Lady Gaga's first music video in two years dropped today, and there's sure to be a headline screaming "Lady Gaga Steals From Bowie" in due time. For whatever reason, the majority of the Internet is quick to hate on the pop star, whose ascent to fame is unparalleled. She's unoriginal, she uses her LGBTQ fans as props, she's a phony. All of these glass-half-empty opinions fail to see the actual level of intelligence her musical oeuvre offers — a level of intelligence that has intentionally, knowingly, and expertly reduced itself because it's more digestible that way. Whatever sincerity and genius Little Monsters may want to project on Gaga, a look at her entire discography reveals a fulfilled artist's statement (read: The Fame) that intentionally juxtaposes a deeper message with superficial tricks to manipulate millions of ears.
Pablo Picasso himself said it: "Good artists copy, great artists steal." It's true that Gaga's cover art for her "Applause" single (very) closely resembles David Bowie's Scary Monsters (the same way her lightning-bolt painted face of The Fame-era resembled Ziggy Stardust). And yes, she does do quite the David Bowie/Annie Lennox impression throughout the entire track, but she's not hiding it. Nor did she try and shy away from the similarities between "Born This Way" and Madonna's "Express Yourself." And it's the upfront transparency of her "reductive" nature that validates her portfolio. Any artist could do the same thing Gaga's doing, but none would steal the way Gaga steals. They would, instead, be copying without adding anything original, as many would argue Katy Perry did with her new single, "Roar." Lady Gaga's acknowledgement of the past is more than a wink and a nod, it's the chance to offer a counter argument to the counter-culture. She takes the same methods other musical icons have used to achieve notoriety and reduces them down to to formulaic pop music, emphasizing the hook over the verse so that it latches itself to the airwaves faster than, say, a Yeah Yeah Yeahs track might.
Right from the get-go, Lady Gaga's whole shtick was about the fame. Her first LP (and more impressive re-release), was dedicated to the pursuit of glamour, fame, and notoriety. At one point she even sings "We live for the fame/ Doin' it for the fame." Flash forward to the Kermit dress, the hair-bows, the spate of awards, a wildly successful two-part international tour, and you've got the world watching your every move. They ate up her look and pop antics because, like candy, they were something inherently dangerous masked as something sweet (as in the music itself was and still is easy, formulaic, and nothing special rhythmically) . She garnered a following, and used her throne to preach her politics because she could. People would listen to anything she had to say, whether or not they agreed with it. Her sound shifted toward a harder edge, her lyrics began to tread murkier water, and her style evolved into a parody of itself, but people never stopped dancing. She manipulated the system to her liking. Some fans fell away, while others reveled. She drove herself into a wheelchair, and it appeared her exaggerated fifteen minutes in the spotlight had burned out. It was her enigmatic status that kept her idling along the edges of fame as her contemporaries rose to fill the Gaga gap.
Now, she's slated to release her ARTPOP project this coming November, and with both Katy Perry and Beyoncé dropping albums this fall, the charts are beginning to resemble 2010 again. Gaga rather pretentiously announced the project with an overly-academic statement, boldly proclaiming the "reverse-Warholian" nature of her album. Its ridiculousness is laughable, but she's not using the terms incorrectly. Based off what's been released so far, and her recent return to Twitter, she's revisiting her The Fame days by commenting on it. In the "reverse-Warholian" sense, she is holding a mirror up to the mirrors by infusing childishly easy lyrics with themes that extend beyond the pop world and into the world at large. A track about oppression is put to a dance-heavy beat because, let's face it, that's the most reliable way to get the masses interested in your message. In a way, she's conquered fame. Despite her sardonic request that we not listen to her new music, she's well aware that we will follow her every move, and speak to whatever she does (or wears). It's exactly what she wants. Now, in order to maintain the fame she once longingly sang for, she's singing about how she needs the applause to survive (something Judy Garland, an icon Gaga's referenced before, famously thrived on). It's a character 360 back to square one — with hindsight.
Mother Monster seems to be over. She herself said she's no longer relevant. The personality isn't what's keeping her fresh anymore. You can only fall in towering platforms so many times and make headlines. Since the world has stopped listening to her per se, she's forced to produce work that's as candy-coated as The Fame, conceptually strong as The Fame Monster, and as opinionated as Born This Way. She's not in the wrong when she sings "art's in pop culture, in me" (Jay Z's latest endeavor fits the bill, too). It's the sonic manifestation of Warhol's "Campbell's Soup Cans": easy, appropriated, consumer-friendly to the point of being annoying, but still imbued with almost indescribable depth and wielding a lifelong virus that flares up with one clever chorus. Dislike her character all you want, but it's the zealous semi-sincerity of her music that deserves the applause — or at least another fifteen minutes.
Photo: Courtesy of Facebook / Lady Gaga.