During the opening ceremonies for the Baku 2015 European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan, pop chameleon Lady Gaga brought the house down with a theatrical cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine.”
Dressed in a flowing white dress and revisiting flower child aesthetics with a blindly hopeful tone, Gaga almost lulled everyone into thinking she was turning in a straightforward interpretation of the 1971 standard.
Three minutes in, she opens up the tab—singing in a higher register with Broadway dramatics, fireworks, and original lyrics that worked like “imagine it was simple.” T-rex doesn’t like to be fed, she likes to hunt.
If you can’t locate Azerbaijan on a map, don’t worry: neither can the event organizers. More than 50 countries are participating in the inaugural European Games in a nation with a poor human rights record. Amnesty International has criticized the proceedings: “Twenty two prisoners of conscience, including prominent human rights defenders, journalists, bloggers and activists, are languishing in prisons on trumped-up charges.”
English newspaper the Guardian was likewise barred from entering the country to cover the games, among other news outlets.
While Gaga’s performance is richly moving, it’s also a heavily controlled message that fails to reflect the values of the European Games’ host nation. She killed it—but so did Freddie Mercury when he turned out Sun City.
Screengrab via LadyGagaVEVO/YouTube