Lady Gaga released her new album earlier this week, and it’s come at a time when there seems to be a little bit of a backlash against her, with lukewarm reviews for singles like Born This Way and Judas, as well as an explosion of fury from sections of her fanbase over the album cover, of all things. After a run of huge success with her singles from The Fame/The Fame Monster, is it a sign of a flash in the pan starting to fade? Only time will tell, but it would be a shame if that was the case, because the music world needs Gagas.
Like everyone else who sings or acts, she’s in the entertainment business, and one thing you can always get from Lady Gaga is entertainment, whether it’s through her music or her eccentric fashion sense. Or the fact that she seems to be completely barking. A listen to Born This Way pretty much gives that away even if you hadn’t seen any photos of her, with Scheiße one of the standout tracks for both quality and insanity, right down to the spoken intro of “I don’t speak German but I can if you like” and the German language verses that follow. What they are about or for, I have no idea, but it works.
Pop music is one of those genres (I’m talking ‘pop’ in the commonly-used sense, not in the ‘anything that is popular’ sense, by the way) where it often helps to be a bit bonkers. Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna and Mariah Carey are three of the biggest pop stars of the last thirty years and they are (were, in Jackson’s case) entertaining because of their eccentricities. They, like Gaga, take (took) themselves very seriously in what they do, especially when more and more people join them in taking it seriously, and that only helps to make it more fun to watch. If they think they’re the new Jesus, just sit back and marvel at the spectacle, don’t moan or waggle your bum at them.
If you’re an indie rock band full of intense lyrics about meaningful things, you can get away with wearing jeans and a t-shirt on stage and looking a bit glum, but when you’re singing about your own hair or a telephone or how much you fancy Judas Iscariot, it helps to have a bit more going on. If that involves horn implants, wearing clothes made of meat or photoshopping your head onto a motorcycle, who cares as long as we can all point and say how weird you are. As long as the music’s good enough, the rest is all just fancy window-dressing.
And while Born This Way is a hugely overbloated (especially the deluxe edition) album that sounds like 100 different ideas all thrown at a blank canvas at the same time, it fits Gaga’s established persona perfectly and is deliriously entertaining when it works, which it does more often than it doesn’t. Is she redefining pop music? Does it all mean anything? Who cares, it’s a heck of a load of fun.