There are two programs that used to play (and maybe still play) on VH1 that I LOVED to watch: Before They Were Stars and Where are They Now? Both of these delve into the world of pop music, but the before and after lives of the musicians that we love. But I’ve not heard a good voice describe where artists will be in the next 20 years. Not only forecasting if they will still be making good, new music and performing. But will their music continue to play in the clubs and on the radio well until after they have died.
Anyone who knows me well, knows that Michael Jackson is the end all be all musician for me. And so, who better to be a template of longevity? I will be judging all artists based on five insanely important factors in show business. First, is obviously talent. Can this artist sing, dance, act, play an instrument, or write a song? Next is live performance. Not just how do they sound live, but are they a fun to watch artist onstage? Also, are there rumors or actual instances of using a live auto tune or lip syncing? Then, we have the quality of songs. Not every great artist writes every song they sing. Two of my favorite Michael songs “Human Nature” and “Man in the Mirror” were not penned by Michael, BUT he had the genius to pick these fantastical songs. Next, originality and style are HUGE factors. Even if you are over the top like Michael Jackson or a little more understated like Bob Dylan, all great artists have an iconic sense of originality and style. When you think of Dylan, you think of disheveled hair, a skinny suit, and that slurring voice with a mouth harp nearby. Finally, we come to the “X” Factor. No, not like Simon Cowell, but think about every great artist that has had longevity. Each one of them has had a certain something that you can’t put your finger on… something you could not define- the oh so elusive “X” Factor. I will rate each artist on a scale of 1-10, and average them all at the end and place them on my “Last-o-Meter” (copyright pending). Just know that Michael Jackson will be the only perfect 10 I will EVER give.
And so, with all of this being said, my first artist to discuss will be the one, the only Lady Gaga. She has a LOT going on right now. She just dropped her new single and video “Applause,” to the delight of many a Mo, has her new album ArtPop releasing November 11 this year, AND will be in the new Machete film, Machete Kills. Let us see if Dear Mother Monster will stand the test of time.
There is absolutely no denying Lady Gaga’s talent. She is a quintuple threat. Not only is she an amazing singer with chops that rivals Debbie Harry, but she also writes the catchiest songs. Sure, it’s not what everyone likes, but you have to admit that the first time you heard “Bad Romance” that you couldn’t stop singing “Ra-ra-ra-a-a-a Ga-ga-oo-la-la, want your bad romance.” Then, there’s her piano playing. True, she is no Alicia Keys, but rather like if Carol King went through a crazy disco phase. And to top it all off this girl acts and dances her butt off. All in all, the whole package.
I thought (and I think you did as well) that Gaga was just a flash in the pan until her amazing performance of “Paparazzi” on MTV’s VMAs in 2009. You could tell from a handheld microphone and her less than perfect but still AMAZING voice that she was indeed singing live… which sadly in this day and age is a feat of amazement. Singing and dancing her way through a crowd of flamboyant dancers, she brought back memories of the good ol’ days when pop stars would (gasp) sing and dance live. Just when we thought this Lady is like if Michael Jackson and Madonna had a baby, she sits down at a white grand piano to play her butt off, showing that Sir Elton John might be in her family tree as well. Then in a stroke of Gaga-genius, she starts bleeding from her studded, white monokini. She ends the number hanging on a chain, covered in blood, with one speck of blood lingering on her eyeball. Gruesome. Awesome. That was the performance where all of us fell in love with Gaga and wanted to become one of her Monsters. And she has not let us down since then. She was just on the VMAs and gave a performance that will give all Drag Queens wet dreams for decades to come. Not to mention that her entire butt was out at the end of her number, and she STILL managed to stay classier than Miley Cyrus… but that’s not saying much. All in all, incredibly fun to watch, and a powerhouse performer on top.
Quality of Songs
This is where I get on shakier ground with Gaga. I love most of her first album The FameMonster. Between “Bad Romance” and “Dirty Rich,” Gaga has perfected the art of making some seriously twisted, fabulous music. But sadly, her next album was not everything I wanted and more. Everyone remembers her “true to yourself” theme “Born This Way” and how everyone read it for filth for sounding remarkably similar to Madonna’s “Express Yourself.” I’m not gonna lie, I hear the similarities, but I still love this song and dance to it every time it’s played at Play Dance Bar (Nashville’s Gay Dance Club). Her newest release, “Applause” is a nice return to her discotastic, electronic roots. And maybe ArtPop will deliver Gaga back into her FameMonster glory days, but I need to hear it first.
Originality and Style
Gaga had been accused of stealing her style from everyone from Grace Slick to the obvious Madonna… but that’s not the real issue here. She, like every other good pop diva (including myself), have stolen most, if not all, of her good bits from drag queens. Drag Queens, my friends, are the performers who are ALWAYS on the cutting edge of what is next. Now, Lady Gaga has been fantastical about giving due credit to the men of drag, even saying that in her latest Vouge cover, she was channeling, the one, the only, Rupal, and has since gone on record to say that she would love to be a guest judge on Rupal’s Drag Race, which will be heaven in my humble opinion. I love how Gaga is so Art House chic, but also loves to remain in the pop culture vein. She is a true postmodern artist pulling from every field in pop culture, and melding it into one gothic, rainbowtastic pot.
Now onto that certain something that makes her stand out… special… that one thing where if she were to leave this planet tomorrow, we would say, “Darn it I wish we had (blank) because I need more (blank).” Like when Amy Winehouse died, first I wept. Then cursed the skies saying, “Dang, I wish we had a smokey voiced, R&B singer who sings both classic jazz tunes and incredibly, insightful, crass tunes of her own.” Gaga’s X-Factor is her androgyny. Sure, she’s pretty to look at and reinvents herself enough times to make Madonna’s head spin, but androgyny is her ace in the hole. Let’s be honest here, MANY of us first thought that Gaga was either a Drag Queen or a transgendered man. But as we all know, she was indeed born a biological woman. This is Gaga in a nutshell. Beyond being a huge LGBT rights supporter, Gaga dances the line from masculine to feminine more than any other artist, male or female, right now. And she does it in such an empowering and sexy way, that it makes us love her all the more… except for maybe her alter ego “Joe,” (who sprouted with her song Shania Twain sounding song, “You and I” which is my least favorite Gaga song of all time… sorry about it) Thankfully, Joe was put away once “You and I” stopped being a ginmorous hit on the radio.
Little Monsters PLEASE don’t hate me for not giving Gaga a perfect 10, but I think that she has a LOT of room to grow. I don’t think that she has made her Thriller album yet… she has not piqued. But she has all of the fixins of a truly great artist that will stand the test of time. I see her going down the road of David Bowie and Cindi Lauper. She will probably start doing more strange movies, and I could TOTALLY see her writing for Broadway one day. But I do know that her Little Monsters and fabulous gay men will “Just Dance” to her music til the end of time… and so will I.