What Lady Gaga's Dive Bar Tour Is Really Teaching Us About The Artist

When you think Lady Gaga, you probably don't immediately think dive bar. But that's where she was this week premiering new songs off Gaga's upcoming self-titled album, Joanne, out Oct. 21. The 5 Stop in Nashville was the first stop on Gaga's Dive Bar tour, and she had one special request. "Just call me Joanne," she told the crowd. It was the first sign that this wasn't the usual Lady Gaga show. Instead, this was a look at the real Joanne Germanotta, a woman named after her dad's sister, who passed away at the age of 19 from complications of Lupus before the singer was born. In the same wide-brimmed pink fedora Gaga wears on the cover of her new album, she showed up to reintroduce herself, once again proving she can still surprise us after all these years.

Before, the artist formerly known as Gaga (at least for this night) would keep fans on their toes by re-inventing her look. She'd wear that meat dress or arrive to an awards show in a giant egg to make it clear this is how she is, and you better just deal with it. But, with this new album, she's trying something different. Her look is much more scaled back. She was still sparkly in Nashville, but she looked no different than most other musicians in that town, just looking for a chance. Sonically, she's also changing, stripping back all that pomp and circumstance of her early years and giving fans something raw.

On her new song, "Sinner's Prayer" Gaga even goes a bit outlaw country by way of the Arctic Monkeys, grabbing an acoustic guitar to let the world know that she is who she is and she won't apologize for it. While the twang of this new song is certainly different from Gaga's early Fame Monster days, the song's message is one she's shared before on songs like "Born This Way." It's her once again unapologetically letting everyone know that she will not say she's sorry for anything she's done, including changing her sound and look for this new album. Instead, she's here to share this new music, and hopefully her Little Monsters will join her on this journey.

Gaga has called this tour a throwback to her early years, before she was the pop star the world fell in love with, back when she was playing dive bars in New York City. It seems as though Joanne fell out of love with that persona, and would like to just be herself. Or, well, a different, more singer-songwritery version of herself since, make no mistake, Gaga was clearly in character mode throughout the show.

But watching her perform in Nashville with her hat pulled over her eyes, it's almost as if that "Perfect Illusion" Lady Gaga is singing about on her first single may actually be herself. She's been fooling people into thinking she was this pop star, when really she's that dive bar singer at heart. Years after the over-the-top ARTPOP , that had her teaming up with Jeff Koons for full scale sculptures of herself, Gaga seems more comfortable on the small stage with her band, playing her new song "A-Yo" complete with horns and the sing-along chant of "we're smoking them all."

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But it's "A Million Reasons" — written with songwriter Hillary Lindsey, who has worked with country goddesses like Faith Hill and Martina McBride — that felt like the standout of the night. Gaga's banter before the song felt a bit like country superstar Garth Brooks pretending to be his more rock and roll persona Chris Gaines on an episode of VH1 Storytellers. She put on a bit of drawl and made sure she didn't smile, which all felt a little over the top and very Gaga. But the song, which was about all the men in her life, was clearly something from the heart. It was a song that talked about needing only one reason to stay, despite being given a million to walk away. It was a song that just wouldn't fit in with the rest of Gaga's catalogue, and that wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

For the first time of the night, she seemed like she really wasn't Lady Gaga. She was just Joanne Germanotta, singing her heart out for a tiny club of people who didn't know what they were going to get. But, more importantly, it proved that, after all these years, Gaga still has a few tricks up her sleeves.