Review: Lady Gaga - Joanne World Tour

This review was originally published in Web Edition 095 of Twin Cities Gay Scene magazine on August 22, 2017.

Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Live Nation

"Cold beer and hot popcorn. Screaming fans, including many of a certain age. The singer dons a cowboy hat and the band is all twang, all country stomp. No, this is not the Anoka County Fair. This is a Lady Gaga concert in 2017. 

โ€ฆbut I love it. Having seen Gaga's previous shows at the X (2010's "Monster Ball Tour" and 2014's "artRAVE: the ARTPOP ball"), I had major preconceived notions on the formula of a Gaga show. Gaga deconstructed those notions just about every step of the way. Lady Starlight was not on stage DJ-ing before the show. Her friends' scrappy glam-rock band wasn't the opening act. 

Lady Gaga did not preach at us all night. She instead offered sage advice for our troubled world without judging her newfound adult contemporary audience; a majority of the seats around me in the Lower Level were occupied by middle aged married couples. Call it the Super Bowl effect, seeing as tour tickets went on sale immediately following Gaga's 2017 half time performance. 

Photo: @LadyGaga on Instagram, viewing the eclipse in Saint Paul, Minnesota the day of the show.

Other than that, crowd watching proved much less interesting this time around. Lady Gaga's previous tour crowds made me feel like Halloween had come early. Perhaps Lady Gaga inspired them with her more stripped down "Joanne" era fashions. Besides a few drag queens, not many people dressed up in those outrageous costumes Ms. Gaga was once synonymous with. I saw plenty of tall gay men wearing crop tops, Daisy Duke shorts, and nude-toned country boots, though. 

Unlike most tours, there were no bad seats in the house. Everyone had a chance to feel close to Gaga, thanks to her massive and groundbreaking stage. It consisted of a large end stage and three separate platforms across the General Admission floor of the arena. All four areas were connected by massive runways which descended from the ceiling in perfect time to the music. Crazy. 

Musically, the set list flowed even smoother than Xcel's countless beer taps. Juggling the "yee haw" stomp-clamp fire of the "Joanne" album and the late-00s electro pop of "The Fame" was a major challenge, but the stylistic shifts throughout the night never felt abrupt. Something that facilitated this immaculate flow was that Gaga truly narrated the show, with wise banter in between songs putting us in the right mood for the next.

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Even her emotional speeches about her Minnesotan friend Emma were handled with more grace than her previous stops here. Emma, a Twin Cities super fan who is paralyzed, has been mentioned at Gaga's local shows since they met years ago. This time Gaga dedicated an extended "The Edge of Glory" performance to Emma. Gaga stopped her piano rendition of "Glory" several times to give us updates about our hometown hero; how she recently took 30 steps in a walker; how she listens to Gaga's champagne problems but offers great advice without judgment. Emma later appeared on stage before the "Million Reasons" encore and was given the microphone. She encouraged the 18,000 seat audience to perform a "peace be with you"-type greeting to the strangers around them. 

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Even when the show felt like it was crushing your heart into a "Million" pieces, it found a way to bring it back to an uptempo, party atmosphere. Gaga went from the "The Edge of Glory" piano ballad right into her uptempo #1 hit "Born This Way." Who does that? Lady Gaga fully pulling off a song-to-song tonal shift like that is a case study in her artistic brilliance. Things only got more upbeat from there, with massive renditions of hits "Paparazzi," "Bad Romance," and her latest single, "The Cure."

Flip Phone's Chad Kampe described the show as, "Raw. Stripped. Bare. Vulnerable." I could not agree more. That innovative stage was not at all a distraction. It did nothing but bring Gaga closer to everyone in the arena. The most vulnerable part of the show was how vocally concerned Gaga was with reaching the audience. The constantly moving stage was a physical catalyst for the performer to reach the audience (sometimes literally). 

