In a weird about-face, Asia seems to be getting all the pop culture phenomena first: most of Asia got The Avengers a week before the US, and more importantly, Lady Gaga began her massive tour, the “Born This Way Ball,” in Seoul.
I saw Mother Monster on the second stop of her tour, in Hong Kong. She originally had only scheduled one show here, but after huge demand and complaints about an “unfair” ticketing process, she added three more sold-out shows. Even disgraced Hong Kong actor Edison Chen tried to get in on the action—though Gaga reportedly refused to meet him.
Aside from her popularity in Hong Kong itself, these were her only shows in Greater China. The promulgators of the Great Firewall cracked down on Gaga last year, categorizing her, Katy Perry and the Backstreet Boys as “national threats.” Six Gaga songs are banned on Chinese websites, including “The Edge of Glory,” “Hair” and “Judas,” though the Chinese government has gone so far as to ban the Backstreet Boys’ 90s hit, “I Want It That Way,” so you can’t really blame them for finding Gaga a little over-the-top.
Hong Kong is mostly unaffected by the heavy-handed censorship in China, so Gaga’s Chinese fans flocked to Hong Kong’s Asia-World Expo to see the shows
As expected, the set was epic: it was a forbidding castle, at least fifty feet tall with four different levels and an innumerable amount of moving parts.
She came in on a horse with a horn attached to it’s foreheard, which momentarily stunned the audience. Then she started singing “Highway Unicorn,” and the makeshift unicorn didn’t seem so weird after all.
Two songs later, to open “Born this Way,” an enormous round balloon with spider-like legs on either side was brought on stage. Weirdly, it had Gaga’s face projected onto it, and it soon became obvious that the balloon was a uterus, and that it was mimicking the actual process of giving birth.
Afterwards, Gaga said, “I want you to think of this arena as a vagina where you will be reborn,” which was the line of the night. She continued, but that line made the audience stop—at least where I was sitting. The parents in the row below us covered their daughters’ ears, and every guy in the audience quietly snickered.
Similarly explicit references went on throughout the night and in one of the weirder stunts, Gaga shot her floating alien “Mother G.O.A.T.” projection after “Paparazzi,” and it cried tears of blood.
As expected, the costumes were ridiculous throughout, from giant white dresses in “Bloody Mary” to a replica of the famous meat dress she wore to the American Music Awards during “Americano.” Meat featured prominently throughout the second half of the show; during “Alejandro,” shirtless male backup dancers lounged on a meat sofa.
Though Gaga’s set was seemed contrived, she was very aware of her audience. Rumors that she would try to speak Cantonese remained unfounded, although she screamed “Hong Kong!” at least 80 times. She spent a lot of time talking about how much she appreciates her “Little Monsters” and before “Hair,” she mentioned being different and feeling alienated in high school – a topic that resonated with the Hong Kong audience.
Amidst all the effects and outfit changes, the music was solid. “Hair,” played near the end of the show, was a particular highlight. Her big hits, such as “Just Dance” and “Paparazzi,” were enjoyable, though many were shortened to only a minute or so. The best part was that she wasn’t lip-syncing, which meant she could spontaneously have the audience join in for choruses. Her ridiculous outfits and bright blond hair made her really easy to follow onstage as she moved around constantly, which was great for the show’s energy levels, but horrible for iPhone photos: she appeared as a blonde blur.
Little Monsters aside, people go to Gaga’s shows because they want to see the spectacle—to see whether her live performances, outfits and persona are as ridiculous in person. She didn’t disappoint. Ultimately, the music was good, and the production value was high: the costumes, set and dancers were as extravagant, over the top and ostentatious as expected—if not more so. Hong Kong doesn’t have any over-the-top performance groups like Cirque de Soleil, but for four nights, it had something better: Lady Gaga.