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SXSW: Lady Gaga Plays Offbeat Set, Tells Fans ‘You Don’t Need A F–king Record Label’

Gaga's set was heavy on "Artpop" material — even, begrudgingly, its best known single, "Applause". The pop star spent much of her brief time onstage asking the crowd to live in the moment.

The humor of playing Austin’s most prominent barbeque joint was not lost on Lady Gaga. For her headlining performance at Doritos’ Bold Stage, temporarily held at Stubb’s before relocating to 5th St and Red River Friday and Saturday, Gaga entered the stage while simulating a pig roast on a life-size wooden spit.

Sporting knee-length blonde dreads, which whipped ferociously around her as she sang “Artpop” opener “Aura,” Gaga was quick to crack her own jokes. 

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“I’ve been having such a good time I didn’t even shower!” she said shortly thereafter, as if to explain her intentionally unkempt onstage look. “I’ve been drinking a lot and eating. Are you fucking hungry?? I’ve been having such a good time hearing music, I forgot to do everything this week. I forgot to get a manicure!”

Such a segue into her next “Artpop” album cut, “Manicure,” was a common one for Gaga’s hour-long set. Though she only played two bonafide “hits” from her catalog, “Bad Romance” and “Applause,” she spent the rest of the 60 minutes doing, well, what she wanted. “You don’t need a fucking record label, you don’t need a company you are the spirit of every artist!” she cried before introducing “Swine,” the neon orange Doritos logo shining brightly behind her. “Let’s fucking celebrate! This is the moment now! I won’t play by your fucking rules this our world!”

Of course, rules are what got all members of the intimate crowd (estimated capacity: 2,100) into the show in the first place. As part of Doritos’ #BoldMissions campaign (introduced by Gaga herself in an uncomfortably scripted video), all attendees had to complete various acts of boldness in order to secure entrance to the show. Such stunts ranged from surrendering your suitcase at the Austin airport for 48 hours to changing your relationship status on Facebook to something other than the truth to daring haircuts. Even journalists were asked to complete such tasks just to gain entry, a point of much debate among reporters like the New York Times’ Jon Pareles and a condition this reporter did not participate in. 

But the regulations seemingly ended there, as Gaga’s set was heavy on “Artpop” material — even, begrudgingly, its best known single (“And now, because we were told we really have to, we’re gonna play a song called ‘Applause,'” she said shortly before the brief encore.) Doritos executives were audibly disappointed with her set choices. “I paid [her] $2.5 million, I better hear ‘Alejandro,'” said one executive involved with the production, whose request went unfulfilled. A Frito-Lay spokesperson later told Billboard that the figure quoted was inaccurate, but declined to specify what actual talent fees were paid out.

Instead, Gaga spent much of her brief time onstage asking the crowd to live in the moment. “Do me a favor and don’t take my fucking picture, put your phone down,” she said after “Artpop”’s hip-hop highlight “Jewels N Drugs” (featuring an onstage cameo from Twista, no less.) “The best thing about South By is I see so many people just feeling music. Close your eyes, fuck your cell phone – fuck your friends instead!”

With Gaga’s residency at New York’s soon-to-close Roseland Ballroom just weeks away, her SXSW performance was predicted by some to be a preview of her upcoming “ArtRave: The Artpop Ball Tour.” But minimal production, adapted for the intimate setting, would suggest otherwise – though hopefully fans will get to see some version of the way Gaga performed “Swine.” The punk-dance song ended with the singer grinding against a British woman named Millie, who appeared to vomit black tar all over Gaga’s body, which the singer refused to wipe off her bikini-clad body for the remainder of the set. For an album and tour inspired by performance art, it was the one moment where music and shock value merged indelibly and credibly.

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Later, when introducing the for-the-fans ballad “Dope,” Gaga got even more candid. “Sometimes guys, when you’re not yourself it’s so much harder. It’s so much easier to be yourself than it is to be somebody else,” she said. “When you have to pretend to be somebody else you do things you don’t wanna do. It eats your soul inside and makes you do stupid shit. I wrote this song for all the things I’m sorry for. I’m so sorry to myself, that I don’t always be myself. But I’m gonna be myself today.”

Look for more similar self-empowerment messages at Gaga’s keynote speech at SXSW on Friday at noon (the first keynote from a woman in 15 years, as many have pointed out.) And, perhaps, another anti-technology-at-concerts screed such as this one: “I think we should just take this one moment and do that thing where you put your phones away and you just look at each other and just be right here. Because when you leave the world nobody’s gonna give a fuck what you tweeted or what picture you posted or what you caught. They’re not gonna care how famous I was, they’re gonna care about whose lives you saved, what people you touched. When you go home tonight, grab your guitar, grab your piano and don’t give up. Don’t let the machine and technology take you to a place you don’t belong.”