As I listened to ARTPOP for the millionth time last night, it occurred to me: Lady Gaga is perhaps the only current pop superstar whose live performances are both much different than her recorded material and equally as great. That brings us to today’s merry occasion: We’re counting down her 10 best live performances (that we can remember, anyway), and I think our #1 is as close to a sure bet as one can make. So in that case: Let’s have some fun, this beat is sick — let’s take a ride back through Gaga’s disco shtick.
10. “Marry the Night” on X Factor
Not only do I love Gaga’s vocals in this performance — in fact, all of her UK X Factor performances are spectacular — but I love her funereal getup. This is what Jinkx Monsoon would look like as a character in the final scene of Steel Magnolias. You know he’s imagined that scenario several times.
9. “Just Dance” the NewNowNext Awards
Gaga delivers “Just Dance” in her first-ever TV performance at the 2008 NNN Awards.
Gaga’s first performance on American TV was this jolty, disco stick-aided trip from Logo’s own NewNowNext Awards. Look, I love this woman always, but I have a particular fondness for her early days of robo-kicking and bedazzled sunglasses. Or are they becrystaled sunglasses? Whatever they were, they ruled, and she proved her professionalism by powering through this jam while almost losing control of her most famous prop.
8. “Poker Face,” Chicago’s B96 Radio Station
Gaga foreshadowed her own superstardom in 2008-’09 by giving us tons of different, weird, loopy, yet amazing live versions of “Poker Face.” Who else can trick out their own catalog this way? This “Poker Face” reboot is my favorite: a tempo-changing, accent-heavy cabaret version complete with hilarious gesturing. She’s proving she can do anything and remain cool, collected, and bizarre as she does it.
7. “You and I” (with Sugarland), Grammy Nominations Concert
For such a proud imp, Gaga is a remarkably adept duettist. Here with Sugarland, her anthem “You and I” becomes a countrified sensation. Both singers are killing it here, and the song feels more authentic than the album version.
6. “King of Pain” (with Sting)
“King of Pain” is just weird enough to be a perfect fit for Ms. Germanotta. The song’s hallucinatory imagery and world weariness sound refreshed and bad-ass when delivered by Gaga’s ferocious instrument. And hey: Sting sounds like he’s having a great time too. Do “Can’t Stand Losing You” next!
Though Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke garnered more headlines with their thrusty performance, Gaga’s show opener for the 2013 VMAs was a spotless, wickedly choreographed triumph. Love the career retrospective she squeezes into the rigorous dancing, and I really love that spooky, unwinking stare at the beginning.
4. “Poker Face”/”Speechless”/”Your Song” — Grammys with Elton John
If she wasn’t a legend before this nutty act, certainly her duet with Elton confirmed her status as an icon. After Gaga is sacrificed for being a monster, she emerges charred (and feathered) with Elton for a rousing medley of “Speechless” and “Your Song.” This is the kind of performance that makes me wish she will really play Laura Nyro in a biopic someday.
3. “Born This Way,” Grammys
The girl can move. Gaga vamps, vogues, thrusts, and communicates with extraterrestrials here, and I’ve probably rewatched it 30 times. She’s damn committed to her message, which could not be more explicit, and it’s hitting millions of viewers of music’s biggest night. We’ve got to love that.
2. “LoveGame”/”Bad Romance”/New York medley on Saturday Night Live
Every aspect of what you see here is perfect: Gaga’s unthinkable costume, her operatic vocals, her ability to stop and rivet the audience with even silence, and the ode to her favorite city at the piano. A landmark performance in SNL history and also Gaga’s.
Grandeur. Melodrama. Blood. These are Lady Gaga’s bread and butter, and they’re all on display in a wild piece of Kabuki theater in this, Gaga’s greatest live performance. She nails “Paparazzi” and starts haunting your dreams immediately with her wild convulsions and pained vocals. In the history of the VMAs, the only other performance whose greatness compares is Madonna’s “Vogue” homage to Marie Antoinette. That is lofty, legendary company, and no one would ever deny Gaga’s right to rank herself in such regard.