It’s not every day that you get a reference to an Ingmar Bergman movie and avant-pop iconoclast Klaus Nomi in a pop performance, but that’s what Lady Gaga gave viewers Sunday of MTV’s Video Music Awards in the live debut of her latest single, “Applause.”
Though the song is nothing special in a catalogue chock full of good and some even great, multidimensional singles – hey, “Applause” reminds us, she lives for that audience approval, don’t you know ?—Gaga gives good spectacle, and was in may ways the ideal choice to kick off an awards show that really isn’t about the awards at all, but the visual dazzle that goes with them.
In a handful of minutes, Gaga went gaga with the costume changes. She went from austere imagery – popping out of a disembodied Nomi-like doll outfit with flowing white robe – into a black, capped leotard that evoked Bergman’s art-house classic “The Seventh Seal.” Intentional or not, these images took the eye candy of most pop videos a couple clicks deeper than the usual pole-dance clichés.
Then she was off into a third costume – a blue neon jacket with blond wig, executed with the help of an army of black-clad dancers, and more. There was another yellow wig, war paint splashed on her face, and finally a thong, clam-shell bikini with boots and flowing Tina Turner-style wig. She executed some precise dance moves with her ensemble, and lip-synched some pedestrian lyrics. Tucked inside all that moving scenery, there was a new song, I’m pretty sure. Who cares? It’s the VMAs – where it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t at least hit “ridiculous” on the watchability meter.
The other major VMA event was Justin Timberlake’s reunion with his old megamillion-selling boy band, N’Sync. In the midst of a long set of solo hits, Timberlake brought N’Sync members Joey Fatone, Lance Bass, JC Chasez and Chris Kirkpatrick out of obscurity to accompany him on snippets of “Girlfriend" and "Bye Bye Bye.” Then they slipped back out of sight while Timberlake continued an extended run through his solo repertoire. Just as Beyonce did with her old group Destiny’s Child at the Super Bowl halftime last February, Timberlake reduced N’Sync to footnotes in his career retrospective