Lady Gaga loves surprises.
Whether she is arriving at awards shows in an egg or in a dress made of meat, Gaga relishes toying with people’s expectations of her. However, her current “Joanne World Tour” may be her biggest surprise yet, drawing the biggest crowds of her career at a time when her record sales and support from radio are declining.
Her hometown stops will be two huge concerts at Citi Field on Aug. 28 and 29, a major step up from her previous tour, which included a single show at Madison Square Garden and a seven-night run to close down Roseland Ballroom in 2014.
In an era when most pop artists find their fortunes tied to how well their latest single performed and how many people watched their latest video, Gaga has built her tour the way veteran rock acts like U2 and Guns N’ Roses do — with little to no support from anyone but her fans.
How did she manage this transformation? Surprise! By being dependable.
“She has built a reputation, especially in the last five years, as a dynamic live performer,” says Joe Lynch, deputy editor of digital at music industry trade magazine Billboard. “Hit singles come and go. But the word-of-mouth about her is that she is an astonishing live performer. . . . She is a can’t-miss artist. She has the reputation of, if you are going to see one pop star live, she’s the one.”
Lynch says Gaga has managed this feat by building on the support of her rabid fan base, the Little Monsters, and by making high-impact appearances at high-profile events, including the Oscars, the Grammys and, of course, the Super Bowl halftime show earlier this year.
“It has been an expert buildup,” he says. “Each appearance confirms her star status. The ‘Joanne’ album wasn’t selling gangbusters. There weren’t gargantuan hits on the radio. So the success of this tour is mainly attributable to the Super Bowl.”
Gaga’s Super Bowl halftime show in February at NRG Stadium in Houston was the most-watched musical event of all time, according to the NFL, reaching 150 million people between the broadcast on Fox and views online. “The halftime show provides the ultimate world stage for an artist,” NFL Network’s senior vice president of programming and production Mark Quenzel says in a statement. “Through her incredible music, choreography and unifying message, Lady Gaga created a unique performance that will be remembered for years to come.”
What many will remember most from her Super Bowl performance was that at a time when America felt divided, Gaga delivered a show that projected unity.
LeRoy Bennett, co-production designer of her halftime show and production and lighting designer of the “Joanne World Tour,” says it was important to Gaga to create that environment.
“She knows there’s a big divide in this country,” Bennett says. “Her show was all about bringing people together and getting them to understand we’re all human beings. It’s about unity, warmth and positivity.”
However, Gaga, a vocal supporter of Hillary Clinton’s presidential run, wanted to show some protest of the election’s results. “We had to do it in a subtle way,” says Bennett, adding that the post-apocalyptic set was designed to show stars smashing into the earth. “Those stars were supposed to be the stars of the flag. We wanted to make a point, but we never wanted to be blatant about it.”
That spirit extends into the “Joanne” tour, Bennett says, because it is a reflection of who Gaga is as a person. “She’s just a really good human being,” he says. “She feels the weight of the world and she takes it all to heart. . . . She tries to protect everybody and encourages people that they need to stand up.”
Lynch says her fans expect that message to continue. “For a lot of people, especially those who identify as outsiders, they come to her shows expecting a safe haven,” he says. “It adds to their enjoyment of the show. They started out seeing her in their teens and now in their 20s, they want it to continue.”
And so far, Gaga seems intent on continuing that message.
In fact, in the early shows of the tour, she has been increasingly more outspoken about taking action to build a more accepting country. “I promise you that I will speak love into this world every day and I will remind myself every single day to speak love to every color, to every background, to every religion no matter what,” she told the crowd at AT&T Park in San Francisco the day after the violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia. “And I dare you to do the same.”
WHO Lady Gaga
WHEN | WHERE 8:30 p.m. Aug. 28-29, Citi Field, Flushing
INFO $86-$276; 800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com
Lady Gaga has always had a plan, plotting out her career moves several years in advance. It’s a strategy that has played out well through her albums. Here’s a look:
THE FAME (2008)
CHART PEAK No. 2
BIGGEST HIT “Just Dance” (No. 1 for three weeks)
GAGA STORYLINE Even though this was her debut, Gaga knew the power of fame and how to use it to her advantage.
BORN THIS WAY (2011)
CHART PEAK No. 1 (two weeks)
BIGGEST HIT “Born This Way” (No. 1 for six weeks)
GAGA STORYLINE Mother Monster used her success to show fans that they could also succeed, simply by celebrating their individuality.
CHART PEAK No. 1 (one week)
BIGGEST HIT “Applause” (No. 4)
GAGA STORYLINE Pushing boundaries and staying true to her art is more important than success.
CHEEK TO CHEEK (2014)
CHART PEAK No. 1 (one week)
BIGGEST HIT No charting singles
GAGA STORYLINE Teaming up with Tony Bennett for an album of jazz standards put the focus on Gaga’s voice and her artistry.
CHART PEAK No. 1 (one week)
BIGGEST HIT “Million Reasons” (No. 4)
GAGA STORYLINE Gaga keeps the focus on her vocals and songwriting, while switching back to more contemporary pop and rock music.
— GLENN GAMBOA