Lady Gaga and Ricky Martin both preached similar messages of tolerance and self-pride at their respective shows at Miami's American Airlines Arena, separated by only four days in mid-April. Both shows -- Lady Gaga's "Monster Ball" and Martin's "Musica + Alma + Sexo" (Music + Soul + Sex) -- were equal parts music and dance-filled Broadway revue, replete with costume and thematic changes. And both shows featured musicians whose performances were often more spectacle (far moreso Gaga) than concert.
And yet, the contrast between two like-minded pop acts at very different stages in their careers was striking.
Both Martin and Gaga punctuated their shows early on with messages of tolerance; literally, there were written messages flashing on the screens. This is to be expected from Gaga, who in her short career has been vocal on the subject of individuality, particularly now in the wake of "Born This Way."
Ditto, of course, for Martin, who after very publicly coming out speaks openly on gay rights and anti-discrimination as a whole, both in interviews and in his music.
Video: Ricky Martin performs in Miami
Still, it can take Martin fans who've followed his shows for over a decade a minute or two to get used to such public advocacy on the entertainment stage, particularly because Martin opens his show with a bang in this respect. The very first number -- "Too Late Now" -- is played out in a three-story metal structure compartmentalized in cells from which Martin and his dancers perform in leather and open shirts. Later in the show, a vignette featuring one of Martin's dancers celebrates gay pride, while in another, his guitarist, David Cabrera, speaks about racial discrimination.
This makes the show no less entertaining. The variety of repertoire and delivery -- from the stylized "Livin La Vida Loca," to the flamenco-ized "Maria" to the acoustic ballads by the piano -- prove Martin to be truly the consummate showman, and one who can keep his repertoire relevant through the years. Martin, however, is a man on a mission. For the first time, he is totally himself on and off-stage, and his show is congruent with his new openness: his coming out, his biography, his family and children. Even with all the entertaining, it's impossible to miss his point.
Video: Lady Gaga performs in Miami
Gaga, on the other hand, can be more whimsical; her sets are more playful, and there is a storyline to her show: The travails of getting to the Monster Ball. Sure, there's messaging, and impromptu conversation with the audience even (something that connects at a very visceral level with fans of all ages), but the end result is less in your face, particularly for an audience that's much younger; in Miami, roughly half the fans at the Arena were tweens and teens, far more interested in the show than the subtext. In the end, despite Gaga's "be proud, you can do it rhetoric," what you're left with is the sense that you saw a really fun show.
Martin's audience is older -- most were 30 and over -- and doesn't miss a beat. Here is the artist they've grown up with, but now, he has new priorities and wants to make sure everybody knows about them. He's no less entertaining -- in fact, he may have never been as compelling onstage as this time around, plus his voice sounds great -- but he needs to make sure fans see and feel the substance beneath his toned muscles.
After Martin's concert, I went home and watched the "Livin La Vida Loca" video of 1999. What most struck me wasn't Martin's youthfulness but his nonchalance. He really was livin' la vida, much like Gaga was trying to get to that ball.
It'll be interesting to see where and how Gaga stands 11 years from now.