Review Summary: Welcome to the world of Gaga."Fame is the perfume of heroic deed."
A few months ago I realized something about Lady Gaga. This certain revelation had been eluding me since her pop chart domination started with the release of "Just Dance" in 2008 and I was bothered by it, to say the least. For a long time, I saw nothing--or perhaps too much (more on that later)--special about Lady Gaga. Her singles were catchy, yes, but were they enough
to consider her the second coming of mainstream pop music? It certainly didn't seem
like she was doing all that much to change the direction set by artists like Beyoncé, Rihanna, or even Britney Spears. I hated to play the role of the stubborn indie kid, but, hell, if this was the best thing mainstream pop could throw at me, I was prepared to go back to brandishing my copy of The Avalanches' Since I Left You
as a reminder of what this "club" dance music could or should have been. As if this wasn't enough, there was also the issue of Lady Gaga's hilariously overblown image; from her surreal music videos (which have been taken to the next level with the release of her "Telephone" video in March of 2010) to her unrelentingly avant-garde fashion sense, Gaga seemed poised to change how people looked at popular art. The aggravating thing about this was that these progressive qualities seemed to appear everywhere except
her music, which still came off to me as generic. This incongruity frustrated me, considering that, despite whatever motives she had, Lady Gaga was still a music
artist, and it was the music
charts that she was dominating. Sure, the despicable quality of most music on the radio usually had the ability to get me steamed for a few seconds, but Lady Gaga not only left me bitter, but also perplexed.
That is, until I figured it out.
You see, the thing about Lady Gaga is that she is such a consciously divisive character that she either helplessly enchants you or pisses you the *** off. Either way, though, you're hooked. Even those who would never be caught dead with one of her songs on their iPod are still obsessed with her every move, wondering how she will top herself with each song release or new outfit. In other words, if you find yourself as someone who absolutely despises
her, the sad truth is that you're essentially being trolled. I employ this term with some reasonable caution, but, really, the haters are almost as important to Gaga as the fans are. It's the haters that allow Lady Gaga to build off the hype of being a possible hermaphrodite, or to tell conflicting stories about the lyrics to "Poker Face", or to fill up blogs with vigorous opinions on what she is currently wearing. Whether you like it or not, if you hate Lady Gaga with a passion, you're probably just helping her cause. Suddenly, Lady Gaga's "gimmicks" don't seem all that dumb anymore, and, if you're willing to swallow your pride, her music actually might become enjoyable!
As you've all probably guessed right now, this was the exact same realization I made some time ago, and, yes, it was the first step towards my actual enjoyment
of Lady Gaga and her music. Before I get into that, though, I must apologize: up to now I have been illustrating Lady Gaga as a sort of business item. This is selling her short, admittedly: none of her "tactics" would work if people did not find something alluring in her music. Much of Lady Gaga's success arose out of dance clubs, and it's easy to see why; most of her (and The Fame
's) music is made for dancing, being composed of big beats, sing-a-long hooks, and slinky synth lines (fittingly, most of her biggest singles are the ones that best exemplify this). However, her music also extended outward, gaining constant rotation on the radio, MTV, and everyone's iPod. Gaga, by combining the positives of various pop artists into a fun, unpretentious package, had stolen the heart (and, for those who look down upon her carefree lyrics, the brain) of just about everyone you and I know. After a while, her unique impact became so unavoidable that even those who resisted at first, like me, were captivated.
The first song that really struck me was probably her second single "Poker Face", which includes hook after hook (this writer's favorite being the low-register "oh-woah-oh-oh"s) to brilliant effect. The song isn't a reinvention of pop music, it's just one of the most catchy and slyly inventive songs to invade the mainstream radio in a long time. Add that Lady Gaga's own clever lyrical ambiguity, and you've got a surefire pop hit; one that's slick, sexy, and danceable. Of course, this only happened to be the first one to have a positive effect on me by pure chance, and soon after I wore out "Poker Face" on my computer I found that I loved her other singles for similar reasons. Lead single "Just Dance", the seductive "LoveGame", and the lyrically clever "Paparazzi" were all added into my collection of "guilty pleasures", getting regular rotation in between plays of Merriweather Post Pavilion
. After a while, I finally gave in and decided to listen to the entirety of The Fame
, expecting to get more of the strangely addicting dance-pop these singles had given me.
And, unsurprisingly, that's exactly what I got. The majority of the album is made up of the same pulsing electro beats and infectious hooks that defined songs like "Poker Face" and "Just Dance", which, in the hands of a lesser artist, could lead to a sense of homogeneity. However, Lady Gaga consistently does more than enough to carry the album swiftly throughout its running time, producing some of the best damn pop music you're likely to hear in this day and age. Best of all, there are some excellent standouts outside of the hit singles. "Beautiful, Dirty, Rich" (released as a promotional single only) utilizes some funky drum and piano samples and combines them with sleek synth lines to promote one of Gaga's best vocal performances on the album. That the chorus is yet another catchy piece of sing-a-long songcrafting is just an added bonus. The title track is similarly great, instead using a dynamic guitar line to showcase the Lady's usual no-bull*** approach to the subject of fame ("Fame, doin' it for the fame / 'cause we want to live the life of the rich and famous"), both relishing in the glamorous life and subtly parodying it. Of course, not many people listen to Lady Gaga for the "message", so it's also worth mentioning that the song will make even the most reluctant of club-goers shake their booty like it's nobody's business.
Are there slip-ups on The Fame
? I would be a fool to deny it. "Eh, Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say)", a calypso-influenced "ballad", is one of the few times that Lady Gaga deviates from both the lyrical and musical themes of the rest of the album, and it just so happens that it's one of the worst tracks on the album. Something about the "sunny" atmosphere of the song feels a little jarring placed in between "Beautiful, Dirty, Rich" and "Poker Face", and, while it's commendable that Gaga is trying something new, it feels a little unnecessary. Suffering from nearly the opposite problem, "Money Honey" feels a little too
much like the other tracks (especially "Poker Face"), failing to produce a hook infectious enough to distract the listener from this problem (then again, this concern is considerably lessened when everything is being played on booming speakers at a dance club).
However, these minor complaints are overshadowed by the overwhelming positive energy emanating from the album, especially when, toward the end of the album, Lady Gaga starts deviating more and more from the formula set by her lead singles. The best examples of this "experimentation" are the bluesy "Again Again" and the ballad "Brown Eyes" (both of which are, thankfully, better than "Eh, Eh"). These songs, while exhibiting Gaga's great songwriting, also reveal her to be a versatile pop artist, one who isn't afraid to take chances at the risk of losing some fans who just want "Poker Face" over and over again.
is a great pop album from start to finish and showcases Lady Gaga as a fantastic pop artist who shows more investment in her own work than just about anyone making music today. I could go on and on about the brilliance of Lady Gaga's image, or perhaps deliver more anecdotes on her irresistible aura and its effects on me, but, really, just purchase a copy of this album if you want a fun, smartly written pop album. If you still insist on hating Gaga, well, that's your loss. She certainly doesn't care. She's only in it for the money.