Wow, that just happened

Lady Gaga’s new album is out, or so an old issue of NME tells me. I always seem to miss her singles — we have stopped listening to Kool 105 (yes with a K, not a C) at work so not only am I no longer subjected to “ET” and “The Lazy Song” five times a day I am no longer in a position to be exposed to “The Edge of Glory” — and hear them a few weeks after their initial unveiling.

I assume it will be catchy, dramatic, shocking and the same but slightly different than all of her other songs. One time I was over at a friend’s house and we stumbled onto a live performance of “Born this Way” while trying to find something to watch. Gaga danced and dazzled with strange backup dancers behind her — all of which were as androgenous as could be — before she simulated a birth sequence. We couldn’t take our eyes off or change the channel, regardless of our impulses to do otherwise and save ourselves. Curiosity killed the cat.

After the strange performances finished my friend said, “Wow, that just happened.” That’s the feeling I am left with after every Gaga picture, antic, performance or music video I see. When she shows up at the MTV Music Video Awards or on the cover of Rollingstone dressed in plastic bubbles she is trying her best to appal us, shock us, surprise us and it works.

I can’t help but wonder if we would like her as much if she was sincere and didn’t put on this show. She’s not one of those artists that is all about the music, in fact, at times it feels like the music is secondary to the strange outfits and behaviour — her music isn’t bad but it’s not the whole package either. Would her music stand up if she wasn’t putting on this act? If she wasn’t taking it so far?

You also get the feeling that she’s smart and knows exactly what she’s doing. She’s the kid in junior high school who died their hair crazy colours for attention, but she happens to have a cool personality beneath it all — as I said the music’s not bad.

There are other artists who also feel fake to various degrees. Bruno Mars seems too puppy dog cutesy to be real and Katy Perry spends an hour doing here makeup every day but this is pretty standard and neither of them take themselves too seriously or have legions of crazy fans taking them too seriously. We know it’s fun and not entirely real, but we can still get the feel for the person underneath. There’s someone there and they happen to wear jeans sometimes.

Then there’s people like Janelle Monet, who has enough funkaliciousness to make anyone fall in love with her. “Tightrope” is a masterpiece in hit song writing and enough to make you a little jealous that you don’t have hair like hers. The music video has a strange bit about a mental hospital but this really needn’t happen, her music and funky dancing with cool outfits — black shirts with white ties and suspenders is a great look — are enough. Her twitter feed is an interesting experience and I have stopped following her because it was too much.

So my question is why do they bother? Why have the strange outfits? Why add the strange subplot to the otherwise cool music video? Why come up with a fake persona? When did wearing jeans and t-shirts stop cutting it?

Probably because pop stars stopped thinking they could get by on sheer coolness and talent. They need a draw, it needs to be a show. Maybe that’s why I am very glad that I am now listening to the indie radio station where certain songs are played nonstop but I know that the people who wrote them let the music speak first and the press shots second.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. I remember watching footage of The Clash performing. It was dramatic, chaotic and musical. They were putting on a show and their outfits were trying to do something but they meant it. Maybe today’s popstars need to watch Joe Strummer frantically jumping about on stage barely managing to make it back to the microphone for the next verse. Now that’s a cool I can believe in.

I visit my friendly neighbourhood Youtube and check out “The Edge of Glory” and the song is OK, yes just OK. I can only watch Gaga gyrate on a fire escape in a bad wig for so long before I get bored. I would rather watch OK GO’s “This Too Shall Pass” which is an experiment in creativity, not taking a tired old formula (performer dances in location x), and the song is better.

Then Adele comes to mind. I watch her perform “Someone like you”, a hauntingly beautiful song. There is nothing but her voice and a piano. That same feeling of “wow, that just happened” comes to mind but in a totally different way.

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