“Her impact has been phenomenal,” adds Richard Park, Executive Director of Programming at Global Radio. Their network includes Capital and Heart FM, who currently play Gaga’s songs more than any other UK stations. He adds: “When Just Dance came along it was an injection of life when I think it’s true to say we were a little thin on the ground for stars. She’s been grappling with Madonna for the queen of pop title and I think she’s actually wrestled that title from her.”
So if Gaga’s successful, the natural next step would be for someone to come up with someone just like her, right? We saw it with Amy Winehouse, we see it with guitar bands. Well, with Gaga it’s not so easy: you can’t just copy her. “You couldn’t even start to manufacture the next Lady Gaga,” Jay says. “I’ve seen lots of unsigned acts who have tried to use Gaga’s quirkiness as their own but it’s just not believable. You can’t manufacture that unpredictability.”
Gaga’s relentless drive and apparent immunity to exhaustion takes her into a new phase this year. She’s due to perform brand new song Born This Way at the Grammys on the 13 February. After that there’s a new album in May. And after that?
Borkowski says that the only limit is her own ability to keep reinventing and developing new relationships. “She understands what her audience wants. Bowie understood it. Madonna understood it. They all understand it, in fact, until the point when they’re not in sync any more.” Thornton, meanwhile, is wary of Lady Gaga being too in sync, and is concerned about the Mother Monster routine. “Sometimes you can pull that kind of thing off,” she says. “But I don’t think Michael Jackson ever did that very well – it was actually a sign of mental illness rather than an interesting performative trope. You have to be careful not to believe your own fictions.”
There is the danger that the whole Gaga persona might simply become too unwieldy. Did you see that picture last year when she fell off one of her shoes at an airport? Imagine that but on a career level: one too many 10-minute videos, a few too many controversial statements, an outfit that somehow ends everything. At the very least, there will be the need for Gaga to regenerate, as Madonna and Michael Jackson and David Bowie once did, to stay ahead.
Some critics will say that it seems odd or misleading for there to be all this fuss about Gaga being an artistic visionary when, at the end of the day, you listen to the songs and they’re just pop music. Apart from the clearly wrong assumption that pop is a) not amazing and b) not capable of depth, the point she has been trying to make is that pop is never ‘just’ pop music.
Because the whole point of all this is that it is pop music at the heart of everything Lady Gaga does. It wouldn’t work if the beating heart of all this were anything other than pop. Mainstream, big, stupid, stampede-towards-the-dancefloor pop. And pop legends are measured in moments, those flashes of genius that superstars come up with every once in a while. Gaga has already had a 100 such moments. And at the Grammys next Sunday she’ll be up to 101. And if you can work out what, number 102 is, you may well be the next Lady Gaga. Good luck!
Lady Gaga’s new single Born This Way is out 13 February. The album of the same name follows on 23 May.
Words: Peter Robinson
Picture credit: Josh Olins