I still remember quite vividly when the Chromatica Ball was first announced on March 5, 2020, right before what turned out to be one of the most memorable summers of my early 20s due to what officially got declared a pandemic exactly one week later. With the COVID-19 pandemic taking over the world by storm, summer 2020 truly proved that “you can’t drink the rain without some thunder” – and as we had dived deeper into a pandemic trajectory of unprecedented scale, these past two years also proved that, sometimes, one must travel far to find some wonders. One of these wonders for me, and you will get why in the course of this article, was actually being able to attend the Chromatica Ball after two years of tour postponements and cancellations, staying home and social distancing as well as simply waiting until the journey continues and I could at long last attend what was going to be the concert experience I had been waiting for more than 14 years of my life.
You see, the thing is that I have been a fan of Lady Gaga ever since I first heard ‘Just Dance’ on the radio when I was 10 years old. Right then and there, when I was bopping my head to the synths and electronic beats of a song that would go on to change not only the performing artist’s life for good but also every single person’s whose heart she won over, I probably did not imagine myself to be going stronger than ever with now 25 years old.
Looking back, however, I wouldn’t want it any other way. In all these years, I have bought every single record there is, followed every single album campaign, pulled all-nighters for release nights and live performances that I would follow on a screen at home, and I’ve met some of the most awesome people through a Twitter account that I regularly updated with news in my early teenage years. Be that as it may, the single one thing I had not been able to do was somehow attend a live show for a variety of reasons.
In 2009 and 2010, I was too young to attend shows on my own and none of my relatives were able to accompany me due to the concerts colliding with school nights and taking place in other cities. In 2012 and 2014, both the Born This Way Ball and artRAVE: The ARTPOP Ball took place in other cities again, while I was at family gatherings and weddings of relatives and close family friends that, of course, took place the same day as the shows. In 2017, however, I was not only old enough to attend the shows on my own, but I also had a job next to school that would allow for me to travel to Berlin to attend what was going to be my first ever Gaga concert. With my hotel and train ride to Berlin fully booked and paid for, the show got postponed to 2018 until it ultimately got cancelled all together. So, when the Chromatica Ball was announced in early 2020 with six dates only, I had to get my tickets to the opening show in Paris and I kept holding onto those tickets when it first got postponed 2021 and then, once again due to COVID, to 2022.
I somehow knew that the wait was going to be completely worth it and with all these missed opportunities mentioned in the paragraph above, one can more than easily imagine my excitement when the Chromatica Ball was re-announced in March 2022. With now 20 dates, however, the Paris date got moved and the opening show was now going to take place in the city of Düsseldorf, in my home country Germany. The “Summer Stadium Tour” announcement for the return of the Chromatica Ball coincidentally collided with the deadline for the exposé for my bachelor’s thesis, just two days before tickets went on sale. With the following Summer semester going by in a blur, I handed in my bachelor’s thesis the Friday before the opening show on July 17, 2022, here as well, two days before the tour was finally going to take place and me being able to attend my first ever Lady Gaga show in over 14 years with a full circle-feeling that I actually deserve to take the following weekend off for myself.
The most exciting thing to me was that this was not only my first ever Lady Gaga concert experience, but it was also the opening show to a tour that was finally going to take place after two years of postponements. In addition to knowing that Gaga herself could not wait to get back on stage already, this concert experience was not only accompanied by the 56 thousand people in the stadium with us, but also millions of people following updates on tour outfits, visual interludes and a setlist that was going to reveal itself song after song with all of us wondering what surprises would await us. As if this concert took place to pay tribute to the fact that this was my first ever Gaga concert in 14 years of being a fan, she opened the show with a triple sucker punch of back-to-back of her biggest hits with ‘Bad Romance’, ‘Just Dance’, and ‘Poker Face’. This opening act instantly took me back to the year 2009 when I was a small, joyful kid lying on my bedroom floor in front of my record player for hours and hours a day with the ‘The Fame’ and ‘The Fame Monster’ playing on loop and me reading the lyrics in the booklet over and over again until I learned them by heart.
