And I mean that in the absolute best way possible. Most trends are fleeting –– Snuggies, lower back tattoos, overalls with one snap undone (you know you did that in middle school, too) and the like –– vacuous fads that come from nothing and amount to nothing. Music often falls into the same category. But every once in a while, someone or something transcends the label of “trend” into icon. It’s rare and it’s usually inexplicable, but it happens, even if it’s calculated and maybe has traces of gimmick.
Madonna and David Bowie are prime examples. Both are character artists (Bowie especially) who were undeniably talented but fueled their talent and fame with performance beyond just singing and songwriting. They were characters, sometimes literally. Bowie transformed into Ziggy Stardust, embodying the role and embracing it –– wacky makeup and mini-kimonos and all.
My brother would kill me for what I’m about to say, but Stefani Germanotta once said that she fancied herself a modern version of ‘70s Bowie. And, in a way, her character is eerily similar: slightly alien, limitless and unrecognizable from her former self. Her Ziggy Stardust is Lady Gaga –– her alter ego and one of the most successful and polarizing characters in modern pop culture.
Lady Gaga sprung on the scene in 2008, and, personally, I can’t believe she’s only been a part of public consciousness for two years. It feels like we’ve always had her boundary-pushing, shock and awe-inducing presence to keep us wide-eyed and inexplicably addicted.
I was a belated convert. I didn’t understand why “Just Dance” and “Poker Face” were popular; she was lowest-common-denominator bubblegum pop to me. And I guess when all’s said and done, she still is –– but she doesn’t care. She re-wrote the boundaries of style, whether by wearing heel-less shoes, sporting Crayola-yellow hair, wearing an ensemble of morbidly assembled Kermit the Frogs or an outfit made of bubbles.
She doesn’t just sing and dance; she turns everything into an avant-garde piece of performance art, like a twisted cabaret from hell, but in a good way. Her music videos are as highly anticipated as many blockbuster movies, especially the much-touted videos for “Telephone,” a nine-and-a-half minute Tarantino-esque short film, and “Alejandro,” a dark and controversial drama with clashing (yet complementary) homosexual, military and religious themes. It’s important to note that neither song has anything whatsoever to do with the videos; “Telephone” is a fairly textbook club song (albeit a catchy one) and “Alejandro” is a mash-up of Madonna and Ace of Base. But again, she doesn’t care.
She’s breaking records left and right: most fans on Facebook (more than 10 million, recently surpassing Barack Obama), best-selling digital album of all time by a solo artist (The Fame), not to mention an unprecedented slew of No. 1 songs, videos and other accomplishments.
She is an expert manipulator of the public, myself included. I want to drink the Lady Gaga Kool-Aid. I’m eagerly anticipating her next gimmick move, the announcement of her new album’s title at midnight on New Year’s –– clearly a move of marketing genius, as are many of her moves. I’m aware, but like the Lady herself, I don’t care.
She’s a walking contradiction. She said in 2009 that all she cared about in a man was how well-endowed he was, yet she recently extolled the virtues of celibacy after she gave up sex. Her lyrics go from “Let’s have some fun/this beat is sick/I wanna take a ride on your disco stick” to the opposite: “I’m just bluffin’ with my muffin.” She once said: “If somebody said to me, ‘What you do isn’t art,’ I would say they’re right. Yes, it is; no, it isn’t; absolutely; perhaps; it’s irrelevant; it’s important … that’s what this is all about, really.”
And, somehow, she’s exactly right. No boundaries, no definitions and no explanations. Ultimately, her message is pretty ubiquitous: Which of us isn’t a “little monster”?
She’s such a phenomenon that tickets for her April 9, 2011, appearance in New Orleans went on sale in May – 11 months before the concert. Go ahead and purchase your tickets now, a mere eight-and-a-half months before “The Monster Ball” show.
In a city where more and more celebrities are popping up and buying homes in an effort to escape fame and paparazzi (Sandra Bullock, Brangelina, Peter Sarsgaard and Maggie Gyllenhaal, Parker Posey, etc.), don’t expect the Lady to look to hide from the limelight anytime soon. She shows no sign of slowing down or running out of tricks.
So the ultimate question is one that we throw around the office whenever her latest song, video, performance, magazine cover or interview is revealed: “How is Lady Gaga so awesome?”