Ever since she burst onto the scene in 2008 with ‘Just Dance’, Lady Gaga has referenced and emulated David Bowie, so it seemed only fitting that she was the one to pay homage to the late, great pop icon at the 2016 Grammy Awards.
Teaming up with Bowie’s old friend and collaborator, Nile Rodgers of Chic, she ran through a fast paced medley of ten of the White Duke’s most famous songs. The mashup did not feature any tracks from his final album Blackstar, released two days before his death on 10 January 2016; instead focusing on his more well-known hits from the eighties and nineties.
The performance started with a powerful, moody rendition of ‘Space Oddity’, with Gaga’s face projected onto the big screen with Ziggy Stardust style visuals, like moon and lightning bolts. She then swept across the stage in a white and red silk cape as she moved into ‘Changes’, which was soon ripped off to reveal a feathered and bejewelled jumpsuit for her performance of ‘Ziggy Stardust’.
Gaga then moved to a huge, see-sawing keyboard where she broke into ‘Suffragette City’, accompanied by dozens of digital spacemen on screen. The performance really picked up pace at this point, with both performer and her band dancing around the stage in a frenzy.
This then transitioned into ‘Rebel Rebel’, with Gaga strutting across stage to a steel microphone. It was at this stage that the performance began to lose its thread a little – she could have just as easily been paying tribute to Elvis with her gyrating hips and swaggering movements.
A flurry of backing dancers then took to the stage to circle Lady Gaga as she took on ‘Fashion’ and ‘Fame’. Unfortunately, this segment is more likely to summon memories of karaoke at your local pub than the electric stage presence of David Bowie.
Nile Rodgers then joined her under the spotlight for a bass-fuelled medley of ‘Under Pressure’, ‘Let’s Dance’, and ‘Heroes’ to finish. Rodgers seemed happy to let Gaga take centre stage as she twirled and stomped her way through each number, finishing with a spin as the crescendo reached its peak.
There were mixed thoughts on the tribute to a man who meant so much to so many – including Gaga, who was inked with a tattoo of Bowie’s face a few days before she took to the stage. His son, Duncan, tweeted a cryptic – and potential thinly veiled dig – about the performance, referencing the Oxford Dictionary definition of ‘gaga’:
“overexcited or irrational, typically as a result of infatuation or excessive enthusiasm; mentally confused.” Damn it! What IS that word!?
— Duncan Jones (@ManMadeMoon) February 16, 2016
However, others disagreed and came forward to show their support for the entertainer’s tribute, with one supporter tweeting:
@ManMadeMoon She honored your father In a way no other artist would.
— Jonnathan | Gaga (@HausOfJonnathan) February 16, 2016
Bowie’s back catalogue is too mammoth to try and pay homage to with just a swift collection of choruses and costume changes – a high voltage rendition of a track such as ‘Suffragette City’ or ‘Changes’ followed by a heartfelt classic like ‘Space Oddity’ would have perhaps done a better job than the slightly flashy, over-theatrical performance we were treated to.
Ultimately, Gaga’s performance toed the line between eccentric and completely ridiculous, but it fell short of the star power that we expect from a Bowie medley. Then again, no-one but Bowie could do such a performance justice.