Breathe out, tune in: Growing up on Gaga

A young girl listens to music on her iPod. Around her are images of Lady Gaga from different eras.
(Bella Pettengill • The Student Life)

Clad in assless chaps, lots of leather and neon pink and green, 52,000 Little Monsters filtered into Dodger Stadium this past Saturday. After an hour and a half, the stadium lights shut off and a stage began to glow. Six screens flashed futuristic, otherworldly visuals that could barely be made out: space, a planet, burning, smoke. Then, from the ashes, a transformer-esque being emerged. Mother Monster had returned to Los Angeles.

Now on her seventh full-scale international tour, Mother Monster, aka Lady Gaga, has had a whirlwind of a career. I, like many others my age, grew up watching it unfold. From “The Fame” to “Chromatica” to a successful acting career, her versatility has amazed me. Although I do like some of her more recent work, especially “Rain On Me,” I find myself attached to her first two albums. That Saturday, the memories came flooding back as Gaga took the audience on a journey of hit after hit.

One particular memory comes to mind. On New Year’s Eve in 2009, at six years old, I was dancing it up at a family wedding. There was this song that had just come out that rocked my world, and I so desperately wanted it to be played. My cousin, who was an even bigger Lady Gaga fan, agreed wholeheartedly. Together, we marched up to the DJ booth and requested it. A few minutes later and the dance floor was flooded with a robotic “mum mum mum mah.” My cousin, the crowd and I went wild. 

“Poker Face” proceeded to have a great year, finishing at number two on the Billboard Year-End Hot 100 Singles. 2009 also went splendidly for me, as evidenced by a first-grade journal entry of mine which read: “My favort subgits are math and englis. But most of all I love everything! The thing I like best of all in my life is dansing. My fvorrit! School is fun! I have exsiding thins in my life at shool. Wow!” 

In the same year, “Just Dance” went on to inspire Ubisoft’s hit video game, and subsequently my own love for dancing. I don’t think much in my life will top playing “Just Dance” on “Just Dance,” sweating profusely to get all five stars.

Needless to say, when the instrumental for “Just Dance” started in Dodger Stadium and Gaga demanded the crowd to “put your fucking hands up,” mine shot into the air. When she said “now scream!” — you better believe I did.

Experiencing a song like that live — one that I’ve listened to so many times and have so many memories with — never gets old. When I saw Lorde perform “Ribs” live this summer, I cried because I instantly remembered all the days in spring of 2020 spent mourning the end of high school that never was.

The emotional attachment I have to Lady Gaga’s songs is different, since it evokes memories of childhood that now seem so distant. As my memories become fainter and my life changes, at times I feel that my elementary school self was a completely different person. But in Dodger Stadium, I was at the New Year’s wedding, I was playing “Just Dance” and I was my 20-year-old self, all at once.

The show itself was, to quote Gaga, “brilliant, incredible [and] amazing…” It had the best production value out of any concert I’ve been to — a feast for all the senses. Even from up in the nosebleeds, I felt the heat from the 20-foot-tall flames.

She started up on a platform, confined inside of a mirrored pod, using just her voice and face to perform some of her earliest hits. That was just Act I. In the four acts that followed, Gaga’s versatility never ceased to impress me. One minute she was strapped to a spinning board, the next she was playing the piano and belting for her life — all without missing a beat or note.

In the latter half of the show, Gaga played more from her more recent albums, especially “Chromatica,” — (for which the tour is named). These albums were less commercially successful than her first two, but still were positively received by critics and fans. 

Now is the time where I must admit that I’m not a die-hard Little Monster. I didn’t listen to much of “Joanne” and I didn’t like “Chromatica” nearly as much as her first two albums. I think that’s because it’s difficult to separate the nostalgia I have associated with certain songs.

Is “LoveGame” really that iconic, or is it just because I danced to it at my friend’s birthday party in first grade with her cool older sister? Is “Born This Way” a once-in-a-decade queer anthem or is “Rain On Me” just as good? 

Maybe it doesn’t matter. If the nostalgia clouds my judgment, so be it. Music matters because of how it makes us feel, and Gaga’s early music makes me feel like a kid again. 

I can also appreciate the love fans feel for “Chromatica,” though. I can already tell that when “Stupid Love” or “Babylon” comes on 10 years in the future, I will reminisce about my college days and the time I saw them performed live at Dodger Stadium. I will remember the young girl sitting with her mom in front of me and wonder if, someday, she too will say she grew up on Gaga.

Hannah Weaver SC ’24 is from Seattle, WA, where listening to “Rain On Me” is always appropriate.

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