I have grown tired of Lady Gaga.
It somewhat pains me to say this, in part because when her first single “Just Dance” came out (way back in 2008) I really enjoyed it. I vividly remember listening to that song often on an Internet radio station while getting work done in the Chief Resident Office. I loved it because it was catchy, up-beat and also a little bit quirky. At the time, many people felt like she was going to be a flash in the pan/one-hit wonder. However, I felt differently. Because I had never heard of her before (and because the great thing about the Internet is that you can look up anything you want in the blink of an eye) I read a little bit about her and she seemed legit. She had attended a school of the arts in New York, had been putting in her dues bouncing around performances in the New York underground club scene and had written some songs for current pop stars (including Britney Spears). While the music industry (like many other professions) can be fickle and you just never know who is going to make it and who is going to get chewed up and spit out, it seemed to me like she was going to be around for awhile.
Sure enough for the rest of the year and into 2009 more and more songs from that album (and from a follow up album, The Fame Monster, which seemed to be more of an extension of the first album, The Fame) were released. Most of them were just as good or better than “Just Dance”. I am notoriously slow to purchase music, so despite being a big fan, I didn’t purchase these albums until the end of 2010. (I like to really make sure that I like most of the songs on an album before I purchase the whole thing. Even now, I don’t often purchase individual songs, because I never know when I am going to like more of the artist’ songs, eventually buy the album and then get stuck with some duplicate tracks.)
The non-radio songs were even better than the songs on the radio! (Well, maybe not “Telephone”, which makes me laugh and also causes me to jack up the volume in the car as loud as my eardrums can handle.) I am no music critic, but what I liked about her songs back then were that there were interesting and quirky musical hooks as well as songs that were either fun and free-wheeling or off-beat and funny. My favorite song of her’s is actually a Christmas song I downloaded for free (don’t worry Lars Ulrich, Amazon was having a special Christmas giveaway! Jerk.) It is actually more of a bizzaro Christmas song in which she makes a Christmas-themed song that is filled with double entendres. It is so ridiculous and outlandish that it always brings a smile to my face when it pops up on my music player.
So, when the first song from her new album was about to drop, I was excited. Indianapolis radio stations were buzzing with anticipation. And then, I heard “Born This Way”. Meh. I won’t admit to figuring out right away that it sounded an awful lot like Madonna’s “Express Yourself”, but once someone pointed that out, I could see it. To be honest, that’s not really what bothers me. What bothers me is that the song is dull. And so are the three other songs that I have heard from the album. Where is the energy? Where is the off-beat attitude? Where is the quirkiness? All gone. Instead it appears to have been replaced by forced commercialism.
The feeling I get from hearing these songs (of which I do very little, because I either change the radio station or click ‘Skip’ on the Internet radio player) is that she (and/or her “people”) decided that Lady Gaga was going to be the voice for people in today’s society who have been somewhat marginalized. There is nothing wrong with playing to your strengths and trying hard to appeal to your fans. (In fact, I find that to be the sign of a great artist.) But I DO have a problem when trying to appeal to your fans turns in to pandering.
The first problem is that she is late to the party because it seems like everyone has been appealing to this broad group of people currently. Try this brief list on for size: Katy Perry “Firework”, Ke$ha “We Are Who We Are”, Pink “Perfect”, Selena Gomez “Who Says”,
Rebecca Black “Friday“, The Cast of Glee “Loser Like Me” (and pretty much their overall popularity can be derived from appealing to the socially marginalized). I am sure there are a handful of others that I am forgetting. Kind of a crowded scene.
The second problem is that it is not a very organic effort. She got to this point in her popularity by actually being original, different and not afraid to own her ‘differentness’. This album feels like she is trying too hard, by writing a bunch of songs that say how different she is and how proud she is to be who she is no matter what others say, but they don’t feel very different. It feels like getting punched in the face with this theme over and over and over again. And that is just the songs on the album. Then, throw in all of these ridiculous promotions (Amazon selling her album on the cheap a few weeks ago, Lady Gaga “taking over” various radio stations across the country, more promotion of the album than I ever remember) and to me, it felt like desperate, coordinated attempt to get noticed, which to me sound very much opposite to what I thought Lady Gaga was all about. (And according to this Yahoo! Music blog post, I may not be the only one for feels this way.)
While I don’t think she copied Madonna’s song, I do kind of feel like she is copying Madonna’s career, only on fast forward. I used to enjoy Madonna’s songs. They were catchy, edgy and interesting. I don’t think she was as off-beat as Lady Gaga, but you can see the similarities. Madonna pushed the edges more and more, made a song and a video that really fired up the Catholic Church (and not in a good way), got more and more sexually explicit and then all of a sudden, she started taking herself WAY too seriously. She developed a fake British accent. She started trying too hard to make songs that were ‘meaningful’ or totally out of character. She remade “American Pie”. And now, she is kind of an afterthought.
Well, into her second album, Lady Gaga has already moved from pushing the edges and being sexually charged to making a video that ticked off the Catholic Church and trying too hard to be ‘meaningful’. The only thing left is the fake accent and the walk off into oblivion.
I am not an artist or performer, but I can sort of understand why artists try to reinvent themselves. Stephen King needed to write some stories under the Richard Bachmann pseudonym. Garth Brooks needed to become Chris Gaines (unfortunately.) Artists don’t like to be put in a box or they get bored doing the same thing. But there are plenty of great artists who don’t totally change who they are while still staying creative, interested and interesting. U2 and The Rolling Stones immediately come to mind. Pearl Jam tried to be different after a handful of successful albums, saw how that went (cough, cough, badly, cough) and then went back to doing what they do best, rocking. So while I would rather my favorite artists just keep doing what they do bests, I am at least willing to give them a little leeway to be who they want to be. But when they sell out, take themselves too seriously or become a cartoon version of themselves, then it is time to move on.
So, when you hear Lady Gaga starting to talk with a fake French accent, get ready to find a new favorite performer. And if Ke$ha starts writing Shakespearian sonnets or something, I may have to give up listening to music all together.