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Wednesday, October 15, 2008


ModMusic Week: Lady GaGa

By now, the only people in the galaxy who haven't heard Lady GaGa's mammoth dance hit, "Just Dance," live in the jungles of southeast Asia or on the frozen tip of Antarctica...and that's only due to the severe lack of dance clubs in those regions. To say that Lady GaGa is poised to be the Next Big Thing would be fifteen minutes behind on the stopwatch of celebrity; she's already huge in Europe, Canada and Australia, her album drops in America in two weeks, and the U.K. follows soon behind. She's appeared on The Hills and So You Think You Can Dance. She's written songs for Britney and the Pussycat Dolls. She's supporting the resurgent New Kids on the Block on their reunion tour. And the comparisons -- to Madonna, to Kylie, to Cyndi, to Grace Jones -- put her in some very impressive company.

But is the Lady (born Stefania Gabriella Germanotta, a native New Yorker) really a superstar-in-waiting? A listen to The Fame, her debut CD, suggests that the jury's still out. Oh, certainly "Just Dance" is one of the most hummable hits of 2008, and there are plenty of catchy follow-ups (including "Poker Face" and the album's bootie-shaking high point, the Gwen Stefani-ish "Beautiful Dirty Rich"). But taken as a whole, The Fame blurs and fades into a wall of fuzzy synths and faux-smutty lyrics. Like the hit machines of earlier decades (most notably Stock Aitken Waterman, the British superproducers of the 80's), Lady Gaga knows formula extremely well, and can replicate it endelessly. But that formula doesn't allow for spontaneity, experimentation or flights of fancy...all of which could make a palpable difference in satisying the listener.

Of course, Madonna has spent most of her career as a singles-first, album-second artist (with one notable exception, Ray Of Light); Kylie learned the hard way in the mid-90's that formula sells, and experimentation doesn't. Expecting Lady GaGa to be a trendsetter is perhaps to ask too much...or to ask the wrong question entirely. So let me rephrase: can this well-crafted but uninspiring debut turn into a long-term career? We'll have to wait and see. I'm guessing that GaGa herself would be bored to tears by this essay, and would advise me to skip the concerns about dance music's future and join the entire pop universe in following her advice. Just Dance.
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