The Fame Crossroads

6 Feb

Hey, Traviud here. Since I began writing for this site, I’ve given off something of an image of being a hipster schmuck. While that’s wholly accurate, it’s also misleading, as I do have a sizable appreciation for shimmering melodies and considerable hooks, and my interest in pop radio has increased as of late, due in part to bono_212’s own love for it, and partially due to a recent shift in sound from dunderheaded braggadocio rap to shiny synth pop. While I don’t often dedicate a lot of thought to music I hear on the radio (surely how it’s meant to be), occasionally an artist will burst onto the scene that garners such interest.

If you’ve ventured from under the rock to collect your welfare check over the past 18 months, you’ve heard of a singer/performer/canvas named Lady Gaga. Much has been said about her hooks, her attitude toward Fame, and, of course, her clothing, which has ranged from jagged silver headdresses to coats of many dead Kermits. She’s broken all sorts of chart records, sold 8 million albums (35 million singles), and, just the other day, collected two Grammy awards (which some considered a snub of sorts, but I’ll get to that later). Obviously, at this point in her career, you don’t really have to do anything ever again. She could easily coast through the next 6 months of promotion for her LEP The Fame Monster, and then retire to her fashionable netherworld, appearing as eccentric as the day we first got an eyeful of her.

However, Lady Gaga has, to date, never appeared one to rest on her laurels. And, just as she desires to deconstruct her image from performance to performance, she equally desires artistic satisfaction.

Now, what about her art? Ordinarily, I often avoid holding Big Dumb Pop to the same standards I would an artist that aspires to grandeur, but Gaga is a little different, paying homage in her music and performances to numerous classic artists of her fancy, such as Madonna and David Bowie, and has recently begun to receive critical approval as a companion to her sizable commercial success. The thing is, with Lady Gaga, it’s a challenge to discern what she even considers her “art.” It could be her gigs, it could be her clothes, and it could be her albums. However, since this is a music blog, I’m going to stick to discussing the latter.

Lady Gaga has often been referred to as an “innovator,” and this has always puzzled me somewhat. Though it may be difficult to remember now, Gaga’s debut single “Just Dance” did NOT give us a picture of what was to come. The song bore a striking resemblance to the songs that immediately preceded and followed it every time it came on the radio, and the video was your typical slutty party girl fare. “Poker Face” and “LoveGame,” while boasting some skewed hooks, didn’t seem any more eccentric. Up to this point, Gaga seemed nothing more than a party girl masking her vacuousness with blaring music and glittering war paint. Forgotten third single “Eh Eh (What Else Can I Say)” gave us a slightly more sensitive picture, but hardly broke any ground.

Then, over the summer, “Paparazzi” was released, along with an oddball, highly cinematic video. The latter delivered the eccentricity and glamor Gaga had been playing up in interviews for months, while the song itself, all clattering percussion and sky-high choruses, gave us something memorable and fun to chew on while we watched what we could only assume would be a trainwreck from afar. Rather than waste the opportunity this bid for simultaneous commercial/critical success offered her, Gaga rushed out another record, the aforementioned LEP The Fame Monster. Purported to be more than a companion to her debut, this record would show a new side of her sound and personality. However, first single “Bad Romance” showed her merely delaying the promise of “Paparazzi,” beefing up the beats slightly, fracturing the hooks, and releasing yet another futuristic Dadaesque short film to go along with it.

What can be surmised from the above is that, in spite of a lot of extracurricular bluster and hype, Gaga has not yet expanded out of her comfort zone. This raises a few questions.

First off, is Gaga capable of a sonic transformation on the same plane as that of her idols Madonna and David Bowie? I truly believe she does. Just skim youtube’s selection of Gaga’s acoustic performances; her vocals actually improve outside of the hermetic, faceless studio production heard on her albums, and yeah, she’s a pretty damn good pianist. Furthermore, misguided though they may be, album tracks “Speechless” and “Brown Eyes” show her glam rock fetishes to be based in something resembling skill.

Assuming I’m wrong and sticking to this synth-hop sound is a necessity for her, will this cause an eventual Gaga backlash? At this point in time, such a thing seems absurd, but let’s face it, Gaga did not create the genre she became successful in. She arrived at a time when such sounds were flourishing both in the mainstream and indie underground, and has not, to date, proven herself a musical chameleon that can survive such trends while occasionally setting a few of her own. Synth-based pop music is bound to die out soon, and even at the end of last year, I began to observe some groans every time a new electro-pop band was conceived. Lady Gaga duplicated 2009’s buzzing, overdriven synth w/ guest star formula on the Fame Monster single “Telephone,” and that, to me, was when she herself began to grow stale.

Perhaps we should simply trust that her ample vision regarding fashion will translate itself to her music as well, resulting in some ingenious new sounds and lyrical conceits, eventually justifying the hype and transcending her contemporaries. Last weekend’s Grammy presentation showed her only receiving two awards, both relatively minor. This could be very easily interpreted as a critique of her music’s quality, but the Grammys are such crap to begin with that using them as such a barometer would be absurd. But Gaga herself appeared rather hurt by her relatively poor performance, and, unlike the Grammys itself, that is relevant. She loves her music, and it’s one facet of what we can only assume is a multi-faceted artist and human being. She’s done a very good job of stringing us along to where we stand today, but now it’s up to her to prove that her Fame is justified.

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One Response to “The Fame Crossroads”

  1. bono212 06/02/2010 at 04:50 #

    OK, that was far more positive than I expected lol.

    Like you and I have discussed many times before, I think the smartest thing she could do at this point is an acoustic album. Or… not acoustic, but a more laid back, synthless album. Something along those lines.

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