The internet blew up last week when Madonna said in an interview that Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” felt reductive, which sparked a larger question, “Who’s the real HBIC? Madonna or Lady Gaga?” My answer is, of course, Madonna. Here’s why.
When Lady Gaga first came out with her pre-packaged made-for-the-gay-club dance tracks, I was a little more than underwhelmed. I mean, sure, they were fun to dance to while hooking up with someone on the dance floor or pre-gaming at your apartment but they didn’t excite me. They were, at best, solid pop songs. But to be an icon, you have to have more than a hot single. You must also cultivate an interesting image which, according to her millions of fans, Lady Gaga already had down in spades with her outfits made entirely out of meat and whatnot. Snooze. Trying to sell yourself as a performance art piece doesn’t interest me. True pop stars like Madonna work because they’re both relatable and untouchable. Of course, they rely on smoke and mirrors to get people talking but at the core, their personality and indescribable “it” quality is what people latch on to. By drowning herself in elaborate costumes, Lady Gaga seems to be distracting the public from the fact that she’s just not that interesting.
Have you read about Lady Gaga’s life before she was a star? It’s sort of amazing. She grew up on the Upper West Side and went to the same school as Paris Hilton (Which is fine actually. No shame in the wealthy game.), went to NYU, dropped out and reportedly became a L.E.S. Artistes/cokehead. Her retellings of her lost year in the Lower East Side is what really annoys me. Apparently she lived in “squalor” in a one bedroom apartment and spent all her time blowing lines and dreaming of being a big star. Okay, first of all, you’re not roughing it when you live in a one-bedroom apartment by yourself in the Lower East Side. If that’s known as the #darkest period of your life, you’ve got it pretty good. I mean, who hasn’t become a temporary cokehead when they moved to the Lower East Side after dropping out of NYU? You just described every trustafarian’s life path, Gaga.
It doesn’t really bother me that Lady Gaga grew up wealthy though. It doesn’t make her any less worthy of being a pop star but it does make her stories of struggling before she became famous less compelling. I think the real reason why I’m not Team Gaga is because I’m just not emotionally invested in her. When I hear her music or speak in interviews, all I see is a lot of noise that’s covering up a hollow center. She doesn’t seem real to me, so why should I care about her?
The moment where it all clicked for me, the moment I realized Gaga was just a big bore, was when I recently saw the Madonna documentary, Truth Or Dare. Watching Madonna circa the early ’90s, you just can’t keep your eyes off of her. She comes off as equal parts “I’m just like you!” to “I’m NOTHING like you!” which is a rare but necessary combo for a pop icon. I was glued to every frame, falling in love with her chic clothes, beautiful face, and brash yet vulnerable personality. Afterwards, I watched some Gaga interviews on YouTube for comparison and felt nothing. Everything felt forced and boring, like every word was supposed to mean SOMETHING but, in the end, it meant nothing. I saw how much she had borrowed from Madonna and it made me angry. I decided that whatever Gaga was selling, I was not buying it.
I’m not saying Madonna is perfect. Her last album and forays into films have certainly been LOLworthy but it saddens me that this is who my generation has chosen to gravitate to as their pop leader. I understand Lady Gaga being a gay icon — she had that in the bag before she even released her first single — but I don’t understand her appeal to such a mass audience. It makes me feel like I’m not “getting” some crucial part of Gaga’s message or listening to her songs closely enough. Is something wrong with ME? I honestly don’t think so. Like most other people, I like my pop stars to be a mélange of fantasy and realism. As it stands, Lady Gaga has perfected the art of fantasy but is failing to resonate on a deeper level. She certainly knows how to get my attention but hasn’t the slightest idea how to keep it.