Everyone in the room is looking up. Lady Gaga’s Enigma residency has only been in session for a month, but it’s been documented enough—by fans, reviewers and the show’s official Instagram account—that only amateurs would think she’ll enter the stage from the wings, like a normie. No, in this instance, she’s going to descend from the heavens, or, more prosaically, the dimmed ceiling of the Park MGM’s Park Theater. And then there she is: spiraling down on a wire like it’s Ocean’s 1: Gaga, disco-ball reminiscent in a mirrored, skin-tight jumpsuit, coaxing the plump opening riff of “Just Dance” from a keytar.
Las Vegas is all about things that are big: giant fake pyramids, dripping piles of gambling chips, margaritas so immense you can only hold one. But despite its seating capacity of 5,200, the Park Theater feels small. We’re all friends here. Put out your hands and touch Gaga; it feels like you could. Later in the show, Gaga picks up a fan letter and reads it aloud. It says, with the help of Google Translate, I have too much to say. It says, You saved my life. It says, Can I afford to ask you, Gaga, for a hug. Gaga, born Stefani Germanotta, raises her head with gentle surprise. “Yes,” she says, like it was obvious. Now the space feels even smaller, a chamber created purely to bathe us in that embrace.
Lady Gaga has had a banner year. Apart from embarking on her two-part Vegas residency—the flashy Enigma has a pared-back companion show, Jazz & Piano—she’s won three Grammys and received two Oscar nominations, mostly for her acting and musical contributions to hit film A Star Is Born. Together, A Star Is Born and Enigma have provided new platforms for the pop star to showcase who she is. The two works converse with each other, speaking of Lady Gaga’s deepest dreams as well as reiterating her persona’s core quality: vulnerability.
A Star Is Born is a tale of huge success and personal suffering. It has been iterated over and over—this is the fourth movie version—and in some ways it has little to do with Gaga. Certainly, though, Gaga’s character, the hardscrabble music devotee Ally, is an avatar for a version of herself, with her piano ballads and public pain; the film’s soundtrack has her fingerprints all over it.
But perhaps even more than any part of A Star Is Born itself, its press cycle, which has lengthened as the film garners award-season momentum, has shown us a tremendously earnest and pleased woman—one who’s been learning how to act since she was 11, one who unashamedly trots out the same truism time and again to describe working with co-star and director Bradley Cooper. Being recognized for her on-screen efforts stokes a particular fire in Gaga: In her speech at ELLE’s Women in Hollywood event she said she feels “like a fetus” in Hollywood, and that thinking of her nascent acting career made her feel exposed. The press cycle has exposed her brand of openness to a broader audience, if it can be said that one of the biggest American pop stars could achieve a yet larger platform.
From her outsider aesthetic, both in her songs and in her look, which has snared her fans (or “Little Monsters”), to the revealing documentary Five Foot Two, Gaga’s interest in displaying the raw edges of her struggles is her calling card. Strange as it might seem for a concert that boasts pyrotechnics, neon costumes, bold choreography, and, in one extraordinary segment, a giant robot, Enigma (which I saw as a guest of Glamglow) revolves around the pop star sharing her own emotions and reassuring her fans that she honors theirs, too.
Enigma follows the loose narrative of a conversation between Gaga and her inner voice, which takes the form of an alien-like being named Enigma, projected on the back of the stage. It’s more an excavation of Gaga’s psyche than a story, strictly. To start, a seeming technical malfunction spurs Gaga, in character as a version of herself, into an irritated confusion—”Yo, what happened to the music?”—and the animated, alien-like Enigma appears, projected on the back of the stage: “I am the mystery of you. I am the parts of your brain that you don’t understand—the parts of you that feel misunderstood.” The script so cartoonishly outlines the concepts of self-love and reflection that the dialogue often prompted ripples of laughter.
But it isn’t designed to be funny or even winkingly explicit. The show’s narrative doesn’t really make sense, and that’s how you know she’s serious; there’s a real baldness of purpose to the whole spectacle. Enigma sees Lady Gaga playing preacher, using herself as a cautionary tale. In confessional mode, she explains, “My enigma is my inner voice. If you stop listening to yourself, you can’t see the future; you can’t process your past. I don’t know who I’d be without her.” Divulging what’s going on inside her own head, she encourages everyone else to grapple with the same.
The emotional focus of the show could seem cynical: How relatable can an A-list pop star claim to find us, or claim to be herself? People have built careers on being “a weirdo” before. But Gaga, at this early part of Enigma‘s run, anyway, seems to revel in her own gratefulness. It was hard to be sure from the seated sections, but she seemed to cry no less than four times, once when thanking her best friend, in attendance that night.
At this stage of her career, there’s no apparent need for Gaga to do a Vegas residency; she’s winning awards and pursuing Hollywood heights. Her position is far from stagnant or merely solid (the usual reason a performer might commit to the sure revenue of a casino stint). Rather, it seemed Gaga was fiercely happy to be there, spreading a gospel of self-understanding not only to the fans who love her, but also to the more casual concertgoer; someone who might just go and see whichever star was residing in the Vegas firmament (albeit for a minimum of $450).
It was a message she also took to the Grammys. In the show’s surprise opening, she talked about the persistence that got her to where she is. “They said I was weird, that my look, my choices, my sound, that it wouldn’t work,” Lady Gaga said. “But music told me not to listen to them. Music took my ears, took my hands, my voice and my soul, and it led me to all of you and to my Little Monsters who I love so much.”
Later, while accepting her third Grammy of the night, she chose to highlight A Star Is Born‘s mental-health plotline, ending with an exhortation: “If you see somebody that’s hurting, don’t look away. And if you’re hurting, even though it might be hard, try to find that bravery within yourself to dive deep and go tell somebody.” It sounded familiar; she said much the same during Enigma. We all know by now—”There can be a hundred people in a room…”—that Gaga doesn’t mind repeating herself. That’s because she’s doing it for you.
None of this one-way therapy is new to Gaga, who’s been Mother Monster to millions of screaming fans, united in their too arty, too weird alienation, for years. But other people, who didn’t care for meat dresses or McQueen alien shoes or relentless dance pop, are still just waking up to her ministrations. As she wound down the Enigma show, having thanked her friends and emptied herself of tears, she looked out into the audience. “Who’s never seen me live before?” she asked. “Welcome to the fucking party.”
Enigma is currently playing at the Park MGM’s Park Theater.