The Evolution of Lady Gaga


She’s at it again.

Friday’s release of the single “Born This Way,” along with the performance of the song at last night’s Grammy Awards, have signaled the next step in Lady Gaga’s inevitable evolution. She’s staken her claim as the biggest pop star in the game today, and she won’t be giving it up easily.

What interests me about Gaga is not that she dresses in crazy outfits or makes all-time great pop songs. While I do love her music and enjoy keeping track of her antics, what is fascinating to me is how her persona has changed through each of her records – and her music along with it.

Remember 2008? It was a simpler time for Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta. Her debut album, The Fame, dropped on August 18 and rocketed to #1 in six countries (although it only peaked at #2 in the US). It was nominated for Album of the Year at the 2010 Grammys, losing to Taylor Swift’s Fearless.

Despite the near-instant success of The Fame, one secret hung over Lady Gaga: While it was a fun album to dance to, it wasn’t actually that good. I wouldn’t find myself sitting in my room, doing work, and listening to The Fame.

Don’t look at me so incredulously, Stef. It gets better!

Instead of turning out another full album, Gaga brought a jam-packed EP to 2009. Not jam-packed because of the number of songs (8), but because of the quality. It was packaged alongside a reissue of The Fame, almost as if Gaga realized that her debut album fell short.

Yes, it brought the same brand of dancy/synthpop, but The Fame Monster rose above its predecessor in almost every way. The biggest difference was the number and quality of songs: instead of a 13-track record with three good songs, one decent one, and a lot of filler, she dropped an 8-track EP where every song was phenomenal. From “Bad Romance”‘s opening “ra-ra-ah-ah-ah” to the closing of “Teeth,” The Fame Monster made you believe in pop music again. This was Gaga 2.0: Yeah, she’s gonna make you dance, but you’re also going to enjoy the music on its own merits.

So, where does Ms. Germanotta go from here? After releasing a near-perfect EP and stunning the world with her theatrical performances, what could she possibly do for an encore?

Get up, Gaga! There's work to be done!

The answer is simple. In order to go from late-00s/early-10s pop princess to immortal musical juggernaut, there is one more step she must take.
Lady Gaga must begin creating Important Music.
The problem, of course, is that Important Music is a mousetrap. It can be so tempting to attempt to ride to musical immortality on the back of an Important Issue. However, it can suck the life out of musicians, turning them from vibrant, exciting performers into post-Beatles Lennon. Or worse, Bono.*
Gaga knows this. Friday saw the release of her newest single, “Born This Way,” which will be the title track of her 2011 record. “Born This Way” seems to continue the excellence of The Fame Monster, while also attempting to make the jump to Important Music. I think it’s a fantastic song, but you can judge for yourself:
Lady Gaga has succeeded where so many others have failed when trying to make the leap to Important Music – she doesn’t sound preachy. “Born This Way” is a celebration of the self, no matter who that is. Yes, it’s going to be seen as an anthem for gay rights, and rightfully so. That is definitely her intention. But “Born This Way” is ultimately a triumph for the individual, a celebration for self-esteem, and a cry of joy. “I’m beautiful in my way” isn’t a statement of politics or narcissism – it’s a cry for sanity on a personal level. Be who you are and LOVE IT.
Whether you like her or not, we’re watching Gaga as she becomes Lady Gaga 3.0. That is, she’s turning one of the best Important Musicians ever. Remember this moment. Born This Way (the album) could become her Thriller, only if Thriller had a social justice bend. We’re poised to see her sales shatter anything we’ve seen in the mp3 era; let’s see if she can shatter some ceilings along the way.

Go, Gaga, go!

*note: I don’t mean to deride Bono for his charity work. He does a lot of good. I do, of course, mean to deride him for the mediocrity of his music.

12 Responses to “The Evolution of Lady Gaga”

  1. 1 Jessica Reese

    I don’t think her newest song “Born This Way” is as great as it was hyped up to be. It’s hard to beat Bad Romance, Poker Face, Starstruck, etc etc. But, I am excited to meet the new album and the new songs besides the title track.

    Good review, and thanks for the background information! I remember when she sort of first debuted in the United States at the Miss Universe Pageant and The Hills. I remember thinking she was absolutely bizarre and some foreign creature that was going to fade away like most of semi-famous pop artists do. I’m sure glad she didn’t!

  2. 2 Andrew

    The Rolling Stone feature on Gaga last summer was great and I gained a lot of respect for her and her goals(as well as why pop music is her chosen ave). You may have read that at Cory’s wedding…

  3. 3 Finding the new normal

    Good review, and thanks for the background information! I remember when she sort of first debuted in the United States at the Miss Universe Pageant and The Hills. I remember thinking she was absolutely bizarre and some foreign creature that was going to fade away like most of semi-famous pop artists do. I’m sure glad she didn’t!

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