Maybe it’s because she fills her music with weighty ideas, or because those without BFAs remain intimidated by the world of high art, but Lady Gaga still doesn’t get enough credit for her sense of humor. Consider, for instance, that her new LP, ARTPOP, begins with a track that teases, “Do you wanna see the girl who lives behind the aura?” but follows with a love song that skips details on any potential suitor for an unprovoked lesson on planetary alignment. Or, more to the point, consider last night’s “artRave,” an event that turned Jeff Koons, Marina Abramovic, and Robert Wilson into glorified party hosts and began — began — with the singer staging a press conference at which she made the maiden voyage on what a Friday afternoon release dubbed “Volantis: the world’s first flying dress.”
Both an embrace and a send-up of the culture of purposeless — but described as world-changing — innovation, the dress was a plastic torso attached to an incredibly loud, fan-powered, hydroplane-like mushroom of a device that seemed to be less a waste of money than a purging of it. With Gaga strapped in, Volantis took off from a warehouse in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and, in three hops that lasted for a few seconds each and saw it rising maybe three feet into the air, ultimately touched down a few dozen feet closer to the north end of the same warehouse.
Gaga, for her part, seemed completely thrilled and completely serious by the underwhelming display. Addressing both Volantis and the new album, she explained to reporters, “I wanted to make today about something even more important to me: the youth of the world.” The answers that followed, mostly talking about how the brilliant ideas of young people can “change the world,” managed to be both dry and ridiculous, vaguely utopian but overly confident in the liberating power of technology, and just when the whole thing was beginning to seem more and more like a farce, she cannily explained that beyond whether the Volantis is ever mass-produced, “the important thing is about the possibilities.”
Whether or not witnessing this launch was worth standing for two hours in a cold, windblown warehouse next to the East River, this pre-event set the tone for the “artRave” that followed, a celebration of excess and an attempt to embrace everything and everyone. (Knowledgable partygoers estimated the tab at between $1.5 and $4 million, although the reason why original sponsor American Express jumped ship a few days ago was unclear; the event was livestreamed by Vevo instead.) The main event took place in a cavernous, elaborately outfitted second warehouse, with full bars and food trucks parked out back. Inside, six screens cycled videos of Gaga (under Abramovic’s tutelage) making faces; bound and hanging naked upside-down; and doing different tasks as slowly as possible. Other screens with images of Twitter and Instagram feeds updated as quickly as technology would allow; five giant Koons sculptures made both provocative conversation and a convenient place to dispose of your empty cups. The drag-queen-heavy crowd did not disappoint: At its best, it was like the all-star finalists of the Greenwich Village Halloween parade, big on white facial makeup, military splendor, Gaga-esque chains and other veil-type face-covering objects, and, among the less adventurous crowdgoers, car coats. (Check out photos of some of the more dazzling partygoers here.)
Beginning at around 9 p.m., the evening’s music initially leaned heavily on ’80s electro (e.g. Bambaataa, Strafe, Cybotron, and crews both Jonzun and World Class Wreckin’), and after she finished her set with a couple songs from Gaga’s latest, DJ White Shadow opened with one of his own tracks but put the brilliantly costumed bodies back in motion with a hip-hop and electro-heavy set. Rick Ross’s “Hold Me Back” brought the energy back, a trap remix of Knife Party’s “LRAD” followed, and by the time he was finished he had played everything from Martin Garrix’s “Animals” to Chief Keef’s “I Don’t Like” and a mash-up crossing B.I.G.’s “Juicy” with Sinatra’s “New York, New York.” No word on what Tony Bennett, the first star to coming strutting down the event’s remarkably cramped red carpet, made of this collision.
Gaga began her set at around 12:45 a.m., some 75 minutes after the live-stream was scheduled to begin. After several minutes of confused silence, she began singing from the back of the warehouse beside the nude Koons sculpture of her that adorns the album cover, dressed in a face-covering white costume that resembled a cross between a sock puppet and a mummy. As she sang “Aura” and “ArtPop,” she gradually made her way through the crowd to the giant stage. There, she transformed into a more characteristic white bikini-type outfit with spangly boots, performing atop a two-story-tall platform reminiscent of a rotating, oversize wedding cake; a live band and a battery of constantly vogueing dancers accompanied her. “Manicure” sounded particularly strong, its arena rock bearing traces of Toni Basil and Aly & AJ, “Gypsy” survived an overlong dedication to Koons, and “Do What You Want” made a perfect closer, culminating with Gaga mirroring the pose of the album cover sculpture planted on the opposite end of the warehouse.
Still, the most memorable line since the press conference was delivered a few songs earlier, when the star of the evening was in the process of introducing ArtPop album track “Sex Dreams.” “They said, ‘Gaga why did you throw the artRave?'” She elaborately threw a look over her shoulder and dropped into her dominatrix voice, replying: “Why not?”