I don't write about pop culture much, despite the fact that I'm a big, geekeroid fan. In the last seven or so years there have been rare instances where new musicians have managed to stay on my radar for longer than the initial promising debuts. But I finally have to admit:
I like Gaga.
It began long ago, in a land far away, when I first heard Poker Face. It was catchy. There was something irreverent and non-panderish about it. I thought this odd, but somehow charismatic character would be a one-hit wonder and eventually fade away. Thus, I bopped along to Poker Face, enjoying it for what it was. We all need a happy song every now and again.
One day, a friend sent me a link to an article claiming Gaga was a"puppet" for the Illuminati. I laughed. Then I read it. Then I took notice. I thought, 'here is someone who knows how to work with symbolism, who puts these very recognisable images within an interesting context'. The article did not necessarily draw me closer to Gaga's music, but to her personality.
Then the Bad Romance video hit the internet. It captivated me in terms of symbolic imagery and pop culture reference - the controlled, showcased Britney image, and the buying and selling of that image; the burnt-out Amy Winehouse; the overarching visual narrative of the innocent, wide-eyed wannabe pop star, transformed by an industry through a 'bad romance' into a commodity. Here was someone who was actually criticizing the music industry from within. Of course, in this situation, both parties still gain from the critique, but I have always been a firm believer in the view that you can exact change better from inside a system. In simpler terms, with 'Bad Romance', Gaga was saying something. That is something that seems woefully missing from contemporary popular music.
Now I enjoy Gaga's music. The cool combination of genres - rock, eighties-retro, tight House beats and trippy Trance keep her approach to creating music interesting. There is a bio-kinetic feel to what she delivers; something robotic interlaced with something...alive. What I also find appealing is her sense of Eurocentricity.
Comparisons between Gaga and Madonna are often made, but I find them lacking when the argument focuses on Gaga as a 'rip-off' of Madonna. Granted, their voices might sound similar in some instances, but that's hardly something either of them can help.
Rather, I think Gaga is a stylistic progression from the 'Madonna Image'. In many ways, she seems to effortlessly accomplish those things Madonna only paid lip service to. Despite Madonna's numerous attempts at injecting her image with a Eurocentric feel, she always remained decidedly American. Gaga's efforts in terms of equal human rights also goes much further than Madonna's, whose concerns about (for instance) LGBT rights were really only displayed in music videos, by portraying herself in queer situations. This did not necessarily relate to an audience outside the television screen. To be able to act like Madonna first means to be Madonna. There is where the disconnect exists. As for the statement that Gaga copies Madonna in terms of religious imagery, I think that is an argument that does not pass muster when taking into consideration how important religion (and the offense to religion) has become in our society.
Is it worse to make Jesus a black man (Madonna) or to reject him and choose Judas (Gaga)? Debatable. As an extension (or progression) of Madonna's legacy, Gaga can be seen as taking the religious controversy further. Gaga outright denies the symbolic Jesus. By analysing this rejection in the context of contemporary politics, the potential for socio-religious interpretation becomes clear.
And what is not to like about how Gaga looks? It is one of the easiest ways to instigate confrontation in contemporary society. If you look "different" you do not belong to the rest, to a group. You have no flock. Gaga uses her "bizarre" images to emphasise that in being different, one can belong. She portrays the "monster", but it is this same monster who is adored by millions because she speaks for those who are "little monsters", like herself. Madonna was/is an image created for Madonna; up on a pedestal, the one we strive to be like. Gaga is the head of a larger body, monster and little monsters as part of something bigger, but all part of the same thing. With Madonna, there is disconnect, with Gaga, the opposite.
Oh, and if you were still wondering - the woman has talent. Check out this version of Paparazzi, with only Gaga on keyboard.