Thoughts on seeing Kelly Clarkson and Lady Gaga at House of Blues

KELLY CLARKSON: Live at House of Blues, May 4 2009

"This show's going to be 97% gay guys... and, like, 3% fat chicks", said the guy next to me to his friends.  We were all waiting in an eternal line on Lansdowne Street, and as everyone around me started passing the booze amongst themselves, the "real talk" began, I suppose.  Of course, the dude couldn't have been more wrong, or it least it seemed that way from where I was standing during the show itself, once the House of Blues finally opened their doors and let us all in.  Ostensibly a free show, quizzically brought to us by The Grammys and T-Mobile, it was an odd pairing of two of pop's current leading ladies, and it really was astounding how well it all worked out. 

20 PHOTOS: KELLY CLARKSON + LADY GAGA | House of Blues, Boston | May 4

The wait for Lady GaGa to hit the stage was eternal; a DJ spun records and attempted to MC the event, to often humorous effect.  After getting the crowd to give it up for the stars of the show ("How many people out there love Lady Gaga?  How many people out there love Kelly Clarkson?"), he ground the festivities to a halt with his clearly-forced shill for the gig's corporate overlords: exhortations to "give it up" for the Grammys and T-Mobile didn't get quite the same response.  Finally GaGa emerged, essentially duplicating her House of Blues set  from almost exactly one month ago.  She really is a fascinating performer, and one really has to wonder if she is either going to respond to her meteoric fame with another battery of hits as massive as her Eurosluttish anthems "Poker Face" and "Just Dance", or if she is going to go in an artsier Laurie Anderson direction and completely alienate the plebes that just want some jams to get fucked up to. 

Judging from tonight's set, it could go either way: both elements of her musical persona were on display, from the crowd-pleasing dance diva to the inscrutably pretentious artiste dropping Warholistic musings on the nature of fame and dark magic into the set.  In fact, watching Ms. Germanotta tonight, I was struck by the unnerving similarities between her carefully manicured persona and that of 90's goth warlord Marilyn Manson, another heavily aestheticized frontperson who merged an obsession with the dark side of fame and celebrity with a shocking comfortability with wearing fishnets and showing off his posterior.  Oh well; if GaGa ever ditches the music thing, her statuesque dancer's physique and Roman nose will practically guarantee her a place in Berlusconi's Italian cabinet, should she so choose.  But for now, she seems to, at least at some level, understand what her public demands: after coming out for an encore and giving a long speech about her love of art and whatnot, she climbed up on her pedestal, struck a pose, and shouted, "I know what you're thinking, you're thinking 'Just shut up and play "Poker Face"!'"  Which we were.  So she did.


The second most adorable moment of Kelly Clarkson's set occurred early on, in the middle of a particularly belting run-through of "Behind These Hazel Eyes"; Clarkson turned the mic towards the crowd in the middle of a verse, and then swung the mic around to her mouth and said, mid-song, "Ok, that was cheating, I forgot the lyrics to that line."  This would be a pretty jolting honesty if it was coming from the stage mid-week at PA's lounge, let alone at a massive sold-out show by a two-time Grammy winner who has sold over ten million records.  But in a sense, that little moment kind of summed up why people love Kelly Clarkson so much: she's a certain type of Everywoman, a regular girl-next-door whose colossal pipes skyrocketed to stardom thanks to a televised singing contest.  More importantly, she has inundated pop radio for almost the past decade with hit after hit detailing one chick's travails with being flattened by heartbreak.  The result of all of this pop culture synergy is that if you see Kelly Clarkson in a live setting, one of the most potent and powerful voices in pop will inevitably be completely drowned out by the singing along of her crowd. 

The contrast with GaGa's set was fascinating: where GaGa was arch and formal, Clarkson was almost embarrassingly off-the-cuff (at one point practically blushing between songs while detailing her carnal crush on Wolverine star Hugh Jackman); where GaGa had a clear artistic vision of fashion and choreography, Clarkson came across as someone who probably does not relish being forced to dress up and be made up for the occasional formal moments that her career require of her.  Most importantly, GaGa came across as a wildly creative control freak who is currently riding high with the help of a team of assistants and creative directors (the collective that she dubs "Haus of GaGa") -- whereas Clarkson can't help but reveal that she is not entirely in control of where her career is going. 

After the cataclysmic success of 2004's Breakaway, Clarkson famously insisted on controlling her next album, writing the bulk of My December's dour meditations on the end of a relationship.  When the record bombed, it was back to superproducers, outside writers, and label control for Clarkson; the massive success of her new long-player, ironically titled All I Ever Wanted, must feel bittersweet for Clarkson.  Her introduction for new song "If I Can't Have You" was particularly shocking with its honesty: "This next song is one that I've really been fighting for, and I'm really hoping that this will be the next single, because I really love this song."  I found this moment to be really revelatory, mostly because one would assume that an artist of Clarkson's stature could at least decide, on her fourth album, which songs get to be singles, right?

KELLY CLARKSON: Live at House of Blues, May 4 2009

But you know what, who the fuck cares about that sort of thing.  Kelly Clarkson live is truly an exuberant experience: the audience is pumped, Clarkson has an amazingly awesome band behind her, and she's charming and sweet and obviously still a pretty nice person even after having been through a nearly decade-long stint in the modern music biz.  Which brings me to the most adorable moment of the night: after the first encore, an audience member in the front row cajoles Clarkson into answering his phone (a T-Mobile, naturally!) so Clarkson can talk to the woman on the other end of the line, who was unable to make the show.  Clarkson answers the phone, and says "Hi, this is Kelly.  Kelly Clarkson.  Oh man, I can't believe I said that-- like it's going to be a different Kelly, right?"  She really is *that* uncomfortable with any public display of ego or hubris, and it really is refreshing to see that on display in this day and age.  As the band got ready to play the last tune of the night, Clarkson told us "Look, my band will vouch for me that I don't say this every night, I promise: my life would suck without you, Boston!"  And as corny as that line was, I have to admit that I kind of bought it.

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