In a society where it is in a female musician’s best interest to wear the latest fashion trends to her concert, one would think appearing on stage as a man or in raw meat would be a no-no. When other lady pop stars have seen unlimited success cranking out love ballad after love ballad, writing and recording lyrics questioning religious beliefs or political standpoints sounds career-damaging. And when the same woman can choose to have an expert plan out exactly how her concert should go, down to what to say and when to say it to ensure maximum success, improvising a good amount of each show has the potential to be quite disastrous for her. But time after time, Lady Gaga continues to do all of the above, defying the odds while risking her career.
The other day, I listened to two students conversing about their favorite artists and their exhibits of artistic courage. One guy was saying how David Bowie was known for appearing on stage in a skirt, which was apparently a bold move. The girl responded by telling him about when Christina Aguilera came out with a retro album, abandoning her usual pop sound. From what I gathered, the girl was very impressed with this risky business of Ms. Aguilera’s. After the students finished making their points, I couldn’t help but think, if that’s considered artistic courage, then Lady Gaga must be the General Patton of the music industry. Every move the singer/songwriter makes is sink or swim, pass or fail, make it or break it. In other words, she doesn’t waste her time playing it safe, as most other artists do at least once in a while. In fact, she started taking risks before she was even a well-known artist.
How did she do this? The answer is simple: By staying true to herself, which is easier said than done nowadays. Ever since the birth of MTV, the vast majority of people have become less taken with the music itself and more obsessed with the “visual.” Don’t believe me? Think about it. Would Ke$ha have been able to stay afloat back in the fifties, where she couldn’t rely on her music videos and soundboard to help her out? On the flipside, how would someone like Buddy Holly, with his thick-framed glasses, have fared trying to record an album today? Because of this transfer of emphasis from audio to image, less-talented, better-looking people are given the best opportunities, sucking the originality right out of music as we knew it. But Lady Gaga refused to let record labels change her look and lyrics, which is why it took her a while to get a contract and also why she is so popular today. When something original comes along, it generally forces people to form an opinion about it, which is why everyone either really loves or really hates Gaga and her bold ways.
One of the best examples of this was back in 2009 during the VMA’s. At this point in time, Gaga wasn’t known for being as over-the-top as she is today. She was in the middle of performing her song, “Paparazzi”, when she suddenly started bleeding and stumbling around on stage, appearing as though she was actually injured. Since Gaga hadn’t done anything like this before, the audience started to panic, thinking something might actually be wrong with the singer. Afterwards, people weren’t sure how they felt about this, many finding it somewhat offensive. Which is funny, seeing less than a year later, it was probably these same people in outrage when Gaga’s music video for her single, “Alejandro” was released, mixing nuns, Nazis, and sadomasochism all together into one big, kid-friendly production. Yes, the whole fake blood incident was likely forgotten around the same time.
What these people are failing to realize, however, is that this is exactly what our music industry needs right now – I mean, let’s be honest, Justin Bieber, Britney Spears, and Lil Wayne don’t exactly reach the same intensity level or emotional depth that was achieved by Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, or The Beatles. Something is definitely needed, something off-the-wall, jaw-dropping, inspiration-sparking, and thought-provoking that is going to give the rest of today’s artists a little kick to get started, and Gaga has just shot off the pistol.
I hope that in the next few years, these changes will start becoming apparent, because I personally am growing weary of listening to all these empty songs by manufactured artists. I hope we see more people like Gaga bringing fresh and innovative ideas to the industry’s table, so that simply being creative is no longer considered controversial. In other words, I hope we will see the music industry return to what it used to be about – meaningful lyrics, talented musicians, and a whole lot of originality.