Nose-bleed tickets to Lady Gaga concerts are apparently going for upwards of $100 a piece. What happened?
Stefani Germanotta got kind of huge. First she sang a song about “just dancing,” and then one that could have been a metaphor for sexual stoicism (or maybe being poked in the face with a penis, which she was once rumored to have). She makes silly videos that cost a lot of money, and there’s a decent chance she’ll have some sort of weird surgery in the near future. But Lady Gaga is the biggest pop star of the new decade.
Gaga’s early assault on the Top 40 was nothing out of the ordinary for an up-and-coming starlet. Early singles like “Poker Face” and “Just Dance” were huge hits, but served mainly as pop radio earworm, doing little to distance Gaga from the Ke$ha’s and Kristinia DeBarge’s of the world. It was the November 2009 release of The Fame Monster that coincided with a sudden increase in the scope of Lady Gaga’s appeal.
Originally planned as a three-song supplement to her debut, The Fame, the followup project eventually became a full-fledged album. Its heavy beats and brooding synthesizers marked a move to a gothic vibe, painted over her typical full-throated choruses. But hey, Rihanna “got dark” on her disappointing Rated R, which was released around the same time. What’s so special about Gaga?
“Bad Romance” transcended “hit song” status and became the first virtual cultural landmark of the new decade. Its big-budget conceptual video is now the second most-viewed music video in YouTube history, and along with counterpart “Telephone,” recalled Michael Jackson’s theatrics and the glory days of MTV. You know, back when a label wasn’t afraid to drop $800,000 on a ten-minute music video. Waiting in queue is “Alejandro,” which sounds like a marriage of ABBA and Ace of Base in the most blissful way possible.
But it’s not just thanks to Gaga’s viral videos that she may well be to this decade what Madonna was to the 80s or Britney Spears was to the 2000s. The “female pop singer” archetype has long been a storied one, with distinction and debauchery just as crucial as beats and hooks. Pop culture devotees don’t want a diva who’s going to lure them with flavor-of-the-month hijinks and leave them cold by the time the VMAs roll around.
In the annals of pop music, true superstars are those effortlessly enchanting public figures whose interaction with fame and fortune illuminate the human psyche. Lord knows Gaga’s already done it, and her antics will probably fuel the conversations you have with your hairdresser for the rest of the decade. Who doesn’t enjoy watching her dressed up like a fool on Oprah, describing the costume changes between every one of her songs while on tour? A decade’s worth of her saying silly things while accepting awards? Sign me up.
For those hesitant to hop on the bandwagon, the shift from expendable pop to the heavier atmosphere of The Fame Monster worked as a green light to drop all reservations. Even Pitchfork Media – the massive indie webzine known for championing artists like Joanna Newsom and Animal Collective – let its guard down on January 13 and awarded the album a 7.8, giving hipsters a virtual free pass to stop deleting “Bad Romance” from their Last.fm accounts.
To have consumers actually buying CDs (the album has already gone platinum) in 2010, it’s really no wonder that reluctant fans have caught on. “She manages to create incredibly catchy music with great pop hooks without compromising her individuality,” says junior economics and political science major Mike Stallone. “As a person who generally steers clear of that side of the musical spectrum, it’s a breath of fresh air.”
For the record, though, five of the top six most deleted tracks on Last.fm this February were Lady Gaga songs. It seems some still need a little encouragement.
Chris Payne is the Music Director of 91.3 WTSR.