Well, that was a heck of a lot better than last year's opening.
Dressed (and acting) like a beer-swilling male greaser, Lady Gaga led her band and her dancers through a fiery rendition of "You and I" to open the 2011 Video Music Awards. As Brian May from Queen (!) took a long guitar solo, Gaga ended up atop her spinet, bellowing her head off and still holding pitch. Is there anybody left who doesn't realize how great a singer she is? She may have convinced the last few doubters tonight.
At the 2010 VMAs, Lady Gaga emerged from an egg to play a solid but unspectacular version of "Born This Way." Still working her Mother Monster angle, Gaga strode to an organ and played a snatch of horror-movie music. It was affecting, but a tiny bit perfunctory by Gaga's over-the-top standards. This year's appearance was anything but. She challenged the audience to find her sexy in drag, and for every two viewers who were flat out confused, there was at least one who was ecstatic.(Justin Bieber, for the record, looked utterly stupefied.) Gaga stumbled a bit on the piano, but her singing was so fully embodied and forceful that it didn't matter at all.
It helps that "You and I" is a considerably better song than the too-derivative "Born This Way." The track, which is Gaga's latest single, comes off as a cross between Beyonce and Def Leppard. On the Monster Ball tour, she performed a version of "You and I" at the piano that slipped into Elton John territory; the band did come in to rock it up, but outside participation was not strictly necessary. The version on "Born This Way" (and at the VMAs) is saddled with a heavy '80s arena-rock arrangement. The star has the chops to pull that off -- or anything else she wants to sing -- but it's always a bit of a disappointment when she decides to let her musicians in on the party. Solo piano, Lady Gaga: do it. You know it would be awesome.
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