I knew one day it would come to this and I think I'm about to enter a whole world of pain...
Matt wrote on his blog yesterday about his underwhelming experience watching Lady Gaga's Monster's Ball concert and I have to admit I agree with him in principle. It definitely got me thinking about Gaga and my ambivalnce to her (thanks for the inspiration, Matt). Make no mistake, I unashamedly love good pop music but so far have yet to be seduced by the charms of Gaga even though I'm constantly been told I should be. Herein lies the rub for me, great pop music hits you in the face, makes you raise your arms to the heavens in praise and start shaking your arse. I don't need to be told it's great, I already know it's great by the end of the first chorus - think Beyonce's Crazy in Love. Great pop music announces itself and so far, Lady Gaga, regardless of her politics or style, has not.
Now this is slightly unfair because I think Telephone has an insanely catchy chorus but I think for me, the hype far outweighs the actual music. For example, prior to the release of the Born This Way single, it was touted as a new gay anthem which would replace I Will Survive (I think Elton John actually said this). The problem is I Will Survive became an anthem for the gay community because they adopted it, not because they were told to. Regardless of the community or subculture, music will be championed by the people who listen to it rather than what any record industry press release says so this approach seemed presumptious to me. I actually like that Gaga has written an anthem with LGBT themes and has given generously to LGBT causes but if it is a question of music having resonance with a particular audience, that is decided by that particular group. That being said, it’s not hard to imagine Oxford Street rocking to the sound of that song at 3am so maybe my scepticism is misplaced.
The question of Gaga's image is not important to me in some respects because what she is wearing or her videos seem neither revelatory, revolutionary or that inspired. Perhaps they might be totally mind blowing for mainstream audiences but anyone who has paid any attention to Grace Jones over the last 30 years or attended a student fashion show knows there is nothing new here.
The other thing that is touted quite regularly is that she is the next Madonna but I don’t think that’s true. The reasons for this are:
a) Madonna is a product of her time. With the evolving landscape of music and the music industry in the ‘80’s/90’s, Madonna was the perfect appropriator and vessel to capitalise on the music underground and take it to the mainstream – The Immaculate Collection is so diverse it could be a primer for 80’s pop. Her voice is reasonably indistinct but that is essentially her strength as it can be seamlessly married to any style without sounding out of place (check out Human Nature from 1995 where the backing track could be from a Snoop Dogg song but Madonna still sounds great). It’s a template Kylie Minogue has emulated with some success.
b) While both artists are calculated in the image they deliver, Madonna’s song craft and persona always seemed vaguely natural (except the over exposure of Erotica). Gaga’s image and songs appear to be calculated, designed and curated within an inch of their life so they lack any spontaneity or organic feel. Maybe that’s a product of the time we live in but Gaga’s work seems to be all surface to me (which sounds absurd when you’re talking about pop music and Madonna but there you go).
c) One plus for Gaga is that she writes her songs where Madonna is only as strong as her collaborators. However, while Gaga’s songs are catchy, I’m yet to hear anything as iconic as Madonna’s.
d) Not to be crude but I look at the Express Yourself video and Madonna is totally sexy. I find nothing sexy about Gaga. Is that wrong to say? (yes it is, you sexist pig!)
Maybe I’m wrong on this because Madonna has the weight of history behind her but I own both her greatest hits collections and those songs still sound great. Most often I put them on when I’m in a mood for something other than angst and generally, they are pretty great for road trips and house cleaning. In that weird mundane way, that’s why I don’t think Gaga has succeeded because Madonna infiltrates every part of my life from dancing to cleaning where Gaga seems far too self important and contrived to be, well, y’know, that much fun. However, here’s hoping she grows into the artist she aspires to be because there’s always room in the world for one more great pop tune.