LivePLAY: Lady Gaga, iTunes Festival, London Roundhouse, 01/09/13

Untitled2Oh, boy. Oh boy, oh boy. We should have seen this coming. As with any Gaga performance, there should be the disclaimer: leave any expectations at the door. Perhaps if we’d listened to our own advice, we wouldn’t have faced the colossal disappointment of Gaga’s iTunes gig, debuting a smattering of bat-shit new songs from the forthcoming ARTPOP.

To her credit, she can put on a show. While that’s been evident since The Fame/Monster eras, it seemed absent in Gaga’s recent performance at the VMAs, which was perfunctory at best. The iTunes Festival performance restored some of that showmanship: Gaga appears as a bandit (or burqa mercenary, whatever tickles your halal pickle), launching into the quite frankly bizarre Aura. It’s an oddly produced song, certainly atypical, and not even remotely the chart-friendly Gaga we’re used to.

The assault continues with MANiCURE – while slightly more accessible than Aura, it’s still very far from vintage Gaga. Admittedly, a lot of these new songs suffer from the fact that Gaga isn’t in the comfort of a studio, but the translation to live show hasn’t quite been successful. Then again, songs like Jewels and Drugs (Gaga does hip-hop; you know there’s something wrong when you make Ke$ha look acceptable) and the woeful title track just don’t have the hooks to keep anyone attached. “Artpop could mean anything,” Gaga sings. At this point it means, well, ‘a little bit crap’.

In between songs, Gaga takes an age to change – slipping on shoes, changing wigs, talking at length about the ARTPOP process and what these songs mean. It matters little until she unleashes two genuinely brilliant bangers – Sex Dreams, in which Gaga aurally transforms into what can only be described as Lady Ciara, and the utterly fantastic Swine, complete with pigs in hazard suits dangling from the roof of the majestic Roundhouse. Both have the potential to be massive.

Swine is preceded by quite the heart-wrenching tale of Stefani Germanotta’s fall in a previous life – there’s talk of masks, wigs, outfits and, er, pussy. Tonight, supposedly, we saw the real Gaga. Her real hair, real stories, and a very real attempt at mixing art and pop across a range of genres. But what we’ve learnt from tonight’s gig is quite simple: most people quite like their popstars to be just popstars and, given the reception to the closing number, are happy for them to just stay the course and live for the applause.