This is a strangely tough post to write. On the one hand, there’ve been many times in the past four years when I’ve heard Gaga’s singles come on the radio and I’ve changed the channel; or when they’ve come on at the club I’ve gotten off the dance floor. It’s hard to deny, though, she’s got her brand of pop cultural domination down to a science. And, to her credit, there are a bunch of B-sides and songs buried deeper on her multi-platinum-selling records The Fame (and The Fame Monster) and Born This Way that are delightfully camp and fun. There are a handful of singles, however, like “Bad Romance,” “Just Dance,” and “Paparazzi” that’ve gotten maybe just a little too much air play and club spins. And personally, I think there are just so many other pop divas that are way more creative, entertaining and sonically original than Stefani Germanotta’s brand of over-the-top, dance-heavy, electronic-friendly pop. Much ink has been spilled on the topic of Gaga being derivative, especially the single “Born This Way” and its aural relationship to Madonna’s “Express Yourself.” And there’s no way you can listen to her records and NOT hear a little bit of Cher, Madonna, Kylie, or Gwen Stefani, let alone Queen, Bowie and other glam pop bands of the ’70s and ’80s. But this is all to say, there’s no hate here. She’s an LGBT hero and she is literally putting her money where her mouth is.
On this Born This Way Ball tour, a tour she’s already dragged across Asia and Europe, she’s actually bringing along an entirely separate bus connected to the Born This Way Foundation she founded last year with $1.2 million of her own dollars. The Born Brave Bus Tour is available to 13 to 25-year-olds, ticket holders or not, for three hours outside of each venue along her stadium-sized tour, seeking all kind of things: help, guidance, support, direction, or just someone to listen. The bus sets up a system of pods, basically, where teens and twenty-somethings can be guided towards information about mental health, anti-bullying resources, local support networks or just network with other little monsters in their area to make themselves feel not so alone. The bus is helmed by a Dr. Sue Swearer, the bus team’s lead behavioral health counselor, a veteran in the field of bullying and LGBT youth outreach. And even she’s been moved by what she’s seen since the bus began, in earnest, to change young people’s lives just last month in Tacoma, WA. The fact that these services are available to more than just ticketholders is inspiring and unbelievably philanthropic. In this informative Rolling Stone piece, she (via the Born This Way Foundation’s chief ambassador and singer/performance artist, Breedlove) says that this Brave Bus initiative is “the most important thing in her life right now.” Pretty awesome.
There’s no denying her success. Millions of fans worldwide will be pouring in from miles around to catch her at the Wells Fargo Center on two consecutive nights. After she leaves Philly she’ll take to NYC’s Madison Square Garden for two nights and another night at Brooklyn’s Barclay Center a couple weeks later. Philadelphia’s lucky to be one of the handful of two-city stops on this tour, seemingly the last effort to perform her catalogue of dance party burners before a new record of material, Artpop, which is anticipated to drop sometime this spring.
The Fame’s arrival in 2008 was a surprisingly slow build. It wasn’t until 2009 that “Just Dance” became ubiquitous and started soaring up Dance, Pop and Radio charts. But sure enough, combined with the extended play, The Fame Monster, which hit audiences about 14 months after The Fame, has gone 3 times platinum in the U.S. and sold 15,000,000 copies worldwide. When you put those kind of numbers together with the two massive tours she undertook, The Fame Ball Tour and the Monster Ball Tour, the latter of which was one of the biggest selling tours in the past five years, you can’t deny she’s one of the biggest and most powerful pop stars in the game/to date. And with, essentially, two LPs. It’s mind-boggling.
But when a pop star puts over a million of her own dollars, and gets all kinds of scientific and academic organizations to get on board, into a charitable effort that seeks primarily to empower troubled and scared young people, you learn to love the 101st time you hear “Just Dance” come on at Woody’s at 1:45a.
Lastly, if you’ve read this post and thought of a young person in your life who would benefit from the Born Brave Bus’s two evenings at the Wells Fargo Center on the 19th and the 20th, please forward this link along as a gesture of good faith: you’re not alone, you are loved, it gets better, and Lady Gaga cares about you.