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(Yes, this is my first post in quite a while, going to try to make it a more regular thing now that I have time!)
Most of you know my feelings about Lady Gaga’s music: they are less than complimentary. Her first single “Poker Face” was annoying and tacky, and she struck me as just another girl trying to claim a few trashy dance hits and her fifteen seconds of fame. I realized though, as more singles came out and her persona began its almost nonstop evolution, that she is far more complex than that. Whether complexity is a good thing or a bad thing in this case is really a question of personal taste.
I think this became apparent when I was riding with a friend, and she tried to show me that Lady Gaga isn’t all that bad by putting on her acoustic, jazzy version of “Poker Face.” In all honesty (and I hate to admit it) I liked it. There was something more honest and even playful in her delivery. Lady Gaga is best by herself, maybe with a piano, but she continues to churn out songs that, while dance-worthy, have little or no musical soul. Perhaps it seemed like the most profitable route at the time, considering most songs nowadays are judged by their ability to draw people to the dance floor. Yet for all of her supposed innovation, she seems to be just conforming to industry norms, musically. The innovation is apparent in her fashion and music videos. However, innovation, for Gaga, seems to be synonymous with controversy.
I am all for haute couture fashion and having an avant garde approach to style, and while I actually do respect some of her wardrobe choices, some just seem bizarre (cigarette glasses from “Telephone”?). I think innovation should step back, though, when it inexplicable leads you to wear silver lobster headgear. Still, that being said, I did like her Grammy outfit, and her costume for the duet she performed with Elton John, among others.
The real innovation/controversy, though, is in her music videos. They are creative, no doubt, but not really ground-breaking. “Telephone” seemed like one, long commercial for Coke and Miracle Whip. I found myself watching the “Alejandro” video today, because of the buzz it has generated. It was certainly Gagaesque, with its dark, postmodern, dystopian setting and outfits. Her costumes were either exceedingly ornate, or left little to the imagination. This video highlights why she has been compared so emphatically to Madonna, for very obvious reasons. I am not a fan of Madonna, but she did push the envelope in a time when most pop music was still (mostly) squeaky clean. Yet “Alejandro” is “Like a Prayer” but more gothic and sexualized. Sure, it mirrors the Madonna video with its controversial religious images, but it doesn’t have the story that Madonna’s song had. The video felt like equal parts “Like a Prayer” and Rihanna’s “Disturbia” with little else to set it apart. It was a rehashing of old themes and sounds, nothing original.
Even though Gaga is named for Radio Gaga, by Queen–possibly the most truly talented and innovative rock band of the last century–and has earned comparisons to Madonna, a veritable trend-setter, she is just a caricature of either one. Obviously even though I have some background in music, I’m not a musical authority, so this is all pure opinion. You may be asking, “If you dislike her so much, why do you even listen to her music, watch her videos, or keep track of her at all?” The reason is, simply, I’m waiting for something. I know the girl is talented, because I have seen a glimmer of it in past clips in her pre-Gaga days, and occasional songs like the acoustic version of “Poker Face.” Maybe I’m harboring some kind of hope that she will embrace her own talent and not give in to the overwhelming need to restrict her music to satisfy some industry standard, and take her persona so far off the beaten path in order to be relevant in a time when controversy is everything.