If you're a pedestrian pop-music fan, your feelings about Lady Gaga might have dimmed from excitement, shock, or flat-out hatred to indifference in the years since the heights of the public's fascination with the shock-pop artist during her "Bad Romance" era. She willed the fame she wrote about on her debut album into existence through stunts such as her infamous MTV Video Music Awards meat dress and music-video epics such as "Paparazzi."
But over the past half-decade, Gaga's ubiquity has waned, and her fame has either diminished or transformed, depending upon whom you ask. Her 2013 album, Artpop, debuted at number one, but reviews were mixed and its single "Applause" became Gaga's last runaway radio hit. Yet at the same time her profile as a pop star lowered, her artistic career evolved. She hit the road on a coheadlining tour with Tony Bennett in support of their wildly successful jazz album, Cheek to Cheek; won a Golden Globe for her starring role on American Horror Story; performed at the Oscars, where she was nominated for her song "Til It Happens to You"; and played the Super Bowl two years in a row — the second time as the halftime performer. She'll make her big-screen debut next year in Bradley Cooper's remake of A Star Is Born.
Gaga, born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, returned to the American Airlines Arena last night in support of her latest album, Joanne. It earned her two Grammy nominations this week and spawned the sleeper radio hit, "Million Reasons," but there's no question that as her career has expanded beyond pop, she's become an oxymoronic breed: a musician with a niche fan base who still packs stadiums.
Part of the reason Gaga's legion of fans (or "little monsters," as she affectionately calls them) continues to fill venues of that size is the immersive experience her concerts provide. Half the fun of a Gaga concert is waiting in line for general admission, where fans of all genders fashion the space behind the barricades into a makeshift beauty bar, contouring their faces and piling glitter onto eyelids while sipping boxed wine. "Are you going to let me grow to be an old-lady rockstar?" Gaga asked from the stage last night. If the fans pictured below have anything to say about it, she'll still be onstage when she's 90, just like Tony Bennett.
These fans brought portable vanity mirrors and began putting their looks together about six hours before Gaga hit the stage.
Stephanie (middle), who shares her name with Mother Monster, re-created a look from Lady Gaga's "Million Reasons" video. The last time Gaga rolled through town on her ArtRave Tour, her little monsters adhered to a Day-Glo rave theme for their outfits. This time, Gaga returned with a more stripped-down, country-tinged sound, and her fans followed suit, imitating her pastel-glam take on honky-tonk fashion.
These little monsters have been Gaga fans since high school. When Victor (pictured top right in pink hat) was unable to attend his high-school prom, his friends threw him a Gaga-themed prom (complete with dates and a photo booth) at one of their houses instead. Alexis (top left) made Lady Gaga a jacket in 2011 and threw it onstage at her concert. He says she wore it in interviews for a week straight and followed him on Twitter shortly thereafter.
With dozens of fans in line by 10 a.m. for a 9 p.m. show, there was plenty of time to catch up on some sleep.
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Santiago began prepping his and his friend's makeup about eight hours before Gaga hit the stage. His first memory of Gaga is his sister calling him into the room when Gaga made her pants-less debut on MTV's TRL. When he heard "Bad Romance" a couple of years later, "it blew my mind," he says. "The girl with no pants was the rah-rah bitch." He's been a diehard fan ever since and says he can attribute most of his friendships to Gaga.
Santiago's handmade, head-to-toe look was complete by showtime.