Lady Gaga: Pop culture turns sour
When Lady Gaga hit the scene, like most other early Shock Artists, she pinned herself to the genre of pop music. With songs like Just Dance and Poker Face, she set the tone (or at least we thought) of what she would continue to bring to the table. Let’s explore.
In the early days of Lady Gaga, we saw an artist who, not unlike many past pop artists, turned to shock art antics on the stage. Artists who fit into this same mold include David Bowie, The Tubes, Alice Cooper, Madonna, Prince (for his sexcapades on stage), Rob Zombie, Marilyn Manson and Tool. All of these bands had at least one pop hit.
Gaga has taken this same approach with The Fame. She cleverly uses straightforward pop music to rope in her fans. She then treats them to outrageous shock art antics both on stage and off, such as a raw meat dress and matching purse and hat. Or, her bubble outfit. She’s very good at both revealing parts of her body and covering them at the same time in a shocking way.
Her label hired a top-notch pop producer to produce The Fame as a classic pop album. In fact, the songs were very danceable with straightforward lyrics that most anyone can understand. Songs like Just Dance, Poker Face, Paparazzi and Love Game. She followed this album almost immediately with The Fame Monster and continued along these same lines changing the pop formula and song tone slightly, but retaining the straightforward pop lyrics with Telephone, Bad Romance and Monster. Although, by The Fame Monster, you could see hints of things to come, but it was still fun mostly pop music.
With Born This Way, Lady Gaga took a decidedly different turn. This album saw a drastic change in compositions and lyrics. The music is less straightforward pop delving off into less pop formula at times. She’s now trying to push the envelope of the pop genre both musically and lyrically. Unfortunately, pop music has a very narrow range of formula and the boundaries cannot be pushed, not even by Lady Gaga. If you diverge from this narrow range in the pop genre, you are firmly outside of the genre. Meaning, Born This Way really wasn’t straightforward pop music. At best, it would be considered experimental pop. Born This Way (the album) just didn’t work as pop music as well as The Fame and The Fame Monster (and her charting of tracks from this release proved that).
By this time, though, Gaga had gained a large fanbase because of her two prior releases. Releases that were exceptionally produced and that had mass appeal. With Born This Way, she had to hope her existing fans would accept it. Thankfully, for her, they did. Unfortunately, Born This Way did little to rope in new fans as the appeal of the tracks on Born This Way would be limited.
Tracks such as Judas, Fashion of His Love and Marry The Night took a much more serious and darker tone, something which pop is generally not known for. The lyrics could be interpreted in ways that could be considered problematic by many. Unfortunately, this also means that Gaga has unpinned her roots to pop music with this release. Of course, Born This Way is her ‘second’ official album because The Fame Monster was an extension to The Fame. The fact that this album wasn’t as good follows with most artist’s sophomore releases.
For musical artists to utilize Shock Art properly, it requires grounding one piece of the persona to accepted social norms. For musicians, this means pinning the music and lyrics firmly to a common and popular music genre. Not only does this appear to ground the artist to some semblance of sanity, the shock art can be forgiven because of the quality music behind the shock. The pop genre also, when the music gets airplay, guarantees enough fans to continue to drive the artist forward.
Unfortunately, once Lady Gaga unpinned her music from the straightforward pop genre, she now risks losing everything she’s worked so hard to build. If people don’t listen to the music, the shock art has no place. People don’t go to the shows to see what’s on stage or watch the shock, they go to hear the music. The visuals simply come along as the frame around the music.
When you buy a painting, for example, you find a frame that suits the painting. You don’t buy some random gaudy frame that detracts from the art. You buy a frame that complements it. You buy a frame that guides your eyes into the picture and not to the frame itself. Without good music to back the shows, the only thing left to watch are the meat dresses and gooey concoctions she drapes herself in.
Lady Gaga is releasing her new album ARTPOP on November 11th, 2013. One track has been ‘leaked’ called Burqa. Listening to this track, it’s clear that Gaga is pushing herself even farther away from the pop genre now than ever. Some claim that it’s a ‘club music’, but I don’t hear it. Club music is danceable. Club music has a beat that continues throughout the song. It is a 120-140 beats per minute track that gets people out of their seats and onto the dance floor. With Burqa, much of the song is devoid of beats. The sections that have beats still aren’t danceable.
The songwriting on the track is not pop formula. Most pop formula has a driving beat throughout with occasional breaks to heighten the track. Pop formula is usually ABAB or AABAABB or ABABBB similar. Where A is the straight sung parts of the song and B is the chorus or hook. Listening to Burqa, it’s difficult to find the formula because there’s not a driving beat and the chorus that’s there is not enough to get it stuck in your head. It’s structured, but not in the way that most pop songs are.
The point is that Gaga is now further pulling her music away from the pop genre and placing it into some kind of no-man’s land where it doesn’t fit rock, pop, dance or club. These types of tracks fit in the experimental category. Believe me, there are not many people out there who listen to experimental music. This genre is reserved for eclectic listeners. This is also not the demographic that tends to pay to attend concerts regularly. This is Lady Gaga’s primary mistake.
Gaga is washing herself out at a time when she could be firmly on top. Her label and her producers are not helping her either. They should be guiding her and keeping her on the pop track, but someone is giving her wrong advice (or no advice).
Ms. Germanotta, if you’re reading this, you need to head back to the studio and make sure your music remains firmly as ‘girl dumps guy’, ‘bad girl attitude’ lyrics wrapped in catchy pop tunes. This is the only way to ensure you can continue your rule at the top of pop no matter what you do on stage. The shock art may keep you in the tabloids, but the pop music keeps you on the charts and fans attending your concerts. Without The Pop, you won’t continue to have The Fame.