You could feel how much Lady Gaga cared about connecting hearts and minds. "Love" was the focus and her mission all night. It was beyond refreshing in these dark socio-political times."

iPhone Photo: Exclusive Video

DerekPlease Exclusive: Lady Gaga's speech explaining her "Joanne" album era and title track. 

Yee haw! "Heeereee weee goooo...!" See y'all on social: @DerekPlease everywhere

In Memory of Stevie Ryan (1984-2017)

My friend Stevie Ryan has died at age 33. 

Currently crying because I found out my YouTube friend and someone I have looked up to for over 10 years, Stevie Ryan, committed suicide this weekend.

A lot of you know my brother Justin committed suicide 10 years ago last month. That summer, Stevie Ryan hosted a YouTube video contest in costume as โ€œLittle Loca,โ€ one of her many characters. The topic was โ€œWho or what inspires you the most?โ€

I did my video about my brother and his huge trip around the world he completed not too long before he died. The video was posted under 2 weeks after his suicide. The real life Stevie Ryan, not the character, reached out with an extravagant Edible Arrangement, and a thoughtful and touching card. She also awarded me the grand prize including an original piece of art. When people accused me of faking my brotherโ€™s suicide for attention, she vehemently defended me and shamed her own hateful audience, something barely any celebrities or politicians dare do now, even when itโ€™s right.

This is why fundraisers like the one we did for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention last month are so important. Together we raised $510. That may seem small but it is huge. Especially for a topic and organization that is so totally made taboo by the public and media, who largely pretend doesnโ€™t exist, beyond a television storyline

Stevie Ryan was an accomplished and hilarious, young, beautiful comedian, but she was also a GREAT PERSON and someone I was proud to call a friend. We still casually kept in touch on Twitter and such prior to her death. .

Devastated and wishing her family and friends and fans all the best. ๐Ÿ˜ขโค๏ธ RIP my love, I will never ever ever forget you your talent or your kindness...
— Derek - July 3, 2017

Nepotism Chic! Madonna's Son Rocco Ritchie the Latest Celeb Progeny-Turned-Model

Installment #1 in a new DerekPlease blog series - Me. I Am Derek... The Elusive Pop Sleuth - Observations on growing trends in the American zeitgeist. 

Nepotism is the chicest thing on the runway and in the pages of Vogue in these, the last years of the 2010s. The junior Kardashian sisters, Kendall Jenner & Kylie Jenner, set this trend thanks in no small part to the evil genius their "momager" (mom + manager), Kris Jenner.

Now you can't throw a stick without seeing their "good sister, bad sister" image and "traditional model; InstaSnap model" formula all over; just look at sisters like Gigi HadidBella Hadid (parents business tycoon Mohammed Hadid and former model and former Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Yolanda Hadid [nรฉe an den Herik, previously Foster;]), or Delilah Belle Hamlin & Amelia Gray Hamlin, daughters of Harry Hamlin & Lisa Rinna

So where are the male counterparts? Frankly, fashion still doesn't give a damn about them. Sure, there are hangers on like third Hadid sibling Anwar Hadid, but fashion usually sticks with pop stars like Justin Bieber, Shawn Mendes, or the Jonas Brothers like Joe Jonas or Nick Jonas (sorry Kevin) when they're looking for a notable male model. 

The "momagers" with sons are trying to pimp out their sons, though. Kris Jenner helped establish son Rob Kardashian's "Arthur George" high fashion sock line; Yolanda Hadid is getting son Anwar Hadid on Fashion Week runways. Rocco Ritchie (son of Queen of Pop Madonna & King Arthur director Guy Ritchie) seems to be making a bid as well, pictured here working for Adidas.  

Will organic models - without famous parents - ever rise again? There are definitely some out there, but they didn't really do it on their own. Karlie Kloss has BFF Taylor Swift to thank for much of her buzz. Plus sized beauty Ashley Graham is the closest we have to a traditional discovered-overnight model, in the vein of legends Tyra Banks and Naomi Campbell.  

What are your thoughts on fashion's obsession with nepotism? Sound off! @DerekPlease on Snapchat, Twitter, and Instagram.