Loving & Loathing Lady Gaga: A Study in Monstrous Absurdity and Genius

This past Tuesday, Lady Gaga released her second studio album (third major release), Born This Way.  If you had told me three years ago that I would be excited about actually purchasing (not pirating, mind you) this woman’s album, I would have snorted at you. Me? Buying a whole album? Of…her’s?  No. Way.

My how far I’ve come.

Let me lay it out this way.  I myself am (or was, rather) something of a musician and performer.  For the better part of my life (a good twenty years) I was a dancer and singer.  I lived in NYC and dabbled in the theater scene while earning my bachelor of fine arts degree in musical theater.  I’d like to think that I have a good sense and qualification to recognize what is “good” and what isn’t.

When Lady Gaga first hit the big time in 2008 (Just Dance), I hadn’t even heard of her.  I didn’t listen to much mainstream radio, and while I began to hear periodical mentions of “Lady Gaga” it didn’t really stir my interest.  Gaga’s popularity ballooned overnight, and before long it was near impossible to read anything pop culture related without hearing about her latest weird costume choice (two words: meat dress) or music video.  I took a mild interest, wanting only to figure out who, exactly, this crazy woman was.  After hearing snippets of Just Dance and Poker Face I decided I didn’t like her.  “Great,” I had thought, “just another manufactured pop moron who will die out in a year or so.” I refused for a good while to give any credit to the pop phenomenon that was Lady Gaga.

I wish I could recall what made me look her up on YouTube.   Expecting a hot autotuned mess, I clicked play. Who doesn’t have a fascination with watching a disaster?  It was at this moment that I found myself stymied. Damn if the bitch couldn’t actually sing. And hell, she could dance.  And what’s she…is she going to play the piano? Holy hell, is she playing Scott Joplin?

I was shocked. SHOCKED I tell you.  There was AN ACTUAL MUSICIAN behind the bizarre costumes and media stunts.  I was hooked.  I had to see more.

It was in that moment that I realized the rarity of Lady Gaga.  Her voice is amazingly powerful.  Her skill behind a piano is unbelievable.  She’s got a business savvy knack for marketing.  The woman knows how to use the media to her advantage.  There is no bad press for the Haus of Gaga.  And to top it off, she genuinely adores and treasures her fans.

I found myself suddenly bopping and bouncing to her music.  Reluctantly.  I acquired her two albums, The Fame and The Fame Monster.  I began to admire her, not only for being a superb musician and performer, but also to her commitment to her art.

And yes, what she does it art. I’m not being snobby or stuck up about this.  It’s art because she embodies it as such, packages it with careful, pristine thought and puts out a quality product that just so happens to appeal to a wide array of people.  The packaging is weird.  Hellaweird.  You don’t always have to understand it.  Hell, you don’t even have to like it.  She’s not asking you to.  While how she packages her art is a part of the work, it’s not the heart of it- the music is.

Back in September I visited the Andy Warhol museum in Pittsburgh.  In wandering around the six floors of exhibits, I found myself wondering how on earth some of these things could be considered “art.”  There were Polaroids of random objects (not even decent shots, mind you) mounted in single-shot galleries, each labeled with titles and a small back story.  I didn’t get it.  Regardless, I understood that part of its classification and deeming quality as “art” was due to the history of its inception, and what it meant to its creator.  And let’s face it – Andy Warhol was WEIRD.  You might venture a guess to say Warhol and Gaga would probably be fascinated with one another.  They’re both media machines, both classically trained, both ridiculously disciplined. Warhol is regarded as the father of pop art.  Could we, some day, say the same of Gaga for music?

So, all these things said, what, my dear reader, do you think I thought of Gaga’s new album, Born this Way?  Well…here’s what I equate it to:

Easy Cheese – highly processed yet deliciously yummy.

I’m a fan of the title song, Born this Way, especially the countrified revision.  I really dig The Edge of Glory, if only for it’s unabashed 80’s feel.  Judas doesn’t really do it for me, mostly because it feels like a rehashed Bad Romance, but I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t gotten the effing “JUUUDA-JUDDAAAASS” refrain stuck in my head.  My other track favorites so far?  Heavy Metal Lover is pretty in a weirdly synthetic way; You and  I has an anthem-like feel to it.  Americano has echos of Alejandro but is better (thank god).  Bloody Mary has a cool beat.

Listening to this album makes me sort of feel like I’m standing in a gay club in some European city, the heavy beats and synthesized, distorted vocals throbbing in my bones while people around me dance with little inhibition. Not sure if that’s a good thing, but I don’t feel like it’s bad either.

I still cling to what bits of Gaga I can get of her stripped down.  Her acoustic renditions of songs are amazing.  I mean seriously – who knew Poker Face had the potential to be a pretty song?  And Bad Romance too?  As a Gaga fan, I can hope that someday, perhaps, she’ll put out B-sides or something of the sort of her tracks that are  less manufactured.  She’s got the chops as a musician to pull it off, a feat very few others can claim.  At the same time, I get why she does it the way she does.  The dance scene is her forte.

So, there it is.  My love of Gaga, somewhat explained.  I don’t always like how she does what she does, but I respect her innate talent and dedication to it. Anyone that can dance like a BOSS in the death contraptions she calls “shoes” is a-okay in my book.

Still not convinced?  Check out these links to see her in action:

Live at the 2010 BRIT’s (Telephone and Dance in the Dark)

Pokerface, live on Ellen

5/21/11 SNL performance The Edge of Glory/Judas

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