Contained herein are images of a Tumblr post that’s currently circulating with about 20,000 notes on it (warning: open that page and music will play). Here is my response:
Gaga before Gaga: MADONNA, PEACHES, GRACE JONES, ETC.
I hope whomever made this realises that pop stars are commodities. They are marketable objects, like shampoo, dog food, or tampons (in Katy Perry’s case, all three at once). You follow the trends or you die. Neither Beyoncé nor Christina Aguilera are actually copying or imitating Lady Gaga in any significant way; they’re both established, multi-platinum recording artists who are more than likely going to have worldwide success regardless. Or, at least, Beyoncé is, because Christina Aguilera released a pretty bad album that flopped in pretty much every way. She may be past her expiration date, or have to revert to her slutty candy striper thing.
Katy Perry? She’s a plain-to-pretty white girl with no chin who is only slightly talented at best. Why wouldn’t she follow the trend to boost her career? It’s working, isn’t it? Her songs are awful, so clearly her label’s marketing team have done something right.
Rihanna? Well, aside from that hideous red hair she has, she doesn’t really do it much anymore. See: clips for California King Bed, What’s My Name?. She’s a bigger star than Gaga is (so is Katy Perry), particularly sales-wise. Rihanna is selling more records than Gaga is, so After Gaga: who gives a shit? She can do what she wants; she’s a bigger selling artist.
Nicki Minaj? Uh, guys. Practically no one knew who she was before she revamped her image. Why wouldn’t she follow the trend? These are women who are trying to be famous, with millions of dollars invested to make them famous. This is a money game for most of them. She also has the advantage of the absence of Eve, Missy Elliott, and black women in pop in general since the female RnB renaissance of the early noughties (why isn’t Ciara more famous? That ain’t right.).
When a film is made that is hugely successful, what does a film studio do? Make something like it. Same with TV. These industries are just trying to replicate the success of what came before. It’s an imperfect method, but it works. Before Gaga as she is now, there was Gaga as she was circa The Fame monster; and before that, there was Gaga circa The Fame. She has amped up the zany because she is an incredibly savvy businessperson, just as her marketing team are. Her success is not due to excess of talent, guys. It’s really not. Talent means almost nothing to success in mainstream music. It’s: can you sing? Yes: good. Not really: it’s cool, Katy Perry, we’ll find you something to do. Executives – these days in particular – want woman who are pretty, have a slight edge to them and are willing to subject to a veritable marketing machine. Ever wonder why someone like Michelle Branch is not really a thing anymore? Or Stacey Orrico? Or that 500 Miles chick? Because they’re boring, piano-playing white girls. They just don’t fit nowadays, or aren’t willing to. Bummer.
Now, this applies far less to people like Christina and Beyoncé particularly who gained stardom in the late 90s/early 00s when pop music was last of any real quality beyond a couple of songs here and there, and Adele, maybe. They earned their fame and fans much moreso than anyone else shown here. In fact, they set the trends for a while. And conspicuously missing is the only pop star who can rival, say, Beyoncé in having an enduring influence and career: Britney Spears. You might’ve noticed, but Britney still does pretty damn well for herself, and she’s not following any of these fashion trends.
The music, however? Only Beyoncé and Gaga aren’t, to be truthful. They’re all following musical trends set by DJs and producers, particularly will.i.am. The Black Eyed Peas are the only musical group that rivals these women in success (for shame, humanity), and will.i.am is their producer, and produces songs for some of these women. And almost always for the worse. Beyoncé still gets good reviews because she does her own thing; Diplo’s production on Girls (Who Run the World) is actually something different in the mainstream. It was a bit of Beyoncliché (yep, coining that) – we get it, lady, female empowerment!! – but it sounded different. Ultimately they’re recording artists. They’re chiefly selling their music. Rihanna and Katy Perry and more than likely Nicki Minaj will all be lost to the annals of time. But we’ll always have Crazy in Love (one of the best pop songs of the last 20 years). We’ll always have Beautiful to score teenage girls crying on bad teen dramas. We’ll always have Toxic, which is right up there alongside Crazy In Love.
Gaga, fortunately, has Bad Romance, Alejandro, Poker Face. She may yet endure. But Gaga fans may have noticed that as a commodity, her stock has dropped. Big time. To most, she’s more spectacle than pop star now. When she was making interesting pop like those aforementioned songs (with the exception of Poker Face, that was pretty cut-and-paste) she was hitting number one. Born This Way, by Gaga’s own standards of success she set for herself, and for the standards set by these other women I’ve talked about, has been a failure.
Gaga is less a trend-setter than a trend-revivalist. Madonna, as we all know, did this 25 years ago to, frankly, greater effect. Grace Jones has been pretty batshit for years, though less successful. Peaches isn’t terribly mainstream but she’s been dressing in insane outfits for years and no one seems to have noticed how many parallels can be drawn there.
This isn’t to say that Gaga isn’t influential. But Nicki Minaj’s Princess Tripping Balls Barbie look notwithstanding, she hasn’t done much Beyoncé couldn’t have done on her own, or Britney, or maybe even Madonna herself (imagine all of these women with terrifying arms and lycra in their twats). But her influence is superficial at best. Her music is – the better songs from The Fame Monster aside – has slavishly followed the musical trends. Born This Way tried so embarrassingly hard to be powerful club songs that it’s almost comical she’s failed to find as much chart success under what is ostensibly an overall trend of exactly that: pop songs for clubs.
Lady Gaga fans have every right to idolise her, but it’s deluded when they act like she isn’t as much of a marketed commodity as any other pop star out there. If Born This Way weren’t contrived and bland, the tone of this post might be entirely different. But until her next album, I remain sceptical. However, I would argue that Gaga’s decline is orchestrated. She has said herself that she is a student of fame. She has reached her apex, and now she may well be enacting the inevitable fall from grace, after arguing for the token cause (gay rights). Lady Gaga is just a fresh coat of paint on the rusting car that is pop music.
Like a Prayer was far more interesting and controversial than any music video that Gaga has done thus far. Gaga’s problem is that she isn’t controversial beyond the manufactured. Madonna’s Sex was actually risqué for the time. Gaga? Eh, we’ve seen one of Janet Jackson’s tits, and we’ve seen Fergie pee herself. You’ll have to do better than that.