MANILA, Philippines – These days, it’s tough to find anyone who doesn’t know Lady Gaga. Filipinos might not be able to identify who the country’s vice president is, but they will sing and dance along to “Poker Face” and “Born This Way.” They will scratch their heads at a picture of the Supreme Court Chief Justice but damn if they don’t start screaming “Gaga! Gaga!” when a video for “Bad Romance” flashes on their television screens. From the posh-est gated villages to the most far-flung provincial barrios, Gaga fever has infected Filipinos of all shapes and sizes, race and religion, social status and sexual orientation.
Small wonder, then, that her return engagement to Manila on May 21 is one of the most highly anticipated concerts in recent memory.
But what exactly is it about Lady Gaga that’s made her one of this era’s most influential pop culture icons? What makes this egg-riding, meat-dress-wearing, gender-bending performer stand out from countless other music acts begging for our time and attention? Is there really anything special underneath all those layers of make-up, costumes, and stage props?
One or the other
When it comes to Lady Gaga, I don’t believe there’s a middle ground. Her entire act demands that you love her or hate her. Few people who claim to love music will give a shrug of nonchalance and disinterest when her name comes up in conversations. Those who love her worship her, and those who don’t revile her.
It’s easy to see why.
TIME magazine did a series of portraits of her “little monsters,” which is how she affectionately calls her fans, and almost all of them professed their unwavering loyalty to their idol, calling her “inspiring” and “a genius.” For Gaga, it’s not just about the music. Her style is highly visual and practically encompasses an entire lifestyle.
Her live shows are choreographed to a “T” and every ripped stocking, every shade of lip gloss, every pint of blood, and every goose feather or metal chain around her back-up dancer’s necks is planned well in advance and executed with fierce, almost military-style precision.
Fans see and appreciate this. When Lady Gaga burst into the music scene with “Just Dance,” and later on, “Poker Face” from her album The Fame, people saw fresh talent taking the best of what’s come before her and injecting into it her own unabashed, devil-may-care bravado.
What she was selling probably wasn’t all that new (people have accused her of stealing the act of everyone from Grace Jones and Cher to Madonna and David Bowie), but how she packaged and marketed herself—a sensuous loose cannon with vocal pipes and genuine musical talent to boot—was what made the difference.
She was a hellraiser who got people excited about pop music again.
It is this insatiable desire to keep pushing boundaries and ripping the very fabric of the pop culture landscape that I believe has made Lady Gaga this generation’s most relevant musical artist.
While many other performers slogged through decades to establish a sizable following and become music superstars, it only took the 26 year-old New Yorker 4 years since the release of her breakthrough debut record to sell an estimated 23 million albums (and plenty more singles) and become one of the biggest music artists of all time. Her Monster Ball concert tour is also one of the highest-grossing in history while her over 23 million followers have made her the most followed individual on Twitter.
Whether people adore her for her music or for her outrageous fashion sense, is, I think, missing the point. Clearly one is an extension, if not completely a part of, the other.
Gaga has said that she thinks about what she’s going to wear onstage when she writes music. I saw an interview she gave CNN early on in her career where she claimed that she prefers to funnel her earnings as an artist back into her act, in developing stage concepts and costumes, rather than spending it anywhere else. “Creativity is the greatest form of rebellion,” she has been quoted as saying.
That sort of dedication is indicative of an artist who goes beyond issues of vanity and actually cares about giving her concert audiences a good time.
This obsession with putting on a good show can only benefit the fans, particularly Pinoys who are beside themselves with excitement for Lady Gaga’s second date with Manila at the brand new SM Mall Of Asia Arena next month. When they purchase a ticket to her show, it’s not just some girl singing on a stage. What Lady Gaga promises is a complete sensory overload, an experience rather than a regular event.
I was unable to catch her when she was here back in 2009, but there’s no reason not to be in the audience this time around. True, she doesn’t fit the profile of artists that are usually in my playlist (I prefer pop and rock bands and sensitive singer-songwriters), but I do enjoy the occasional chorus sing-along when I hear “Poker Face” on the radio. – Rappler.com
(What songs are in your playlist? Who are your favorite musical artists? RAPPLER welcomes CD and concert reviews from all the music lovers out there. Email us your story with photos with subject heading MUSIC to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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