Gaga – the phenomenon

In my travels it seems most over 30s (particularly in Baptist circles) recognise the name but know little of Lady Gaga.  It’s not uncommon to draw a blank stare at the Gaga name from people, including those whose bread and butter is youth work.  

While I don’t pretend to be an expert I think it’s important for us as Christians to be aware of modern cultural personalities (like Lady Gaga) and the influence their message has on those who deserve our best efforts in obedience to the Great Commission. 

Something that hasn’t seemed to change in a long while (if my father’s whistling of Ella Fitzgerald tunes is any guide) is the soundtrack to young life provided by popular music.  One only has to look at the creepy nostalgia for 80s music amongst my Generation X peers to understand the power of music in the teenage identity. 

In the past year Lady Gaga has shot across the music stratosphere with particular brightness.  Ironically her moniker is drawn from Queen’s 1980s hit Radio Gaga.  Gaga is the artist formerly known as Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, a 24 year old native of New York. 

My aim is to share my observations on the Gaga phenomenon in a series of blogs, giving my interpretation of her message and themes.   What is Gaga’s message to today’s generation?  What is being lyrically hard-wired into their brain with catchy tunes?  How can we understand the Gaga world view to our advantage in reaching a needy world?  What’s an appropriate parental response?

It’s been a while since we’ve seen a pop icon achieve such rapid prominence and influence.  Her break-out single was less than 18 months old when in March 2010 Time Magazine named Lady Gaga as the most influential artist/performer in the world. 

In recent weeks she became the first celebrity to gather 10,000,000 “friends” on Facebook (now 14,356,000 and counting), a number that would beat most of the highest selling albums of all time.  Over on youtube her videos have garnered more than a billion viewings.

She’s got the outlandish fashion and media notoriety thing happening, but those two alone don’t make a star of her magnitude without being hung on more than adequate music. 

At its core Gaga’s music is fairly formula plastic pop, the sort of vein well mined by Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Gwen Stefani  over the past decade. 

However, Gaga arguably has more musical ability than those three put together.  Spears and Aguilera were the Mickey Mouse club kids who are adept at miming along to formula tunes put to them by record company executives.  Stefani rode the coat tails of No Doubt to fame. 

Before she hit the big time.

Gaga learned the piano at age four and spent her teenage years immersed in the theatrical world.  Before she broke the big time she was performing in burlesque shows on New York’s Lower East Side.  Her background in music and education in the school of hard knocks gives a bit more of a harder grunt to her music (together with a voice decidedly lower and more gravelly than some of the other pop princesses).  But the strength of her music is the party-girl atmosphere driven by a driving discoesque beat and awash with dirty synth and catchy hooks.

Let’s be clear, Gaga’s music is catchy, very catchy and it’s ubiquitous.  When I started taking notice of Gaga I realized her major hits were already lodged in the recesses of my brain.  The siren synth of Just Dance and repetitive mah mah mah mah of Poker Face had already been logged.  Listen to Poker Face and the refrain will run around your head for days. 

Gaga has become the sound of being in public places.  Simple music with a big hook. 

Don’t discount just how pervasive Gaga has become.  If she’s on the sub-conscious register for a large part of the population you can be sure her riffs and lyrics are hard-wired into the brain of today’s teen.  Think how hard it can be to memorise text, but how simple it is to remember the pop tunes of your youth.  Gaga is a large part of the sound track for today’s under 30s. 

So we might ask, what is the message of this sound track?


2 Responses to Gaga – the phenomenon

  1. Pingback: Gaga Part II – Just Dance « Co-mission

  2. Pingback: Camping sub-cultures « Co-mission

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