Lady Gaga Opened Up About Touring – And How The Monster Ball Nearly Cost Her Everything

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Now heralded as one of the biggest pop acts of the 21st Century, Lady Gaga burst onto the scene in 2008 with the chart-topping The Fame. The eccentric superstar subsequently embarked on a world tour to support the record and its extended version The Fame Monster. But as Gaga herself admitted to years later, this particular show nearly cost her everything.

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The Monster Ball Tour kicked off at Montreal’s Bell Centre in November 2009. Hailed as the “first-ever pop electro opera,” the tour took in a further 119 dates across America. It also hit Europe, Asia and Oceania, before wrapping up at Mexico City’s Foro Sol more than 18 months later in May 2011.

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The follow-up to 2009’s The Fame Ball Tour proved to be a massive success. Not only did it receive glowing reviews from the music press, it also attracted approximately 2.5 million people in total. However, despite grossing a colossal $227.4 million, The Monster Ball Tour proved to be anything but lucrative. Here’s a look at how Gaga rose to fame and how her second global trek very nearly left her bankrupt.

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Born Stefanie Germanotta in 1986, Lady Gaga first began performing as a high school student. In her late teens she landed a place at the Tisch School of the Arts in New York. She made her first notable screen appearance in 2005 on Boiling Points, a prank show made by MTV. Shortly after, she abandoned her studies to pursue her musical ambitions.

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Gaga released a couple of EPs with a group named SGBand before going solo under her more familiar guise. Following a brief stint with Def Jam, she embraced burlesque in duo Lady Gaga & the Starlight Revue. But once again she soon went it alone when she signed to Akon’s Kon Live label. She then headed into the studio with hotshot producer RedOne.

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Debut album The Fame hit shelves in the summer of 2008. But it only gained traction several months later, when its lead single “Just Dance” reached the top of the U.S. Hot 100. “Poker Face” also achieved the same feat and later picked up a Best Dance Recording Grammy Award. Striking while the iron was hot, Gaga quickly released an accompanying mini-album named The Fame Monster at the end of 2009.

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First single “Bad Romance” continued Gaga’s winning streak, giving her a third Stateside chart-topper. After joining forces with superstar Beyoncé on “Telephone,” Gaga returned the studio to record her next record. Featuring the self-empowering title track, Born This Way arrived in in May 2011. Like its predecessor, it also spawned a multitude of hits including “Judas,” “The Edge of Glory” and “You and I.”

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Gaga added to her discography with a remix album and a festive EP to accompany her A Very Gaga Thanksgiving TV special. While recovering from a hip injury that cut short her Born This Way Ball tour, the singer began work on her third LP. Described as a “reverse Warholian,” the conceptual Artpop gave Gaga a second U.S. number one album.

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After parting company with longtime manager Troy Carter, Gaga changed tact for her next project. Abandoning the vibrant electro-pop she’d become renowned for, the star worked with legendary crooner Tony Bennett for a collection of jazz standards. Despite the dramatic change in sound, Cheek to Cheek added to her tally of number ones and received the Best Traditional Pop Album Grammy.

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Gaga continued to diversify, performing a The Sound of Music tribute at the Oscars. A year later she was nominated at the same ceremony for her soundtrack contribution to hard-hitting documentary The Hunting Ground. And she later picked up a Golden Globe for her turn as Elizabeth in the fifth season of American Horror Story.

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In 2016 Gaga returned to her day job with Joanne. Named in honor of her late aunt, the record featured an impressive list of collaborators including Beck, Mark Ronson and Father John Misty. Although it gave Gaga a fourth consecutive U.S. number one, it quickly tumbled down the charts. However, a triumphant performance at the 2017 Super Bowl helped to give it a second wind.

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Gaga subsequently headed out on a world tour to support the record. But she had to cancel its final leg after a number of recurring physical problems. These were documented in her behind-the-scenes Netflix special Gaga: Five Foot Two. Gaga then returned to the acting world as musician Ally Campano in the 2018 remake of A Star Is Born.

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Alongside co-star and director Bradley Cooper, Gaga earned rave reviews for her performance. She picked up a Best Actress Oscar nomination and at the same ceremony won Best Original Song for “Shallow.” The same track also reached number one on the U.S. Hot 100, repeating the chart-topping success of its parent soundtrack.

