Lady Gaga on SNL: Much Better Than U2 on SNL

10/05/2009 8:58 AM |


I admitted last week that I was eagerly awaiting Lady Gaga’s appearance on Saturday Night Live this past weekend, and for a little while, it seemed she was going to let me down. Her first song (the much higher-profile of the two performances, obviously), was a mostly dialed-in version of “Paparazzi,” a song I find somewhat terrible under normal circumstances and completely infuriating when presented in a way that accentuates what is surely one of the more grating vocal performances in recent pop music.

For her second performance, though, buried somewhere around 12:50am, she did a medley of her earlier singles, snippets of a new song called “Bad Romance,” and some other stuff that I’ll get to in a minute.

To start, she stands in the center of the stage, wrapped inside a contraption consisting of a half a dozen or so concentric, moving circles. It doesn’t seem to be functioning properly, and it’s hard not to laugh. At one point it looks like she gets hit in the head, and it’s impossible not to laugh. It takes her a second to regain her composure. Even as she tries to sit at the piano bench, she struggles, the circles making it difficult for her to get comfortable. The music stops. She tries to adjust the microphone, which she’s having a hard time accessing because of the circles. She gets settled, flashes a smile and quickly gets back into what at this point I think we can call character. She starts to play piano and sings a verse of “Bad Romance,” before stopping abruptly, taking off her sunglasses, placing them on top of the piano and saying, calmly, almost sheepishly, “Hello, SNL.”

She continues with the “Bad Romance” chorus, now a bit more upbeat, and you immediately know it’s going to be a massive hit. She stops, though, and goes into another new song, which I assume was written specifically for the occasion: “Born in New York, in Lenox Hill of ’86/Cheered for the Yankees with my dad in Section 6./And after traveling, just dancing round the world/I still prefer a beer and whiskey with my friends on Rivington street.”

She’s killing it on the piano as she segues into a stripped down version of “Poker Face.” She’s done it like this before, but it’s a little weirder this time, somehow more aware of itself.

Then she stops again, smiles at the crowd and goes back to singing about New York, this time over a fast-moving, playful piano line. She misses the pretty girls, the cheap hot dogs on 72nd street. She sings, now slower, “I was just a waitress on Cornelia, now I’m living my dreams, baby, singing ’bout my poker face.” The piano speeds up again, she screams “New York!” and ends with the long, delightfully drawn out declaration that “It’s Saturday night.”

It is, hands down, the single strangest performance I’ve ever seen on Saturday Night Live, and I’d even venture to say it’s one of the best. Aside from the fact that she’s finally succeeded in making every single thing she does a major pop culture event (which is essentially what she’s been threatening all along) there’s something about the way her stupid contraption seemed to be broken, and how she fought through it—confidently, but not smoothly enough that you didn’t know she was fighting it–that’s becoming more and more endearing. That the very same person, the same victim of poor taste and even worse execution, could sit down at a piano a minute later and proceed to subvert so much of what playing SNL is supposed to be about, in a way that doesn’t seem particularly offensive or bratty is even more impressive. From breaking through the fourth wall and addressing the audience, or stopping to fiddle with her sunglasses, to playing a brand new song and one seemingly thrown together in a few minutes before the show—the whole thing could almost be considered disrespectful. And maybe it was (or maybe it would have been if SNL hadn’t known exactly what was going to happen, which I’m sure they did), but it was also celebratory and, in its own way, extremely gracious, cognizant of the night’s importance. It’s like she took a break from being Lady Gaga, a quick breather to give thanks and recognize what she’s accomplished. It would have been the least strange thing we’ve ever seen her do had she not done it on one of the biggest stages in all of pop music.

