Why Lady Gaga still deserves our applause

Backlash be damned: she’s our finest pop star, says Fiona Sturges

It’s a rite that has sustained the arts since time immemorial: the delirious hyping of bright new stars as they first emerge, only for them to be flayed alive for daring to reach the top.

As Lady Gaga prepares for the release of her third album, “reverse Warholian expedition” ARTPOP, she has, it is said, reached a tipping point. If commentators are to be believed – and by those I mean everyone from academics to bedroom bloggers – she’s made her money and had her fun. Five years into her career she’s out of ideas and, to judge by the relatively poor performance of last month’s lead-off single “Applause” – it peaked at No. 5 in the UK charts – the world is weary of her freaky schtick. The Gaga backlash has arrived.

It’s certainly possible that, since we now have Miley Cyrus and her prehensile tongue at which to direct our moral outrage, to many onlookers Gaga looks the safer option, as dangerous as a panto dame. Her performance at August’s VMA awards, in which she moved from a nun’s habit to a black catsuit to a seashell bikini inspired by Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, was easily eclipsed, in terms of clicks and column inches, by Cyrus and “twerkgate”.

Clicks and column inches don’t equal artistic merit, however, and it’s hard to imagine that Cyrus’s performance will be viewed in years to come as a milestone in pop’s evolution, up there with Dylan going electric. If the shock was the prize, Miley took home the trophy but, as Gaga has pointed out, she’s playing the long game now. “For ARTPOP,” she said recently, “I stood in front of a mirror and I took off the wig and I took off the makeup and I unzipped the outfit... and I said: ‘OK, now you need to show them you can be brilliant without that’.”

In her new incarnation, Gaga references a raft of visual artists from Botticelli to Warhol and Jeff Koons, who designed the cover of her album. Some have suggested this points to a lack of originality, but pop has always thrived on pilfering ideas from elsewhere. There has been muttering, too, about the shallowness of “Applause”,  and how it underlines the singer’s thirst for attention. But if we’ve learned anything about Gaga, it’s that her songs and videos carry a deeper meaning, even if that is sometimes lost in translation. And so it is that “Applause” is her attempt at irony, with the words “If only fame had an IV/ Baby could I/ Bear being away from you/ I found the vein, put it in here” ridiculing the perceptions of her detractors.

In the greater scheme of things, the complaints against Gaga are minor. They are also inevitable considering her success thus far, coming ninth in Forbes’ ranking of high earners last year and second in their celebrity power-list after Oprah Winfrey. She is a savvy Twitter user with over 40 million followers who has developed a unique communion with her “little monsters”, and just last weekend used it to take on the trolls who taunt her about everything from her weight to whether she is, in fact, a hermaphrodite. That she has also been the subject of academic studies on feminism and fandom only bolsters her credentials as one whose cultural stock has gone beyond such trifling matters as chart positions.

When I interviewed Gaga near the start of her career, what was clear was her intelligence and vision. She talked loftily about her plans to subvert the notion of the pop star and blur the boundaries between popular art forms. She also told me: “all of my songs have meaning, all of my clothing has iconography buried into it. But by the same token, [my work] is just as special if you look at it in its shallowest form. The point is that it’s memorable. [To make] commercial art be taken seriously is a difficult task.”

And yet she has made progress. Gaga has been vociferous in her admiration of the work of Leigh Bowery, Klaus Nomi and Marina Abramovic, performance artists rarely invoked in mainstream circles. So while Gaga’s music may cleave to the grinding R&B and synth-pop sounds favoured by so many chart acts, it’s this that allows her the widest possible audience at which to direct her more visual and ideological brand of subversion.

Let’s face it, you’re unlikely to find Katy Perry feigning psychological breakdowns or singing from within a glowing egg surrounded by dancers in pig heads and brandishing guns. And while she too may make a habit of prancing around in her pants, hers is a bruised and unsettling aesthetic that has little to do with titillation. Gaga may be baffling at times but she’s smart, entertaining and never predictable. Right now, she is the greatest pop star we have. She’s a long way from being finished.

‘ARTPOP’ is released on 11 November

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
    The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

    The ZX Spectrum is back

    The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
    Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

    Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

    The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

    If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
    The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

    The quirks of work perks

    From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
    Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

    Is bridge becoming hip?

    The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
    Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

    The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

    Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
    The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

    The rise of Lego Clubs

    How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
    5 best running glasses

    On your marks: 5 best running glasses

    Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
    Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

    'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

    Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
    Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

    Please save my husband

    As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada