Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Evolution of Gaga

Stefani Germanotta.
Does that name ring a bell to you? It shouldn't unless you were an early follower of the pop phenomenon that has taken the world by storm. That woman is Lady Gaga. A former NYU student, the New Yorker is hardly an overnight sensation. She catapulted to stardom in record timing but the work was done early. She had been performing in local clubs and other small venues long before she became Lady Gaga.

Most of us have seen the above video. If you haven't, it shows Gaga performing two original songs Captivated and Electric Kiss. She provided her own piano accompaniment and her sound was more similar to Norah Jones than the electro pop we hear from her these days. She was a brunette but later dyed her hair platinum blond to thwart comparisons to Amy Winehouse. Her style and her sound were both rather organic and she preferred piano ballads in place of bass heavy pop.

The Fame era Gaga brought about a new Gaga. With a new record deal and having been enlisted to write for acts like the Pussycat Dolls, Gaga's place was being etched into pop history. Her wigs were long, straight, and blond. She toted a disco stick, wore illuminated glasses, and chose colorful and bold ensembles. A lightning bolt was the logo of choice. Her sound transformed even more than her look. Her voice took on a lighter and slicker tone that rode synth beats. Little evidence of a piano background was evident on The Fame album. A new message of hedonism was the thematic material. "All we care about is runway models, Cadillacs and liquor bottles." Call her a sell out, but she did what worked to get her noticed. She's doing it for the fame. Spoken interludes in songs drew comparisons to Gwen Stefani and Madonna and her music became rooted in the pop sound.

With newly found popularity, Lady Gaga decided to focus on the demons and monsters that plagued her in terms of fame. The Fame Monster brought a new sound. Slick and catchy beats were exchanged for beastly tracks with rhythm driven accompaniments (Teeth, Bad Romance). Bad Romance could be taken as the ugly stepsister of Poker Face with it's similar structure and hook but the opening raw chant is an introduction to the new Gaga. Alejandro evokes sounds of Ace of Base, Teeth gives you George Michael, and Telephone features an aggressive and irritable Beyoncé. Even though Speechless is similar to Brown Eyes from The Fame, the delivery is different. Gaga's singing became more raw and exposed on this album with aggressive tones and moods. A monster of sound so to speak. In addition to her change in sound, Gaga's look is the most drastic change. With help from stylist Nicola Formichetti, mildly shocking futuristic outfits gave way to Kermit the Frog frocks, lace face coverings, extreme hairstyles, orbiting headpieces, and blood. If The Fame was about the glitter of fame, The Fame Monster was about the grime.

Does a girl like Gaga do it all alone?
Of course not.
We have seen many bleached blond pop stars before. Britney shook us all up for years but Gaga's style doesn't really reflect that of Spears. Madonna is one of her big influences and Gwen Stefani's talky pop songs show in Poker Face and Beautiful, Dirty, Rich. Summerboy from The Fame songs like it was literally taken from Gwen Stefani's Love.Angel.Music.Baby recording sessions.
Christina Aguilera's last showing on the music scene drew criticism. Her new platinum look and electro-pop sound came about as Gaga was emerging. Many said that she was imitating Gaga which Aguilera denied, even claiming to be unaware of Lady Gaga's existence.

Of course Gaga cites David Bowie and Grace Jones as two of her biggest influences. Her dramatic flair and performance art inspired performances are clearly direct descendants of Jones and Bowie. Lady Gaga's lightning bolt makeup trends when taken from David Bowie's Aladdin Jane era. The Fame era of Gaga also showed hooded black ensembles and heavy eye makeup with geometric silhouettes that drudge up memories of Grace Jones.

An unsung heroine in the pop game is Kylie Minogue. Yes, the gays and true pop fans know her but her mainstream appeal is lacking. However, she heavily influenced Gaga and Sasha Fierce. Minogue wore Thierry Mugler ensembles before those two and Beyoncé's BET Awards Get Me Bodied robot opening was taken from Minogue's own fembot performances. Of course many artists such as Ciara & Janelle Monae have also chosen robotic themes.
Check the orbiting headpiece worn by Kylie Minogue in the photo below.

So, what do we make of Lady Gaga?
Is she totally original?
Of course not.
No pop diva is completely void of influences. What Lady Gaga is known for is the control she takes of her career. It's rare that a pop diva is credited with writing her own material and orchestrating her own career. I'm sure that Lady Gaga has a team working for her. All stars do. But is is also evident that she calls the shots from her friction with Kanye in preparation for the Fame Kills Tour to her going to bat against her label in terms of her image and album packaging. A pop diva that can actually sing and is trained in piano is hard to come by. The Fame was a deliberate attempt to gain mainstream popularity with light and fluffy tracks.
Many purists may feel that she crossed over to the dark side by focusing on image rather than her talent, but what is wrong with bringing your talent to the pop stage?
Strip away the outrageous outfits and the heavy production and one gets the girl in the video above- an immensely talented singer/songwriter. A songwriter who knows the industry better than some of its veterans. She climbed the charts and ate our hearts in a short period while drastically evolving along the way. Taking a page from Madonna's book, she constantly reinvents herself. At age 50, Madonna is still releasing hit singles and delivering top grossing tours. Lady Gaga is hoping to have the same lasting impact.

In Gaga News:

Lady GaGa and Beyoncé will be filming the Telephone video in Los Angeles on January 28th. Laurieann Gibson will serve as the choreographer for GaGa's second single. Gibson also choreographed Gaga's Lovegame and Paparazzi videos.
Also, it has just been announced that Bad Romance has hit the #1 spot on Billboard's Pop Songs and becomes her fifth consecutive #1 song on the U.S. charts.

1 comment:

Victoria Bitten said...

love your article. i adore gaga.