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In 2011 Lady Gaga gave an interview to the Financial Times in which she referred to the world trek she’d just completed. The Monster Ball Tour was initially designed as a series of joint shows with fellow musical icon Kanye West named Fame Kills. However, following his much-maligned gate-crashing at the MTV VMAs, the rapper decided to take a break from the industry.

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Undeterred, Gaga soldiered on without him for a solo tour featuring support from Kid Cudi and Jason Derulo. Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t exactly a stripped back affair. Indeed, speaking to Rolling Stone, Gaga revealed that she wanted to stage a “pop-electro opera,” but one that wouldn’t price out her loyal fans. And the staging was just one of many aspects where Gaga thought outside the box.

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Designed in conjunction with the Haus of Gaga, the diamond-like stage gave each audience member the same experience wherever they sat. Gaga told Rolling Stone, “So often you go into theaters and there’s ambient light flying in from all sorts of places… and the stage is in different shapes and lengths and widths and depths. So this is a way for me to control all the light and all of the different elements of the show.”

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Evolution was a central theme of The Monster Ball Tour. But Gaga also addressed the many demons, sins and paranoias that formed the basis of her The Fame Monster mini-album. She boldly claimed, “It’s going to be a truly artistic experience that is going to take the form of the greatest post-apocalyptic house party that you’ve ever been to.”

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The tour kicked off at the Bell Centre in Montreal in November 2009. And its opening number set the tone for all the theatrics ahead. Indeed, Gaga emerged from a laser-lit large screen dressed in a futuristic jumpsuit covered in bulbs and silver jewels. Shen then performed “Dance in the Dark,” accompanied by balaclava-wearing dancers.

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Gaga later performed “LoveGame” while dressed in something which looked like an extra-terrestrial ecto-skeleton. She also seemed to mimic Michael Jackson’s dance moves during her rendition of “Monster.” And while treating the crowd to “Boys Boys Boys,” she sported a red leather bikini surrounded by an all-male shirtless troupe kitted out in leather.

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And the theatrics continued. Gaga performed “Papa Gangsta” while reclining with open legs on a dentist’s seat. She faked her own death at the end of “Paparazzi,” before emerging reborn for “Eh, Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say).” Gaga concluded the spectacle dressed in a retro power suit while belting out her anthemic number one “Bad Romance.”

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The show received considerable praise from the press. The Guardian’s Kelly Nestruck wrote, “While The Monster Ball has nothing on the great operas or the golden age of musical theater, Lady Gaga’s ‘electro-pop opera’ is at least twice as entertaining and infinitely fresher than any stage musical written over the last decade.” Elsewhere, Rolling Stone’s Jeremy Adams noted, “Throughout the evening, Gaga… aimed for a kind of pop theatricality that might potentially cement her burgeoning status as performance artist.”

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But ever the perfectionist, Gaga still wasn’t entirely happy with how the show was going. In fact, she felt that The Monster Ball Tour had been created in such a rushed manner that she wanted to start completely afresh. As a result, fans who attended the tour from February 2010 onwards were treated to a whole new experience.

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“My team thinks I’m completely psychotic,” admitted Gaga to MTV about the tour’s revamp. “But I don’t f***ing care what they think. Well, just to give you an idea, the stage is about four times the size of the one we’re on now and conceptually, it’s completely different. One thing that has been lost over the past ten to 15 years in pop music is the idea of showbiz. And this is definitely going to bring that back.”

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So, what exactly was so different about The Monster Ball Tour phase two? Well, this time around the show was split up into four parts named City, Forest, Subway and Monster Ball. Opener “Dance in the Dark” was staged amidst a neon-lit Big Apple cityscape, with Gaga wearing a glittery outfit. The whole thing was designed more as a piece of musical theater than a typical pop concert.

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Other notable changes included Gaga performing “Beautiful, Dirty, Rich” at the same time as climbing scaffolding. She also delivered a rendition of “Alejandro” while splashing around in a blood-pouring fountain. Later, she eliminated the so-called ‘Fame Monster’ with the aid of pyrotechnic underwear. The show still climaxed with “Bad Romance,” only this time Gaga belted it out inside a large gyroscope.

