Lady Gaga played a killer jazz gig at a house in Beverly Hills
The genteel duets album with Tony Bennett. The win at the Golden Globes. The Super Bowl performance in the red Gucci pantsuit.
For Lady Gaga, the climb toward show-biz respectability has been quick but thorough, a self-consciously radical shift from the gritty goth-glam excess of just a few years ago.
The latest sign of her embrace by high society arrived Monday afternoon when she was honored at the Grammy Museum’s annual Jane Ortner Education Award Luncheon. Held at the sprawling Beverly Hills estate of Ron Burkle, the billionaire investor and philanthropist, the private event recognized the singer for her “passion and dedication to education through the arts,” according to the Grammy Museum. An eighth-grade English teacher, Jonathan Bernal of Topaz Preparatory Academy in Hesperia, was toasted as well by the small crowd of education advocates and entertainment-industry types.
But if the ritzy setting and Lady Gaga’s tidy updo made you expect something refined, maybe even a bit sleepy, from her brief performance, she had a different idea.
After accepting the award with a rambling speech in which she thanked her earliest music teachers and managed to use a four-letter word, Lady Gaga gestured to the guys wearing dinner jackets behind her and said she was going to play “a couple of jazz tunes with my buddies.”
That was the cue for her pianist to crank up “New York, New York,” which she delivered with a kind of snarling vulgarity that called to mind Frank Sinatra much more than it did her courtly pal Bennett. For “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” she dug deep into the groove, practically doubling over as she swiveled her hips.
“Let’s Face the Music and Dance” was remarkably speedy, with echoes of Ella Fitzgerald at her liveliest. And before she sang “Call Me Irresponsible,” Lady Gaga dedicated the song to several executives from her record label who were in the audience, telling them, “I don’t know why you guys think I’m a good girl, but it’s really very sweet that you try and act that way.” The tune started out in a low-and-slow saloon style but quickly went big and bluesy; halfway through, the singer darted from view, then returned with her stockings ripped to shreds.
“I’m sorry about my outfit,” she said. “I ran into a guy backstage — he was a real animal.”
Lady Gaga closed with a song she said Bennett had encouraged her to sing, one meant to “celebrate our beautiful lives.” It was “La Vie en Rose,” and her rendition of the durable French ballad was simply stunning, probably the best I’ve ever heard her sound, with a masterful combination of intensity and control.
At the Oscars a few weeks ago, where she turned in a very powerful performance of her song “Til It Happens to You,” the newly polished Lady Gaga made me wonder if she was getting back in touch with the punky energy of her early days.
Now I know she is. And I’m excited.
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