‘The Fame’ was the first ever CD that I bought for myself, on my own with “my” money that my parents gave me for a school field trip, willingly not spending it the entire week that I was gone so I could run to the record store once I got back home. Whenever I visited my mom at her job in the mall when I was a kid, I went in extra early so I could go to the record store, put on some headsets, scan the CD barcode and listen to the 60 second samples provided for each song at the random CD stations throughout the shop, so me actually owning the CD took months and months of listening to the songs on YouTube, watching the music videos on TV after school, and visiting my mom in the mall over and over again until I could finally buy it. A nostalgic prelude to open the show that somehow felt like a personal commemoration of me celebrating 14 years of my love for music and pop culture.
The first and second official act featured songs off of her sixth studio album ‘Chromatica’ that the tour was celebrating with songs like ‘Alice’, ‘Replay’, and ‘911’ being performed alongside other tracks featuring the most visually stunning interludes, elaborate choreographies, and jaw-dropping outfits as suitable to these songs as one could have only wished for. In addition to the sensory stimulation across all sectors provided in each of the corresponding acts, a proper focus to the songs, their lyrical depth and the significance they carry was also given as Gaga was, in her own words, documenting the distinct layers of grief in life and its manic energy with “a real savage and hard look at yourself, what you’ve been through.”
I should mention that ‘Chromatica’ means a lot to me as a record due to the emotional significance the album and the songs, the lyrics throughout carry and the time in my life the record dropped. In an effort to try to be kind to myself and practice self-care, I generally utilize what I personally refer to as the help, the power, and the energy of music that is deeply resonating with me on a personal level and has guided me through some of the most difficult times in my life by giving me the strength to keep on going and letting me know that I am, in a way, understood after all and not completely alone. Giving mental health advice is easier than taking care of or prioritizing yourself and it is normal to struggle with it, and sometimes talking about it and being vulnerable in the context of mental health in order to inspire can be a difficult, yet helpful thing – not just to others but also to oneself.
To some, music can be something they just casually listen to and passively consume, whereas to me music has always been the one thing that keeps me grounded next to everything that is going on in school, college, work as well as my voluntary commitment and advocacy within academia but also on a global political scale with international organizations. It has always provided a sense of security and felt like a safety net whenever I listen to it, even if it may be just for fun and not on an analytical level. Through time, this therapeutic turn to music has only grown stronger (and keeps on doing so).
In 2020, when Gaga released Chromatica in the middle of the pandemic, the record meant an incredibly much to me, and I still remember that I haven’t had such a significantly pronounced feeling of being understood in what felt like a lifetime this early on in my life. In the middle of preparing for my exams that same year and coming home from the library at midnight, I remember sitting in the train and reading a year- end review on the record that said, “pop’s supreme shape-shifter has created […] a world where she doesn’t have to explain herself” with ‘Chromatica’. It was then when I realized just how much this album in particular means to me, so witnessing Gaga, quite literally battling for her life, repeatedly calling for the audience to “take me home, take me to wonderland” provided a cathartic sense of relief in terms of reclusion and a clearer sense of understanding of pain in memory to moments where it might have felt like one fell down a rabbit hole they cannot get out of by themselves anymore as they are desperately trying to pull their own weight.
As I still held on to my 2020 tickets to the Chromatica Ball in Paris, France, I decided after the opening show to attend the open-air concert at Stade de France with over 76 thousand people in the stadium after all and experience the show all over again, yet somehow in a different way, with two songs added to the setlist as well. Never have I ever heard such a great amount of people chant along to every single world of a concert setlist throughout the entirety of the show – during the performances of ‘Shallow’ and ‘Always Remember Us This Way’, seemingly written as if they were meant to be performed in nothing less than a stadium with thousands and thousands of people, it was the audience admiring the artist that finished the songs as Gaga sat down at the piano in awe of what felt like a festival of love and kindness as well as fashion, technology, art, and music.
Both shows, in their own way, were best shows I have so far attended in my life and will most definitely stick with me as I look back to them later on in life – witnessing Gaga live on the dance floor she fought for as I was screaming along the lyrics to every single song on the setlist, getting to know strangers waiting in line and later dancing and jumping with them, hugging them, and holding their hands in three whole hours of a fire-blazing, therapeutic pop- spectacle of actively consuming music and art, beholding greatness, facing your own fears and grief by simply having “Fun (Tonight)”.
Congenial to the final interlude of the show and the realization that “some still search for color never had,” I do believe that I was taken “home,” even if it was just for a few hours – seemingly “set free” in my own little version of a transcendent, temporary wonderland in a world where I don’t have to explain myself to anyone.
*All photos courtesy of Roman Sidig