little monsters genuinely have no idea that their idol is the farthest thing from an innovator as it gets.
The Scissor Sisters, an ideal opening act for The Monster Ball, were a breath of fresh air in a place as devoid of deliberate campiness as California's capital. Singing cuts from their latest album, Night Work, that included the title track and "Any Which Way," Scissor Sisters also delighted with old favorites like "Take Your Mama Out" and "Filthy/Gorgeous," which Ana Matronic dedicated to the memory of Elizabeth Taylor (who died the same day of the show, March 23rd). She also noted, "If you haven't heard of The Scissor Sisters, you're probably either not gay...or British." About thirty minutes after they left the stage, the screens lowered and a remix repeating the words "I'm a free bitch" sounded through the arena. Opening the show with "Dance in the Dark," the silhouetted image of Gaga against the screen echos Madonna opening the Who's That Girl Tour in 1987 in a similar fashion. The costume change to a futuristic nun habit during "LoveGame" is also reminiscent of Madonna's "Like A Prayer" performance during the Blond Ambition Tour. Such comparisons persist through most of the show in terms of religious iconography (particularly during "Alejandro," the poor man's version of "La Isla Bonita"), save for the fact that Madonna never gave any awkward speeches about Jesus loving everyone. That was a little uncomfortable.
While Madonna herself is the great master of imitation, she at least had the sense to steal from pop culture entities that are on the more obscure side (e.g. using Metropolis as the inspiration for the "Express Yourself" video, A Clockwork Orange for the closing segment of the Blond Ambition Tour, covering a Joe Henry song, and taking the idea for "Vogue" from Paris is Burning). With Gaga, her lack of ingenuity is blatant and rarely classifiable as "making it her own." And that is why The Monster Ball comes across as a monstrosity of choreography, fashion, and thematic elements that the Mother Monster has cobbled together from too many sources for her to develop any true sense of individualism and singularity--two concepts she champions above all else.