Jo Piazza: If you have any doubt that Lady Gaga has cultivated both an aura of the sacred and a near cult-like following you weren’t inside the Jacob Javits Convention Center in Manhattan last week when the pop star famous for making it perfectly acceptable to dress in raw meat performed for the Robin Hood Foundation’s annual Gala.
Even the most transient purveyor of pop culture knows that Lady Gaga and her eclectic style and catchy music have caught on like gangbusters over the past year with the younger generation (the ones who spend most of their lives online and eschew the use of vowels in their text messages).
But the cult of Gaga has spread beyond the tween-set and last Monday night in the Javits Center was proof of that. The evening’s crowd consisted of around 3,000 very wealthy men and women, some of the highest net worth in New York City. The basis of the Robin Hood Foundation is after all, the rich giving to the poor.
I explain this to make the point that this wasn’t a room full of teenagers, young gays or suburban moms looking for a bit of fun. This crowd wasn’t supposed to have a visceral reaction to Lady Gaga. It included two NBC news anchors, Donald Trump, Tom Brady, and the heads of most major investment banks and hedge funds (and the models who love them). This wasn’t a room full of Little Monsters (as Gaga has affectionately named her fans), it was a room filled with buttoned up gentlemen of a certain age—not the sort you would expect to go, well Gaga for Gaga.
But Gaga they did go and in a very particular way. Her performance mirrored a religious experience on numerous levels and a few things in particular stood out.
1.The crowd relinquished agency. The singer made her entrance into the dining hall, as has become her wont in a giant human-sized egg. No one spoke as this egg entered the room. In fact it grew eerily quiet for the first time that evening, including an hour when Tony Bennett took the stage to tickle the ivories during dinner. There were no instructions from management. No one herded the crowd into the next room where a stage worthy of Gaga had been erected. The crowd simply silently followed the egg as it wound its way through the giant hall. No one knew for sure the singer was even inside. They just believed. No one communicated. They blindly, silently followed.
2. The crowd observed tribal performative rituals. Imagine a group of people whose median age is 50 (excluding outlying trophy wives) instructed by a crazy-eyed, crazier haired woman wearing latex on a stage to “put their paws up in the air.” Now imagine them responding with a near trance-like fervor, raising their well-manicured hands above their heads, curling their fingers into little claws and scratching at the air in front of them. They did this over and over. “Put your paws up,” Gaga would scream. The crowd obliged in homage.
3. The crowd was penitent. The Foundation’s annual gala raised more than $47 million in a single evening from ticket sales and a fundraising push over dinner which raised $11 million in just under an hour. Tables at the event sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Because the money was slated for charity it musn’t have felt ugly to spend so much in one night; too, Lady Gaga forgave the crowd their enormous wealth. It’s ok to be so rich, she essentially told them, because all that money is going to a good cause. On stage Gaga laughed with them. She said she expected they would all be nibbling on tea sandwiches, which of course got a laugh because everyone knows the really rich don’t eat with their hands. But by cracking jokes about their conspicuous wealth Gaga made it all ok, she forgave the wealthy all of their sins.