It's been a weird year for Lady Gaga. One year on from the release of her last album, Artpop, it's safe to say she's no longer the biggest name in music. The album sold reasonably well and her label probably aren't slamming their hand on the panic button just yet, but it's been a while since the once zeitgeist-defining popstar had a song, shot a video or wore a dress that really got people talking.
Admittedly, the pop landscape has been through some big changes recently. There is now much more of an emphasis on shock tactics – conversation starters, buzz moments, clickbait. It's ironic that the victim of this would be Gaga. She essentially created this culture with her meat dress and 10-minute pop videos. Now her genuine interest in music seems, well… old-fashioned.
But perhaps it's for the best that her relationship with the fame game has cooled. Gaga seems comfortable and confident in front of a reduced audience when she hits the stage in Newcastle. She strides out with the swagger, screams, 'Newcastle, put your paws up!' and bam – she has us hooked.
In a live setting you can really appreciate the genius and sheer sonic power of her most popular hits, particularly Bad Romance and Paparazzi, but some of the more recent songs seem just as strong with the full force of a live band and a troupe of lithe, lycra-clad backing dancers. Her last single G.U.Y is a surprise highlight, climaxing with her screaming and head-banging while the 'monster pit' (her name for the standing area) becomes more of a mosh pit.
You don't just come to see Gaga sing and dance. She's a famously talkative performer, striding the catwalk stage (which extends right out into the centre of the arena) to address her acolytes directly. The fans, known collectively as Little Monsters, throw gifts – mainly clothing for her to wear while she performs.
Gaga seems delighted with her presents, particularly a lovingly crafted Michael Jackson-style leather jacket, but she's in a contemplative mood. Rather than glossing over her lacklustre reception by the general public in recent months, she asserts somewhat defensively that the ArtRAVE experience is designed for her most ardent devotees, and anyone who has come to jiggle half-heartedly to the hits may as well leave. She rushes through Poker Face and Just Dance, both of which are stripped of their second verses.
At the show's peak, Gaga sits down at her piano. Her energetic hit single of 2011, Born This Way becomes a defiant pop ballad, and when she sings Dope – a tribute to her fans with a chilling subtext about addiction – you forget you're in an arena and feel more like you're sitting next to her at the bar. Her ability to make every member of the audience feel special and welcome makes her almost unique in the pop scene. She only performs a couple of songs from her more experimental second album – a shame, as it was her creative peak – but its fourth single, the lighters-in-the-air country rock anthem You & I, is transcendental in a live setting, showcasing her spectacular voice.
And yes, she wears her crazy costumes – sample outfit: a latex swimming costume with octopus tentacles, designed by North Shields-based artist Dayne Henderson no less – but it never feels like just a gimmick. This is a woman who is absolutely comfortable in an enormous wig and seashell underwear. That's just who she is.
Perhaps fame has always been a means to an end for Gaga. Now she can concentrate on what really matters. Regardless of what happens in the hit parade, she will always have her Little Monsters, her voice, and her love of music. And if her performance in Newcastle is anything to go by, it will always be an honour to see her perform.