Those of us who dismissed Lady Gaga as a mere one-hit wonder in 2008 should all be wearing sackcloth and ashes now. Five years after the release of her scintillating first single, “Just Dance”, the venerable Miss Gaga has proved herself to be one of the most creative, intriguing and supremely unique stars of the 21st century. It is as if the gods decided to conjure the best elements of pop music, past and present, and bestowed us with a demi-goddess who tips the creative boundaries of music and style. In a few short years, Lady Gaga has entered the gilded pantheon of David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Michael Jackson and other musical deities who have shaped our culture over the past half-century.
After the world had been exposed to the provocative “Just Dance”, which became a global smash, came Lady Gaga’s debut album The Fame, a raucously catchy amalgamation of pop, rock, hip-hop and techno, which outshone all other releases of that year. It was at this moment that the world realised that here was a star unlike any other we have seen before. The themes of the album, and accompanying EP The Fame Monster, are as deep and diverse as Gaga herself, with hints of unabashed erotica, as heard in the song “Poker Face”: desire and degradation, love and heartache, and the pursuit of fame.
With everyone’s eyes transfixed on this petite New Yorker with extraordinary talent, Gaga has been quick to demonstrate that she is more than just a singer-songwriter. She has collaborated with some of the most creative individuals in the arts, including British conceptual artist Damien Hirst, photographer Steven Klein, creative director Nicola Formichetti amongst many others, to create an image that translates the very essence of who she is, as a person and as a performer. This creation – the creation of Lady Gaga as we know her today – is a work of art in itself, incorporating myriad attributes from popular culture to high culture and everything in between. What we get is something familiar yet at the same time beautifully unique and other-worldly. In her videos, performances and appearances, there is always some reference to the many individuals who have inspired her, from the screen goddess Marilyn Monroe to pop art icon Andy Warhol.
It is impossible to place Lady Gaga in any particular niche. Her appeal stretches across the cultural divides of age and gender unlike any star before her, and she means many things to many people. She can don the persona of vintage vixen, in the manner of Billie Holiday when performing a sultry jazz number with Tony Bennett, or become a magnificently unpredictable monster, à la Grace Jones, when performing one of her hits like “Alejandro”. Whatever role she is playing, her unique character and charm always shines through.
Many journalists make vague comparisons with Madonna, and although in some areas, the comparisons are somewhat accurate, Lady Gaga surpasses Madonna in every respect, from singing, song writing and most of all, her interaction with her many millions of fans across the globe. During Madonna’s reign as the Queen of Pop, there was always a general undercurrent of disdain and inapproachability when it came to her fans, but with Gaga, her fans mean the world, realising that without them, she would not be where she is today. Vanity fair’s Lisa Robinson put it best when describing Lady Gaga in 2010, saying “as fame has come to devour all else, Lady Gaga is the logical result: a mega star who exists entirely for her fans.”
It is not just her undying love for her “little monsters” that sets Gaga apart from Madonna, but her fearlessness in championing various causes, such as anti-bullying, immigration, violence against women and, most of all, gay rights. In the past many entertainers have given their verbal support to the gay community, but none has ever been quite so ardent, nor has anyone used their fame as a platform to express their support on such a grand scale. She was one of the biggest stars at the 2009 rally against the archaic “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, and in 2010 attended the MTV VMAs with a group of gay couples who were forced to deny their sexuality when serving in the US military.
It is incredible to think that Lady Gaga, a woman still in her twenties, has become one of the biggest and most respected artists of the century. She is not only a musical genius, but an inspiration for millions of people who have previously felt disenfranchised by lack of originality in popular culture. With Gaga’s inspirational messages interwoven throughout her music, those individuals can now see they are not alone. Lady Gaga is the woman who brought popular music back from the cultural wasteland of meaningless sentiments and generic tiresome rhythms. She has shown that pop music still has the power to provoke, inspire, shock and ultimately give strength.
Lady Gaga presents herself to her loving public with meticulous detail. This is the primary reason why her latest album, ARTPOP, has taken so long to get off the ground. Her producer, the Russian DJ Zedd, recently revealed that the album has taken over a year to record, and is likely to be released in early 2013. No-one knows what the future holds, but it is likely that this forthcoming venture will prove just as memorable and just as musically exhilarating as the last. With Lady Gaga continuing to rise in global momentum, her ever-growing fans wait with bated breath to see what unique universe she will create next.
Article by Ben Mirza for The Untitled Magazine “Music” Issue 6