Popular music in the 21st century is no longer just about the lyrics, the music, or the presence of the artist. It is about the combined “show” — using media, lights, sound, special effects, costumes, make up and above all, an entertainment experience. One of the most visible and influence in the pop, dance and electronic fields is the artist Stefani Joanne Angelia Germanotta, more commonly known as Lady Gaga. Born in 1986, LG is not just a singer and performer, but also a producer, activist, fashion designer, actress and philanthropist. She was born and raised in , did some brief music studies, but concentrated on her career in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, then signed to Streamline Records when she was just 21 (Herbert). But this musical phenomenon is much more than a popular singer, with impressive philanthropic interests she is truly what one might call a modern Renaissance Artist.
Lady Gaga debuted with an album The Fame in 2008. It was an immediate critical and commercial success and was followed with The Fame Monster in 2009. The success of this release allowed her to take an 18-month long tour, called The which became the highest grossing concert tour of all time. She continues to be successful with her singles, music videos, and commitment to the arts (Waddell).
Lady Gaga is hard to put into one style. She was heavily influenced by a host of performers, some popular before she was born: David Bowie, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Queen, and even Britney Spears. When one tries to define her style, we see that she is flamboyant, diverse through fashion, performance, and of music videos. This has made her extremely popular, selling 23 million albums and over 64 million singles; 5 Grammy Awards, and 13 MTV Video Music Awards. Even such mainstream publications as Time Magazine have named her one of the most influential people in the world (Caufield).
Gaga says that her parents exposed her to the Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, The Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, and Elton John. Despite her flamboyance, what struck this writer was her duality: traditional family life and reverence for Indian physician Deepak Chopra. Regarding family, she said: “I am a real family girl. When it comes to love and loyalty, I am very old-fashioned. And I am for such an eccentric person. “I’m quite traditional in the family sense. I’ve always been that way” (Free). About spirituality and Chopra, she commented: “He’s a true inspiration. He’s always reminded me to work in a life of service to my fans and to fulfill my vision and my destiny” (Time 100: Lady Gaga on Her Biggest Influence).
I was also impressed with the way that Lady Gaga continuously reinvents herself: in music, dance, fashion, and even creative productions. One can find influences of Andy Warhol in her stage productions, but she credits her Mother for giving her a sense of drama and fashion. “When I’m writing music, I’m thinking about the clothes I want to wear on stage. It’s all about everything altogether — performance art, pop performance art, fashion. For me, it’s everything coming together and being a real story that will bring back the super-fan. I want to bring that back. I want the imagery to be so strong that fans will want to eat and taste and lick every part of us” (Harris).
Stylistically, Lady Gaga continues to experiment with new musical ideas, images, and forms. She continually pushes the envelope in lyrics and form. To this writer, she is more of a contralto who refuses to lip sync. Her phrasing and ability to comfortably move through almost three octaves is more in line with a classically trained voice, particularly her power and style. She is just as comfortable crooning tunes from the 30s and 40s as she is with techno and even her brand of rap. One critical noted that: here’s an immense emotional intelligence behind the way she uses her voice. Almost never does she overwhelm a song with her vocal ability, recognizing instead that artistry is to be found in nuance rather than lung power” (Blauvelt).
One of the most impressive issues surrounding Lady Gaga, though, is her commitment to philanthropy and political activism. Artists of her caliber often donate to one or two causes, but Gaga pushes the envelope and seems to genuinely care about her causes. She donated the proceeds of her January 2010 concert at New York’s Radio City to the Haitian Earthquake victims, she performed at a MTV Charity event for the Japanese Red Cross, and in 2012 she donated $1 million to the American Red Cross to help victims of Hurricane Sandy (Dershowitz; Kaufman).
In addition, Gaga remains focused on educating young people about the risks of HIV / AIDS. She partners with Cyndi Lauper, she launched a line of lipstick so that all net procedes would be donated to the campaign to prevent HIV / AIDS globally. She commented: “I don’t want Viva Glam to be just a lipstick you buy to help a cause. I want it to be a reminder when you go out at night to put a condom in your purse right next to your lipstick” (Chao). She extends this to the immigration debate and LGBT advocacy, believing that national equality is not just a right, it is a necessity. Pursuing the rights of the disenfranchised, Gaga said, “If we don’t stand up for what we believe in and if we don’t fight for our rights, pretty soon we’re going to have a much rights as the meat on our own bones” (Lee).
Finally, despite her cutting edge fashion, musical style, and multi-dimensional performances, Gaga is much, much more than a pop icon. Most impressive was that she launched the Born this Way Foundation in 2012 that is a non-profit organization that focuses on helping youth become more confident, mentoring, anti-bullying, and working towards career development. The foundation works with a number of mainstream partners, but if we think about this — what could be more of a positive role-model, an optimistic view of actualization of youth opportunity, and a turning point in pop stars contributing to positive opportunities for youth and an increasingly diverse global population (Krasny).
Blauvelt, C. “Lady Gaga Talks Early Struggles.” 23 February 2011. Entertainment Weekly. Web. April 2013. .
Caufield, K. “Lady Gaga is Billboard’s 2010 Artist of the Year.” 9 December 2010. Billboardbiz. Web. April 2013. .
Chao, N. “Going Gaga.” 3 February 2010. MarieClaire.com. Web. April 2013. .
Dershowitz, J. “Lady Gaga Donating #1 million to Sandy Relief.” 7 November 2012. CBS News. Web. April 2013. .
Free, B. “Lady Gaga: Just a Normal, Family Oriented Girl.” 20 May 2011. The Hollywood Gossip. Web. April 2013. .
Harris, C. “Lady Gaga Brings Her Artistic Vision of Pop Music to New Album.” 9 June 2008. MTV Music. Web. April 2013. .
Herbert, E,. Lady Gaga: Behind the Fame. New York: Overlook Press, 2010. Print.
Kaufman, G. “Lady Gaga Says She Raised $500,00 for Haiti Relief.” 27 January 2010. MTV.com. Web. April 2013. .
Krasny, R. “Lady Gaga lends star wattage to youth empowerment.” 1 March 2012. Reuters.com. Web. April 2013. .
Lee, A. “Lady Gaga defends meat dress by claiming “She’s no piece of meat.” 13 September 2010. Metro.co.uk. Web. April 2013. .
“Time 100: Lady Gaga on Her Biggest Influence.” June 2012. Time Magainze. Web. April 2013. .
Waddell, R. “Lady Gaga’s Monster Ball Tour Breaks Record.” 4 May 2011. Billboard biz. Web. April 2013. .