Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Lady Gaga Concert, Taichung Taiwan

(The Born This Way Tour hits Tai-Chung Lu)
Like everybody there are certain things I am interested in and certain things that are as important as my socks. I’ll drive two hours out of my way just to take a picture of cloud formations I saw on the horizon, but won’t cross the street if there is somebody famous sipping chai in a cafĂ©. I suppose that means I miss things, but really, I don’t miss them at all.
(Are you a Lady Gaga fan? These park dancers have no answer)
In my book, Me Gook, I mention two cultural events that happened but because of living as an expatriate, I was spared the indignity of overkill. The first was the O.J. Simpson trial, which I only know the major players now due to the everlasting fumes of fame; and the death of Princess Diana, which lasted about a day on the front page of the South Korean times.
(Are you Lady Gaga? You have a sweet visor and arm gloves?)
These were tough misses, I believe, but ones I’m thankful for as I instead got to fully discuss the return of Hong Kong to mainland China or the bidding for the 2002 World Cup with my students.
(This kid is definately not, Lady Gaga)
But now things have changed, those were really pre-internet times in the developing world, but not today. Now I can’t help but be inundated with Casey Anthony updates or new releases on iTunes by the Glee kids. It’s sort of sickening, one of the reasons a person chooses an expatriate life is to get away from the madhouses of home, but one can never run far enough, can they?
(Now I've found you...)
I remember asking someone once who Marilyn Manson was, I had no idea. I’d seen him in a Japanese newspaper but couldn’t identify one song, and I might have seen him on TV, even in his height of glory, but still to this day can’t recall much about him. I guess that is a blessing, for along with Manson, I missed ALL of Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, and ‘N Sync (Is that how you spell it? I had to look it up) combined. Oh, those silver pop culture linings…
(Are you up there, Gaga? How many foreign English teachers does it take to disconnect an office P.A. system?)
But not so with this new monster of celebrity, Lady Gaga, who wouldn’t you know it, has arrived in our little Taiwanese city of Taichung to give a free concert. In fact, the concert was held about a km from my apartment. Her face is everywhere all over the city: Billboards, magazines, newspapers, leaflets, t-shirts, the news. She’s inescapable. So, I decided to break from my hermit ways and go see what I could see. Which means, going in search of Lady Gaga, or as she is known here... Lady Kaka!
(Believe me, these rice cookers wouldn'd know Gaga if she popped out of a moon cake)
At first, my students couldn’t believe it. About a month ago an overzealous Taiwanese promoter let it slip that the world’s most famous pop singer was going to come to Taichung, a city of roughly 2.6 million people and the third largest in Taiwan. But why? Capital Taipei has all the juicy influence, what would she be doing coming here? And to what venue? It would be like her playing Madison Square Garden one night and then going to the Hoboken State Fair the next?
(Footage from the concert... here she is)
Well… the plot thickens. Multiple reports are that due to this promoter’s slip up and the mass hysteria it caused, the people demanded their concert and got it, costing Mayor Jason Hu and his party about 12 million just to bring Mother Monster here. She was awarded the Key to the city (who knew we even had one) as 4,000 lucky album buyers were selected from a pool of others to attend the concert.
(Seriously, how many people can we squeeze into a small space... did we learn nothing from the Ala Nightclub fire?)
About 30,000 attended outside, or so it was reported, and I was one of them. I rode my bike through heavy and congested traffic and arrived about an hour into the show, climbing my way through the crowd like Zacchaeus, to a high hilltop perch surrounded by hundreds of hot, sweaty, screaming people all with camera phones held high in the air. Me too… I followed like a lemming, but after about one song I stopped, turned around, and started interviewing people.
(No, these stereotypes are not Lady Gaga)
I talked to a kid named Ben and his sister Louise, two cool Taiwanese university students that had studied in Australia. They both said Gaga’s music made them feel strong and powerful, like they could take on the world. I spoke to Yu-Chin, a 30-something bank assistant who said songs like Bad Romance and Born This Way helped her when she was sad or depressed (suicide rates are astronomical in Taiwan. Studies say 1 in 4 have contemplated suicide and 1 in 6 have attempted in some minor form or another. Source: ICRT news) But mostly I gravitated toward the Asian freaks. Posturing and posing with heavy eye makeup and claws. Pretty tame, mind you. I kept expecting some punk kid to ask me if I had any cloves? But poignant in their own way.
(No concert would be complete without a woman fainting. She was okay, probably just Gaga-ed out)
I’ve been writing about this now for years, but when you shove kids into rigid peg holes despite their various natural shapes, and you give them only one way to succeed, and influence them with only one way out, which is the bottom end of the hammer crowning their head, and you give them only marginal role models, like Filipino nannies and poverty stricken grandparents who work 70 hours a week, then you’re going to have social misfits. Plus, if you give kids no artistic heroes, no alternatives other than mainstream, well… then you’re going to have these wildly iconic stars of mediocrity. I mean, I’m not saying Michael Jackson (who was so popular here during his last visit that farmers started creating scarecrows of the King of Pop) is talentless, but it’s the only form of western art most Asian people gravitate toward. I mean, Richard Marx and Air Supply still tour Asia, you know?
(Keep dancing Asian Women in the park... you were born this way!)
So live on Lady Gaga, you’re message is well received. Be tolerant, accept others, call yourself sexy but have no real obtainable sexuality, be transformable in places that cannot transform… and people will flock to you and make you rich. Asia in this way, has become like Las Vegas to aging stars. I’m sure Celine Dion will leave her glitzy Caesar’s Palace gig someday to bring her Titanic songs to China for a sizeable cash sum, it’s just a matter of time. It’s like this concert going Peng-He told me, “Lady Gaga is the next Madonna.” Okay, great… if that’s all you aspire to, then that’s all you will know. So we see you Gaga. We see you clearly. I guess, we have no choice.

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