By the time Lady Gaga reached the top of the Met’s steps, having gone from a hot pink Brandon Maxwell parachute dress to a glitter bra, panties, and 10-inch boots, the joke was obvious: we can all go home now. The pink carpet had been won. No one could top Gaga, the sartorial Matryoshka doll.
But damn if they didn’t try. After Gaga retreated to the safety of the museum’s interior, more celebrities—presumably stuck in their cars during her strip show—arrived in similar fashion.
Billy Porter, regal as ever, did his best Elizabeth Taylor-as-Cleopatra, clad in a gilded, winged jumpsuit, carried on a litter by an army of shirtless Broadway actors. “The Category Is: Old Testament Realness,” Porter clarified on Instagram.
Jared Leto, in a crimson red Gucci robe, carried a replica of his own severed head, which he threw to Sean Mendes. (Typical Monday night in Leto-land, one would imagine.)
Zendaya arrived as Cinderella, her periwinkle dress liting up and changing colors at the flick of a wand operated by her longtime stylist, Law Roach. Then, just when you thought the whimsical spectacle was over, Zendaya went and lost a slipper on the steps—adorable.
Janelle Monáe wore an (exquisitely crafted) Christian Siriano gown that channeled the Mad Hatter, complete with a feathery eyelash batting over her breast. Tracee Ellis Ross cheekily put a picture frame over her face and called it a night.
Katy Perry waltzed around in a 40 pound chandelier ensemble that made one marvel at both her stamina and apparent history knowledge. The tiered look was a dead ringer for the famed “fountain dress” Paul Poiret made for the Italian socialite Marchesa Casati in 1920.
Speaking of Marchesa, the fashion label, Georgina Chapman, the ex-wife of disgraced mogul Harvey Weinstein emerged for the night to dress Crazy Rich Asians star Constance Wu. It was Chapman’s first red carpet appearance since 2017, and a performance of its own—though much less fun-to-watch than Gaga’s hammy choreography.
A Daily Beast investigation last year found a series of connections between Marchesa and a company listed on court documents as “doing business as” Marchesa—one that may have been directly linked to Weinstein himself.
On the red carpet last night, Chapman smiled for the camera ever-so-angelically in non-threatening latte brown lace, hair coiffed in a pristine, Kate Middleton-y blowout. Attached at Wu's hip in a display of interpretive girl power, Chapman silently asserted that it was back to business for her brand.
Last night's antics have red carpet precedent. Lady Gaga is no stranger to crafting memorable award season entrances, especially when she works with longtime stylist Brandon Maxwell.
In 2010, she wore an infamous meat dress to the MTV Movie Awards, but that was more statement-making than performative—Gaga just stood, cloaked in tenderloin. A year later, she arrived to the Grammys carried in an egg vessel, which she reportedly spent 72 hours in as part of the “creative process.”
Other attempts at red carpet performance art have swung more comic than camp. In 2012, Sacha Baron Cohen, dressed in full, faux regalia as his character from The Dictator, spilled the “ashes” of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il on an unsuspecting Ryan Seacrest. (Cohen was promptly escorted off the premises.)
Amy Schumer face planted in front of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian at the 2015 Time 100 Gala. Schumer would later tell Time that the prank was unplanned. “I saw them and said to my publicist, ‘Can I pretend to fall?’ and she said, ‘I can’t stop you,’” the actress explained.
Given that visual culture has become more GIF-oriented of late, it makes sense that attendees would ditch the step-and-repeat format for do-wacky-things-and-repeat.
As Robin Givhan wrote in the Washington Post after the 2018 gala, which featured Rihanna dressed as the pope, “The point isn't to look good. The point is to win.”
Last night's parade injected some much-needed fun into an evening that has, in recent years, become a competition of who can look the best nearly naked or the put on the freakiest headdress.
But will these sparks of true inventiveness become the expected? Will the Kardashian-Jenners get on board with performative fashion and stage their own dance of the seven veils, sponsored by FitTea?
Some of the night’s best staging—Gaga, Billy Porter, Janelle Monáe—felt purposeful for the night, which celebrates fashion as an institution. In that sense, it’s heartening to see a collaboration between an artist, stylist, and fashion designer. (Don’t forget the small army of branded sponsors who foot the bill for all this fabulousness.)
The mini-shows went viral not because they asked “look at me,” in the way J.Lo dripping in silver Versace did, but because the posing commanded attention. You could not look away.
There were some very beautiful things to watch on the Met Gala red carpet last night, and that staging should be celebrated. Memes should be made and tweets should be liked. These dances were a joy to watch—but let's not hope it becomes the new normal. Last night's Met Gala really was epic. It should never become exhausting.