Part 2 of 3-part series: How Lady Gaga cannily patterned her success on another blonde icon — Madonna — even while denying that she was
This is the second of a three-part series on Lady Gaga
How much does Lady Gaga owe her meteoric rise to pop icon Madonna?
Let us count the ways.
A 1980s pop-dance sound? Check.
Catholic-baiting imagery? Got it.
A string of media-grabbing controversies? Done.
Brazen sexuality, an emphasis on stylish videos, a strong connection to the gay community? Yes, yes and yes.
The story of Lady Gaga is full of connections to that other driven diva who broke out of New York City.
Back around 2002 and 2003, Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, who was born the year Madonna’s third major album “True Blue” was released, would drop by Verizon’s Manhattan headquarters to visit her mother, Cynthia, a company sales director. Cynthia was forever cajoling, needling, urging and leading fellow cubicle workers to catch her teenage daughter’s music gigs here and there around New York.
Also read Part 1 of our three-part Lady Gaga series: Why Lady Gaga’s ‘Born This Way’ May Save the Music Industry
To quote the title of a song from her new album, “Born This Way,” Stefani was on “the edge of glory” as Lady Gaga, the 21st century music industry’s first great hope.
By madly mimicking Madge — from the pop-dance sound to baiting Catholics through verse and video — Gaga has contrived a constant comparison that perpetually reinforces her persona at the forefront of public awareness, effectively taking a PR shortcut to stardom.
Brilliantly, she has done so while vigorously denying any such connection. When her title tune “Born This Way” raised accusations that it ripped off Madonna’s “Express Yourself,” Gaga bridled at the insult.
“What a completely ridiculous thing to even question me about,” she told Britain’s NME magazine. “When I homage, I f**king homage with a big sign saying I’ve done it. Why would I not do that now?”
The “Poker Face” hit maker then wept as she added, “I feel like honestly that God sent me those lyrics and that melody.”
Others are slightly more skeptical. “She surely has been able to capture the imagination in a big way much like the superstars of yesterday,” Tom Freston, former CEO of Viacom and its flagship MTV Networks, told TheWrap.
(Judge for yourself: here’s a Youtube mashup of the two songs, played together. )
Gaga’s chief career adviser, personal manager Troy Carter, has sought advice in guiding Gaga from none other than Guy Oseary, Madonna’s longtime business partner and manager, one top music industry executive close to all of the parties told TheWrap. Carter declined to participate in this story.
And at this early career stage, Gaga has nailed the easy stuff on the trail Madonna blazed, stoking the media-grabbing controversies and Madge comparisons. Like Madonna did with the provocative “Like a Prayer,” for instance, Gaga lured the publicity-fueling wrath of Catholics with “Judas,” from “Born This Way.”
The song was even promoted with a video that cast a latex-swabbed Gaga as Mary Magdalene, sexily swallowing a string of rosary beads.
It was a follow-up to a similar provocation a year ago, with her song “Alejandro.”
“Lady Gaga is playing Madonna copycat, squirming around half-naked with half-naked guys, abusing Catholic symbols,” Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, said then. “She has now become the new poster girl for American decadence and Catholic bashing, sans (without) the looks and talent of her role model.”
Each day seems to bring another “Gaga, The Madonna Copy Cat” headline.
The latest was generated by the May 7 telecast of “Lady Gaga Presents the Monster Ball Tour: Madison Square Garden.” In a dressing-room scene filmed in black and white, Gaga cries in front of a mirror, worrying that she’s will let down her hometown audience.
It’s eerily similar to a moment in Madonna’s 1991 film, “Truth or Dare,” with Madonna weeping in a black-and-white scene about the prospects of failing her hometown fans when her Blond Ambition Tour lands in Detroit.
“You could almost take the dialog straight out of the Madonna movie,” shock jock Howard Stern declared, and he was only one of the voices in a blizzard of online, offline and social media coverage. Stern dubbed her “boring,” “dopey” and “a complete f—ing idiot.”
Being polarizing, though, is just another tactic from Madonna’s playbook that could extend Gaga’s reign.
“It probably helped that Madonna was a very polarizing figure,” Liz Rosenberg, a Madonna friend, PR adviser and confidante since 1982, told TheWrap. “They loved her or hated her or who they though she was.”
Plenty of people thought Madonna was a one-hit wonder or a stupid bleached blonde disco singer, while as many considered her, Rosenberg observes, “the greatest star that ever lived.”
Like Madonna, Gaga—who publicly declared her bisexuality early in her career—is proud of her sexuality. Gaga’s viewpoint, as Madonna’s was and remains, is strong in some areas — fashion, the gay community and video. Hers are less clear in other areas in which Madonna has held longtime and strong opinions, including literature, art and film.
“From my vantage point, in 1982 when I met Madonna, some of the things she believed in seemed revolutionary to me,” Rosenberg recalls. “She helped women understand that they didn’t have to choose between brains and beauty. You could have both and more.”
She has met Gaga, albeit only once — briefly last year at the MTV Video Music Awards, Gaga’s iconic meat-dress moment. That Gaga was lovely and respectful to Cher, a music icon who presented the new star an award, was reason enough for Rosenberg to like her.
“No question that Lady Gaga is very talented,” Rosenberg tells The Wrap. “It’s hard for me to talk about Gaga and staying power. I don’t have a clue nor could I predict where Gaga will be in five or 10 years.”
Of course, for many, predicting Madonna’s longevity was a fool’s errand. “Yet here she is — the most successful female touring artist ever,” Rosenberg says. “She co-wrote and directed a brilliant movie last year and is writing new music. There’s only one Madonna in my book and in my heart.”