Sunday, March 7, 2010

Lady Gaga has 'It'

Folks, this Lady Gaga has "It". There hasn't been a star like her since, well, Britney first burst on the scene in the late 90s. Seriously. Even Simon Cowell thinks she has 'it'. But where did she come from, who is she, and why the hell is her name Lady Gaga?

I can't answer these questions, and that folks is why she's so appealing. Like rock & rollers of yesteryear where the only thing you knew about that sexy frontman guy was from what you read in music mags or, if you were lucky enough, saw in concert, Lady Gaga has that 'mystique' that's sorely been lacking in music since the birth of music television. And what's truly amazing is that Lady Gaga (Ms. Gaga?) manages to build up this mystique by utilizing all those modern elements that tend to crush it.

Funnily enough I didn't pay the slightest bit of attention to her until just a few weeks ago. I suppose I saw her as the product of celebrity gossip culture. For some reason I always equated her with Perez Hilton, or Access Hollywood and other such drivel. But I didn't realize until recently that Lady Gaga is essentially mocking all of those things. Perennial favorite reviewer Stephen Thomas Erlewine puts it better than I can:

"The times were crying out for a pop star like Lady GaGa — a self-styled, self-made shooting star, one who mocked the tabloid digital age while still wanting to wallow in it — and one who's smart enough to pull it all off, too. That self-awareness and satire were absent in the pop of the new millennium, where even the best of the lot operated only on one level, which may be why Lady GaGa turned into such a sensation in 2009: everybody was thirsty for music like this, music for and about their lives, both real and virtual."

I think Gaga's biggest strength is that she's a master of both style and substance. Known for wearing truly outrageous costumes and outfits, including a dress made of dead Kermit-the-Frogs, she's the master attention getter. But she also excels at making really damn good pop music. Like I said before, I don't think I've heard pop music that "popped" quite like this since Britney showed up in the school girl dress back in 1998. Even if you've never seen her videos or her wild get-ups, her songs are just marvelously crafted pop songs.

But back to the mystique. I don't know how she does it, but Gaga somehow managed to steal the spotlight last year, yet we don't really know anything about her. Most pop stars do the TV circuit, either promoting a new album on Good Morning America, expressing remorse for a bad deed on Oprah, or hosting Saturday Night Live. We're supposed to "get to know" the artist this way, what drives them, what are they feeling, who are they dating this week? Lady Gaga excels at doing none of this. If it wasn't for her Wikipedia entry I wouldn't have the slightest clue as to her real name, age, or anything else about her. While living in the constant spotlight, she manages to tell us nothing about her personal life, and, really, I just like that.

I've said before that I really can't stand celebrity gossip culture. I've always seen Lady Gaga as affiliated with that culture, but I don't think I ever caught her satire of it until I started listening to her songs. It's difficult to discern, because in one way she's relishing in the whole celebrity culture while simultaneously mocking the whole thing. Once again, Mr. Erlewine comes through better than I: "But where Gwen (Stefani) simply celebrates celeb consumer culture, GaGa bites, her litany of runway models, pornographic girls, and body plastic delivered with an undercurrent of disdain, even as she loves all the glitz." It's a fine line to walk, but she somehow pulls it off.

I decided to write this piece after a house party I went to last weekend. On the way to the party my girlfriend and I were talking about Lady Gaga (while listening to her) and I was telling her how I read that Simon Cowell had high praise for her and that she's got the new 'it' factor. Later that night at the party one of her songs came on and EVERYONE wanted to talk about her - Who is she? Did you see her in that crazy outfit? Did you see that video where she was dressed up like a robot? I'm not kidding. But perhaps more importantly someone said "You know, I've heard this song a hundred times now and it's still not getting old." That's the sign of good pop music.

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