Thursday, June 10, 2010

Why Lady Gaga works for me

PhotobucketMost Top 40 pop music these days tends to make my teeth itch, and I've never made it through more than 30 seconds of watching "American Idol." But I have to admit, I do kinda dig Lady Gaga.

I'm not like gonna follow her around and stalk her or anything, but I do admit to owning her debut album The Fame Monster and paying far more attention to her than I have to the Katy Perrys and Rhiannas of the world. Gaga has managed that trick of combining a sex-soaked image with bouncy hummable tunes without looking like a flailing lost child. Just google Gaga wardrobe and you'll see a kaleidoscope of bizarrely brazen outfits that make her look like a Martian visitor, a post-millennial love child of David Bowie and Freddie Mercury.

It doesn't hurt that Gaga does put out some decent tunes amid all the spectacle. "Bad Romance," with its rollicking hook and thumping insistence, is as good a single as I've heard in a while, with a video that manages to channel none other than Marilyn Manson in the service of a pop jingle. "Telephone" is another cheekily overwrought club anthem, with Beyonce pitching in for a song far more memorable than anything I've ever heard her do solo. "Paparazzi" manages to take a narrator from the world's most annoying profession and make them a wee bit sympathetic.

The former Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta (imagine that on an album cover!) has got a hint of David Bowie about her (although her music is light-years behind Bowie's innovations, of course), in that you're never entirely sure who's the character and who's the performer. Her increasingly elaborate, over-the-top videos show her trying to lay claim to that elusive King of Pop trophy (a nine-minute saga for the "La Isla Bonita"-lite piffle "Alejandro"? Egad!)

PhotobucketGaga's main flaw is that her music lacks any real emotional weight -- when Bowie sang "Five Years" or "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide," you believed him, but when Gaga sings about what a bummer it is her cell phone doesn't work in the club, well, yeah, I suppose it might speak to the young folk but it doesn't really move you, does it? But it's pop. I suppose "Thriller" was a pretty darn stupid song when you just read the lyrics, too.

Gaga has embraced the inherent artifice, the fakery, of being a modern pop star, rather than trying to pretend she's "keeping it real." That in and of itself seems a bit like a breath of fresh air in the age of Auto-tuned insincere "Idol" aspirations. Whether she can sustain it for the long haul isn't certain; she's just 24, after all, and it's a fine line between being a star and being overexposed. Pop does eat itself.

Britney, for instance, immediately became uninteresting when her personal life mattered more than her music. I've enjoyed a Britney tune or two (especially "Toxic," a great James Bond theme song wanna-be) but she's such a tabloidy mess that I'd never classify myself as a "fan."

If Lady Gaga can come up with music that truly matches her knack for spectacle, it could be something. But if Gaga is smart, she'll also stay behind the masks for as long as she can. We don't want to know about her secret travails. We just want to dance, dance, dance.

1 comment:

  1. I'm onboard with Gaga as well, Nik, although I was a skeptic at first. The songs are just too infectious. Some of my tenth-grade guys were just singing part of "Bad Romance" before class started, and these are guys that would probably take a punch to the face before singing a lot of pop songs.