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Luckily for Gaga, the reviews for the revamped tour were just as positive. New York Daily News’ Jim Farber wrote that The Monster Ball Tour “pushed Gaga a long way towards her obvious goal – to be the queen of this pop moment.” MTV’s James Montgomery was also impressed by its sense of ambition, writing that it was “packed with more wattage than an overheated power plant and more costume changes than a thousand Vegas revues.”

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And the monetary figures proved to be just as impressive. In fact, by the time the tour wrapped up at Mexico City’s Foro Sol in May 2011, it’d pulled in an almighty $227 million and been seen by approximately 2.5 million people. This made The Monster Ball Tour the highest grossing of all time by a debut headlining act.

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Those fans who couldn’t make it to one of the tour’s 203 shows could watch it from home. Indeed, in May 2011 HBO screened Gaga’s performance at New York’s Madison Square Garden, as well as some backstage footage. The show was nominated for five Emmy Awards including Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Special.

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But Gaga’s perfectionist streak came at a definite cost. Despite The Monster Ball Tour raking in a colossal amount of money, the Oscar-winner revealed in 2019 that it had actually left her out of pocket. In fact, Gaga found herself with debts of $3 million after concluding the money-spinning tour.

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Of course, there were several reasons why Gaga managed to rack up such a costly bill. Firstly, there was the whole host of custom-made eccentric outfits she’s become renowned for wearing. And then, most notably, there was the decision to completely revamp the entire tour just a few months into its lengthy run.

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In a 2011 interview, Gaga revealed that she wasn’t actually aware of her dire financial straits at the time. She told the Financial Times’ guest interviewer Stephen Fry, “I remember I called everybody and said, ‘Why is everyone saying I have no money? This is ridiculous, I have five number one singles.’ And they said, ‘Well, you’re $3 million in debt.’”

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So, how did Gaga fail to realize that she was spending money like it was going out of fashion. Well, the pop superstar claimed in the same interview that she doesn’t place that much importance on dollar signs. She told Fry, “It’s honestly true that money means nothing to me.”

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Gaga continued, “The beauty for me about being an artist is that the dream will never die. Because I’m not obsessed with material things and don’t care about the money and don’t care about the attention of the public, but only the love of my fans. So for me it’s about how much more devoted, how much better an artist can I become.”

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In fact, at the time, Gaga claimed that she’d only ever spent big twice since becoming a worldwide pop sensation. She told Fry, “The only big things I’ve purchased are my dad’s heart valve and a Rolls-Royce for my parents, for their anniversary.” And this latter purchase was apparently only made because of Gaga’s foe: the paparazzi.

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Gaga explained to Fry that she had to splash out on a Rolls Royce for her father due to safety reasons. She said, “My dad had a Lady Gaga license plate on our old car and it was making me crazy because he was getting followed everywhere. So I bought him a new car.”

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Thankfully for Gaga, her dire state of financial affairs didn’t last too long. In fact, she soon got back into the red due to the tour’s HBO screening, not to mention a lucrative stadium deal with Live Nation. And she was later listed fourth in Billboard’s list of 2011’s highest moneymakers, with reported takings of no less than $25 million.

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And the money has continued to pour in ever since. In 2018 Celebrity Net Worth estimated that Gaga was worth approximately $300 million. That same year Forbes magazine reported that the pop superstar had raked in roughly $50 million in its first six months alone. And Gaga looks set to become even more financially secure as she enters the new decade.

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In late 2019 Gaga launched Haus Laboratories, a new make-up line aimed at the vegan market. She also headed into the studio to work on her sixth LP with producers such as BloodPop, Sophie and DJ White Shadow. Gaga will add to her filmography, too, having signed up to a crime drama helmed by Ridley Scott.

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And then there’s the final leg of her Las Vegas residency at the Park MGM’s Park Theater. Gaga first took to its stage in December 2018 for Enigma, a pop spectacle featuring her most cherished songs. And she’s since alternated between this hit-packed show and Jazz and Piano, a more intimate affair featuring Great American Songbook standards.

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Gaga will conclude her residency in May 2020, having broken all kinds of Vegas records. She’s surpassed the likes of Britney Spears, Shania Twain and Jennifer Lopez to achieve the highest ever opening gross for a pop artist residency in the city. These earnings also helped Gaga become only the fifth female in music history to rake in half a billion dollars in ticket sales.

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