Pop Culture

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The Fame Kitchen

Lady Gaga - Telephone video - image from http://www.sirensofsong.com

The world’s (or at least 34,226,046+ people in it) obsession with Lady Gaga continues. As we countdown the release of Born This Way on May 23, I can’t help but wonder how Gaga became this big (as statistics prove here, there, and somewhere else) when she only has one and a half album + a handful of singles under her belt? How did she get this famous? Or, perhaps, how did she manage to make herself this famous? We need to look back to the past three years when Gaga first emerged on the scene and climbed the stairway of stardom.

Gaga started off with Just Dance. It was a great song and a #1 in many countries, no less. She already had some style that was “out there” back then. Not as outrageous as Gaga from The Fame Monster era then on, but it was enough to separate herself from others and catch people’s attention. Both her music and her style was a fresh alternative to whatever was dominant in Pop music back then (Beyonce’s I Am… Sasha Fierce?).

Gaga’s fame built up with Poker Face, another #1 song from The Fame, plus dozens or hundreds of more outrageous wardrobe. Gaga had established herself as an anomaly in the music industry. Sure, Gaga has been compared to or accused of ripping off Madonna, Grace Jones, and other artists, but let’s be honest and admit that none of them ruled the music industry when Gaga appeared on the scene. So, though Gaga may have copied someone else’s formula of fame, she had no guarantee that it would work in the 21st century. At least the bravery is original.

The Fame Monster + Gaga’s collaboration with Laurieann Gibson, Nicola Formichetti, and more creative people in Haus of Gaga + her embrace of the fashion industry only served to bring Gaga’s fame and artistry to an even higher level. At this point the world (I know I am) can’t help but suck on whatever she had to offer with full pleasure. And now with 4 singles out from Born This Way plus a handful of snippets and exclusive previews, 2011 is looking like another year of Gaga’s.

People are always on the look for novelty. That’s how Gaga won a lot of people’s attention and affection with her fresh music and style. I said fresh, I didn’t say original (which is another source of problem I’ll discuss elsewhere). Yeah, Madonna had been there but she has been absent for long that people forgot what it was like to be shocked. And how people responded to Madonna in the 90’s (which I consider to be Madonna’s era) is different, at least scale-wise, to how people respond to Gaga now. With the help of Internet and social media, Gaga’s eccentricity and shock value are just magnified. Nevertheless, Gaga is also backed with some talents that Madge may not have.

Gaga was right to move fast and upward with her artistry and style, breaking boundaries by exploring different sounds and different visual presentations at a very quick pace. So when followers of the similar “fast sound + abnormal style” formula started to appear (Nicki Minaj, Ke$ha, red-headed Rihanna, and Christina “Bionic” Aguilera, for example) Gaga seemed like an original and is far above the rest. Thus Gaga scored another point in popularity contest. That’s how you do it: when a copycat appears with your recipe to try to beat you at your own game, show them that you’re the best in delivering the goods no matter how perfect your formula has been copied by others.

Now that the competition has gotten fierce, it’s time to diversify the music and the style, showing the people that you are not “one note”. Gaga has done that with Alejandro, then Born This Way’s facial prosthetics, and now the Catholic-nun-goes-heavy-metal-biker look she’s been sporting since Judas then on. The latter seems to be the new manifestation of Gaga’s artistic vision, considering the design of Born This Way album covers and the fact that the album has a lot of rock and metal influence. Gaga herself did call the genre of her new album “avant-garde techno rock”. This diversification means another novelty (in Gaga’s career, not necessarily novelty in the history of music and performance) and people are always excited about that. That’s how Gaga became so famous.

But that’s not all. There’s more to Gaga’s fame than all the novelty and qualities that she presented. It is her mixing of quantity of those qualities. Allow me to elaborate on that point. To me, the maintenance of fame is like trying to satisfy hunger. When you’re hungry, you would want to eat something that tastes good with enough portions to make you feel full. Sometimes you’re hungry for something specific and that hunger can only be satisfied by something specific as well. But regardless, we will always appreciate some good new tastes that come to us at a surprise since we don’t prescribe what’s good and limit ourselves to it.

Gaga is like a Degustation Menu. The appetizer is called “styling”, one main course is the “singing”, another one is called “dancing”, still another main course goes by the name “music”, “choreography” would be the dessert, and we snack on the “humor” and drink on the “news”. We eat the menu and it varies from one day to another. The level of satisfaction that we get from each dish in the menu also varies. Sometimes the music is great, the singing is good, but the dance is just fair. We always like every degustation menu offered on the table, yet we often end up with the feeling that something was missing on this dish, or the entire menu would’ve been greater had this dish were that way or that dish were this way. In the end, however, we always look forward to eating another menu with the hope that the new menu would be improved. Something about the menu keeps us excited about it.

That is the best analogy I could come up with for Gaga. She is such a great artist and performer but she isn’t the best at everything, there’s always something that could be improved about her acts, something that often makes me go “ugh, why did she have to do it that way?” And when I said that she isn’t the best at everything, I didn’t mean to point out to her imperfections. Rather, I was implying that I can’t quite tell just how good Gaga is at what she does. I’ve listened to audio records of Gaga’s live performances and I thought she sounds quite average when live. But then I heard her sing on Oprah’s Harpo Hookup Show (where Johnny Depp was in the audience) and also her rendition of Nat King Cole’s Orange Colored Sky at BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend and I thought “hey, I never heard her sing this good before.” The same goes for her dancing, she often makes me go “oh, Gaga, move your feet!” She did say that she herself wouldn’t say that she was one of the best dancers, but the flux in her performances gets me confused. At BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend, Gaga looked like she was gasping for air, but when I saw her for the first time in that LoveGame video, she moved like a real pro. The Judas rehearsal that was recorded on Gagavision no. 41 also proves, to me, that Gaga is actually a good dancer. So, what caused the fluctuation?

The cause might’ve been Gaga herself and the flux might’ve been intentional all along. It is very possible that Gaga holds back on her performance on certain occasions, sometimes delivering great singing but average dancing or vice versa, but never to disappoint entirely. The flaws might’ve been intentional to keep the fans expecting the better and for the critics (and the haters) to make comments that will then spark discussions about her over the Internet. That’s free publicity for Gaga, and I believe that there’s no such thing as bad publicity for her. Only Gaga and her team know whether it was all intentional or not. But even if it wasn’t, that is what you should do to keep your level fame.

It is important to remember here that as an artist or anyone seeking fame you should be talented and able to bring a lot to the table. You have to have what it takes to satisfy the fans’ hunger, yet you should never fully satisfy them. Give them something good but never make them full, just like the degustation menu: you have great pieces of, say, Foie Gras, and Lamb Chop, and Cheesecake, but they are all just pieces that make up a full course. When you eat a degustation menu, you’ll get full because of the small dishes combined, not because of one dish with a big portion. And eating degustation menu is actually never about getting full, but about tasting different things that are good (Tasting Menu is the synonym of degustation menu). Degustation menu shifts your attention from filling the stomach to refining the palate, and that’s what Gaga does with her art and her self-presentation: she gives you a taste of everything but never lets you be full of either one.

– Taws Up! –