10 Comment

  • You know, I did like the changed-up format of her second song (that’s actually something I like about U2 being on the show, too, even when they’re playing boring/half-assed new songs — there’a a sense the producers will let them do what they want), but that gyroscope contraption annoyed me, maybe unduly. I feel like we’re supposed to find that incredibly charming or po-mo (like a lot of the actually-completely-uninteresting things that Gaga does) that she tried to sit down at the piano and manuever with her gyroscope to play right, but there’s a weird kind of self-regarding quality to saying, hold on, it is far more important that I play piano while sitting in this thing than to just take it off or not use it at all. That just felt calculated (and time-wasting) to me, although I applaud her efforts to break from the somewhat antiseptic nature of SNL music performances in general.

  • Are you kidding???? That “performance” of Lady Saturn Rings was the single worst thing I have EVER seen on SNL, including the crappy skits that are supposed to be funny! I think U2 made an otherwise waste of a show watchable for a night.

  • It was awesome. I always thought Lady Gaga represented everything talentless and awful in music… wholesale reevaluation.

  • Mike Conklin,you’re an idiot….before they played SNL,U2 had just played 4 stadium shows in 5 nights (2 shows at Gillette Stadium and 2 shows at Giants Stadium)
    and all shows are 2+ hours…..when Lady Do-Do has that kind of schedule we’ll see how good she does on live TV…..until then shut up

  • Are you for real. Listen she does have talent, but in the wasted state
    that the music business has become chooses to be a performing clown.

  • “… and goes into another new song, which I assume was written specifically for the occasion: “Born in New York, in Lenox Hill of ’86/Cheered for the Yankees with my dad in Section 6./And after traveling, just dancing round the world/I still prefer a beer and whiskey with my friends on Rivington street.”

    This is actually the stripped down version of “Poker Face” – she’s changed the lyrics, obviously.

  • It changed my mind as well. I was very surprised. I thought I hated her but this made me reconsider.

  • I can’t stand her popular stuff… Everytime I hear Poker face or that DREADFUL Disco stick song- I cringe. But then I saw an old video of her on youtube- pre Lady Gaga when she went by her name (the Stephanie something or other band) And I realized that she has an incredible vocal talent and is a great piano player as well. Which made me sad that she just turned into this horrible sell-out. Then when I saw her perform on SNL- I too laughed at that ridiculous contraption she was wearing- and rolled my eyes- ready to switch channels until the funny stuff came back on… but when she sat down at the piano and began to sing about NY- something stopped me. I loved it! I may be biased since I myself am a New Yorker, but she was actually singing from her heart and it was beautiful. I wish she sang more songs like this. I would have much more respect for her. The songs on the radio do not reflect her talent AT ALL.

