Fame Monsters

Michael Bilsborough on Lady Gaga and Terence Koh in Tokyo


Left: Actress Rinko Kikuchi (right) at the GAGAKOH! show in Tokyo. Right: Lady Gaga and Terence Koh. (All photos: Michael Bilsborough)

“NEO-TOKYO IS is About to Explode!” ran the immortal tagline for Katsuhiro Otomo’s seminal Akira. But it also could have described the hyperbolic anticipation for what was easily the most exclusive ticket in Tokyo last Tuesday: GAGAKOH! (A portmanteau—you know, like Brangelina.) For the event, M·A·C Viva Glam and KCD Worldwide (the special-event experts also behind this week’s Jeanne-Claude memorial at the Met) convinced a new club, Tabloid, to launch their new space with a special performance for nine-hundred guests, each as preciously selected as a six-thousand-yen mango at the Takashimaya gourmet grocery.

Lady Gaga, current M·A·C Viva Glam spokeswoman, brought Terence Koh into the project after doing two other design collaborations with him: the double-headed piano for her duet with Elton John at the 2010 Grammys, and the be-mannequined Baldwin piano she played in February at the Gala for amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research. In Koh, Gaga seems to have found her flamboyant and press-hungry art-world counterpart. Or as she illustrated for me: “When I’m around Terence I just want to poop out art ideas nonstop.”

Their mutual embrace strikes Koh as unusual: “The art world is a bubble that, like the fashion bubble and the music bubble, is just not ready to fuse into a new bubble.” Go on, Terence: “Art is a diamond. The rest is just soft, silk pillows for art to tear apart.”

Left: Artist Cyprien Gaillard. Right: Dancers for GAGAKOH!

The mostly silk-pillow audience nevertheless seemed into the art. Among the fashion vanguard, club-kid elite, and music cognoscenti were Yoshiko Mori, chairperson of the Mori Art Museum, and Mori assistant curator Reiko Tsubaki. And what party would be complete without US Ambassador John Roos?

Guests also included actresses Rinko Kikuchi and Riisa Naka, pop star Crystal Kay, and sumo wrestler Baruto Kaito, recently promoted to ōzeki ranking. More familiar to the artsy stateside crowd, perhaps, was gaikokujin Cyprien Gaillard, who was in Japan to shoot a video. He was also nursing an ankle he sprained when he fell from a tree. “Today, I bought a new cane,” he boasted.

For GAGAKOH!, Koh repatriated the mannequin piano, crowning it with a five-foot-tall papier-mâché bunny head—Koh’s “spirit animal.” Despite a late start, the show was otherwise seamless, but hung by a thread. Koh, inspired by a stately Shinto wedding procession at the Meiji Temple, decided to unplug his original vision—the day before the event. “I wanted something by the Japanese and for the Japanese,” he said. So Koh ordered a traditional bridal headdress and a new batch of fabrics, which sent the production team scrambling through Tokyo garment shops. (Even this writer had to help by consoling his battle-torn boyfriend, who worked on the show.) “It’s like an episode of Project Runway!” cried the stylist, who was filling in for another, grounded in Paris by Eyjafjallajökull.

The result was a ceremonial convoy beginning outside Tabloid, in which four chiseled studs in tighty-whiteys and bunny masks led Gaga and Koh—veiled and silent—into the club. The ephebes ushered them onstage and through the striped curtain that hung from the ceiling, three stories above.

Left: The show. Right: An audience member of GAGAKOH!

The crowd cheered as the curtain ascended and the stage began to revolve. Gaga opened with “Speechless,” while Koh joined in with atonal vocals sung in the “secret” language he rapped for Art History: 1642–2009, his pedagogical slide show at Performa 2009. Koh’s yodel sounded about as compatible with Gaga’s melody as fans’ graffiti on her new Hermès Birkin. Between verses, Gaga teased Koh. “I can’t understand a word you’re saying!”

Was he putting asunder the art and entertainment bubbles that industry gods had joined together? “All I was thinking was, ‘I sound like a horse and Gaga sounds like a magical angel,’ ” he later confided. “So that makes it art.”

During “Alejandro,” the muscle boys thrusted and writhed until two dancers finally stalked toward each other and locked lips. It was steamy—and more than welcome—but nearly passé amid the other dancers’ overt go-go erotics.

Gaga concluded with “Bad Romance,” and the music simmered to a pulsating bass drone. The dancers slavishly delivered long fluorescent tube lamps to Gaga and Koh, then crawled away. Koh resumed his pseudo-Gregorian crooning, while shuffling toward Gaga like a blind man. He filed behind her, pressing as if asexually consummating their union. The lamps formed into a cross, and artificial snow and cherry blossoms fluttered down from above. “The silk-pillow snowstorm killing everyone” was Koh’s take. Sure, though I thought it was rather pretty.

Left: Keith Baptista of KCD Worldwide and Jenne Lombardo of M·A·C Cosmetics. Right: Lady Gaga and Terence Koh.

Left: Women from the M·A·C Cosmetics team. Right: An audience member at the GAGAKOH! show.