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Lady Gaga The Chromatica Ball review: ‘A glorious reminder that pop auteur remains Gaga’s greatest role’

After two-years of delays, The Chromatica Ball proves to be a return to outlandish excellence for Mother Monster.

By Will Stroude

Words: Will Stroude; Images: Lady Gaga’s performs The Chromatica Ball at the Friends Arena, Stockholm, Sweden (Getty Images) 

Spread the good word: Lady Gaga The Pop Star is back. The departure time may have been delayed by two years, but a flight to the Planet Chromatica took off in explosive style in Stockholm on Thursday night as Lady Gaga’s The Chromatica Ball hit the Swedish capital for the second stop in a 20-date global run that’s sure to remind everyone why Mother Monster ranks as possibly the defining pop cultural force of the last 15 years.

That force has been redirected in recent years as Gaga has forgone her brash electro-pop roots in pursuit of legacy-defining, award-nominated screen appearances in the likes of A Star Is Born and House of Gucci, but Haus of Gaga reigned supreme once again in Stockholm as Stefani Germanotti re-embraced her eccentric pop persona in a way that’s been rarely seen on stage since the release of 2016’s country-influenced Joanne.

Opening with a trio of your biggest career-defining hits is the kind of move only music’s most confident players could make, and Gaga began Thursday night’s show at neck-breaking speed, racing through ‘Bad Romance’, ‘Just Dance’ and ‘Poker Face’ back-to-back. Emerging onto the brutalist stage set encased in a metallic sarcophagus and resembling RoboCop, Gaga’s first look was gradually deconstructed with each passing number as the star celebrated – and shed – the past, though it was a strangely static start staging-wise given the calibre of hits being performed.

Divided into four distinct acts (each perhaps too short when jammed into a 90-minute run-time), The Chromatica Ball truly caught fire when Gaga reached segments dedicated to 2020’s exhilarating Chromatica – a record that was designed to re-establish the star’s pop credentials with the Girls ‘N’ Gays but was hampered by being released in a year that saw club dancefloors shuttered.

Brimming with extra-terrestrial and religious iconography from the costuming to the impressive CGI, The Chromatica Ball gives a frenetic first outing to tracks like ‘Replay’, ‘911’ and ‘Sour Candy’, with Gaga clearly relishing the opportunity to add her trademark ‘Thriller’-style dance moves and cathartic yelps to newer material. Campy fan-favourite ‘Babylon’ took on a gleeful new lease life in a live setting as it reached a rousing gospel-tinged crescendo, while Gaga donned golden robes and led her congregation to church as she and her throng of dancers sashayed through the crowd for the jubilant (and still-underrated) ‘Free Woman’.

Given Lady Gaga’s very public struggles with fibromyalgia – a chronic condition causing pain throughout the body that led to the scrapping of much of her 2018 tour – a question mark over the star’s ability to deliver The Fame and Monster Ball-era choreography had hung over The Chromatica Ball ahead of its opening night, and while such fears were quickly allayed by the show’s second act, it’s clear that Gaga’s battle to return to the world’s biggest stages has been an arduous one.

“I feel so honoured to be here tonight,” the 35-year-old told the crowd, voice cracking, as she took to the piano for an intimate third act that saw her perform Chromatica fan-favourites ‘1000 Doves’ and ‘Fun Tonight’ live for the first time following emotive rendition of A Star Is Born’s ‘Shallow’ and ‘Always Remember Us This Way’. “I used to wonder whether I’d ever be here again… There was a time when I thought I couldn’t do this anymore, but you always reminded me of being brave and that this is more important than me.” 

If Gaga’s vocal prowess and charisma have made her industry force she is today, it’s her sincere connection with fans and outcasts that has made her a bona fide icon in the eyes of so many. “Just a reminder, this is a ball and everybody’s welcome here,” the singer declared moments before eliciting the biggest roar of the night with a rendition of ‘Born This Way’ that began as an emotional acoustic number before bursting forth into a balls-to-the-wall celebration that shook the very foundations of Stockholm’s Friends Arena. Say what you will about how well ‘Born This Way’ is aging sonically; to hear and see it in this setting is to be transported back 10 years to a time when the singer’s world-dominating success and uncompromising allyship felt like a true cultural shift for all queer people. 

By the time recent chart hits ‘Stupid Love’ and ‘Rain On Me’ rolled around, Gaga had comfortably clicked into her highest showman gear. The choice of Top Gun: Maverick torch song ‘Hold My Hand’ as an encore may have raised eyebrows when the setlist was first revealed but a monstrous, Freddy Krueger-style metallic hand and powerhouse vocal gave it the Gaga-ified spin it needed to confirm its place in fans’ hearts. As the singer jumped through a wall of flames into a show-closing knee-slide, it was with all the swagger of rock ’n’ roll’s greatest performers. Let it be known that Lady Gaga The Pop Star is back. And we’re all better off for it. 

Rating: 4/5

Tickets for Lady Gaga’s The Chromatica Ball UK stadium shows are on sale now.

Full setlist at Friends Arena Stockholm:

1) Bad Romance
2) Poker Face
3) Just Dance
4) Alice
5) Replay
6) Monster
7) 911
8) Sour Candy
9) Telephone
10) LoveGame
11) Babylon
12) Free Woman
13) Born This Way (Acoustic & studio)
14) Shallow
15) Always Remember Us This Way
16) The Edge Of Glory (Acoustic)
17) 1000 Doves
18) Fun Tonight
19) Enigma
20) Stupid Love
21) Rain On Me
22) Hold My Hand (Encore

Lady Gaga’s upcoming ‘The Chromatica Ball’ tour dates:

24/7 – Paris, FR – Stade de France
26/7 – Arnhem, NL – GelreDome
29/7 – London, UK – Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
30/7 – London, UK – Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
06/8 – Toronto, ON – Rogers Centre
08/8 – Washington, DC – Nationals Park
11/8 – East Rutherford, NJ – MetLife Stadium
15/8 – Chicago, IL – Wrigley Field
19/8 – Boston, MA – Fenway Park
23/8 – Dallas, TX – Globe Life Field
26/8 – Atlanta, GA – Truist Park
28/8 – Hershey, PA – Hersheypark Stadium
02/9 – Tokyo, JP – Belluna Dome
03/9 – Tokyo, JP –  Belluna Dome
08/9 – San Francisco, CA – Oracle Park
10/9 – Los Angeles, CA – Dodger Stadium
13/9 – Houston, TX – Minute Maid Park
17/9 – Miami, FL – Hard Rock Stadium