  • C’mon America — geez. You call this music? You call this a performance? I swear, this is the only country where the wannabe’s get all the attention, and the GREAT MUSICIANS are unknown. Did you happen to see the a Capella performance of tone-deaf Toni Braxton, and the GREAT PERFORMANCE of MUSICIAN Katerine Jenkins at the NFL game in London last week??? They were in 2 different worlds. Every note that Toni sang was WAY out of tune (some notes probably were so flat, that a tuner couldn’t read it), and I wondered if she even practiced at all. …and then a master singer took the stage, and proceeded to embarrass her (it made me angry, because I figured that someone in the NFL would have enough sense to send a good singer, to a country that’s so rich in the arts). If I were going to same area where the LONDON SYMPHONY is, and I knew I was a crappy musician, I’d be “practicing” my tail off!
    That’s how you find out if the person can speak the language of music….take away the piano, give her a note name, then tell her to sing it. A musician can find any note, with no help….a musician can hear a chord and know what kind of chord it is. A musician can hear an interval, and know what kind of interval it is. A musician has mastered the basics. ….and let me tell you: the basics are REALLY hard:) I bet if I asked one of these wannabes to spell an F aug 6 chord, they’d look at me, like I was speaking Portugese or something. Then I’d proceed to say, “how about an easier one — write me a 4-part chorale, and modulate with a pivot chord.” I’d probably still get the same dumbfounded looks. Music is not as easy as people think it is. I’d rather take calculus than music theory:) It takes many years of INSANELY hard work to even approach mastering anything in music.
    This is why great American musicians are so arrogant. It’s because Americas don’t appreciate them. They know how hard they worked, and you don’t. Musicians live in the practice room every day……and wannabes like this may practice 1 hour/week.
    At least that’s what it sounds like. Compared to the MUSICIANS in America, this wasn’t even a performance. The writer of this article doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about, if he calls this wannabe garbage a musical performance. The only good performance I’ve seen on SNL was the episode where Adele had a chance to sing. She doesn’t have all the flashy garbage. She can hear notes, is sensitive to the mood of the song…..adjusts the execution of the performance to what she wants to “tell” the audience that day, etc. There are few entertainers in popular “music” who have any clue about music, and I can count them on one finger. This is entertainment, not music. Music is an ART, and it’s REALLY HARD to get it right. …and her piano playing is HORRENDOUS. In college, I knew an amazing pianist, who practiced around 7 hours/day….don’t tell me that she can play piano. Take it from a real life musician….I busted my tail to master my art, and noone knows my name, and what I can do on my instrument (and with composing), she’s nowhere near my league……b/c all people in America want to hear is this stupid garbage. She can’t speak the language of music, so how could she possibly be a musician??? If you want to talk MUSIC, let’s talk MUSIC. If you want to talk ENTERTAINMENT, let’s talk ENTERTAINMENT. ….or are we going to let little T-ball players play against major league baseball players now? Here’s some of handful of musicians in popular music:
    .Mariah Carey
    .Alanis Morisette(not the best singer, but man she really understands what she is doing….she’s great at musical expression)
    .Christina Aguilera
    .Amy Winehouse(barely)

    Cheers everyone, and this really isn’t meant to be offensive. …but if you can listen to a group like Chicago Symphony, then say you’d rather listen to Lady Gaga, you need to re-evaluate the meaning of the word “musician.”

  • I didn’t come here to comment on commenters, but this one begs it-
    “In college, I knew an amazing pianist, who practiced around 7 hours/day….don’t tell me that she can play piano. Take it from a real life musician….I busted my tail to master my art, and noone knows my name, and what I can do on my instrument (and with composing), she’s nowhere near my league……”
    And for all the records and sold out concerts the girl still has more humility than you’ll ever know. I play guitar- badly. Very badly. I also know some amazing guitar players, professionals- one used to tutor George Lynch back in the ’80’s, to give you an idea. Guys that good know that music is a creation of art much more subjective than calculus, they recognize the talents of others who may be lesser studied in theory, and they encourage them, not criticize them so harshly.
    Wise listeners of music also recognize that while they may not like a particular artist’s work that artist must have merit if they are hugely popular, you seem to one of those “legend in your own mind” people who insists the whole world must be idiots if they are buying Gaga’s records and not yours. Well you may know every chord in the book and every scale possible but nobody cares because you probably lack what Gaga has just pouring out of her, like no other today- and what Neil Young pulled off when he did a credible one note guitar solo in “Cinnamon Girl”: Original SOUL, baby.
    You’re bitter, being a superstar doesn’t require locking yourself in a room 7 hours a day, you need to be a well rounded person, and you didn’t understand that.
    Besides, TUBA? Do I read that right? WTF? Let me get my page of “bass player” jokes and sub “tuba” for ’em…. hmm… tuba players ARE usually “well rounded….”
    What I did come to comment on was the writeup. Mike, that was a gem. I wish I’d have seen the performance and can’t now because they pulled it for copyright, (what, the SOB’s think they own it or something? LOL!) but you put me right there. Good job. I hope Gaga is with us for a long time, she’s pure class. “Bad Romance” is her best single yet and while I am old enough to be her father I am in love with this girl. If I hadn’t tied a can to my wife years ago she’d be throwing me out right now.