Brand Theft Gaga: Meteoric Fame, Done the Madonna Way — Exactly

Brand Theft Gaga: Meteoric Fame, Done the Madonna Way — Exactly

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.

MadonnaBack 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.

Watch Lady Gaga's Madonna Fixation — Inspiration or Outright Plagiarism (Video)

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.”

Part 1: Why Lady Gaga's ‘Born This Way’ May Save the Music Industry

  • Vanitykills

    Do your homework Madonna has stole from many and it stays hush hush in court!! 

  • Pabs619sd

     This is a stupid article… Do your research on Pop music and Feminism in Music and Music History and the development of culture. Cause I'm pretty sure Cher had sexualism, outrageous outfits, and a strong connection to the gay community, and 80's style music too.. and she came before Madonna.

  • Gordon Franklin Terry, Sr.

    Being 14 years old in 1985 under Madonna's reign and being 40 years old today and watching Lady Gaga, Lady Gaga is the Madonna of Today . . .

    Madonna defined “1985”
    John Travolta defined “1977”
    Jackie Kennedy defined “1963”
    Marilyn Monroe defined “1957”

    every age has its definition.

  • Zack0708

     I agree with Claud. Gaga reverse-sublimates sexuality in a way that Madonna never captured. Plus Gaga is a better singer and musician. 

  • Jam

    You're incredibly naive to think Madonna is contrived on nothing but originality. Do your homework- Lady gaga has checked her library card- have you?

  • Mr D

    Claud, you have no understanding of Madonna, if you actually believe anything you just said. The point of Madonna was the complete opposite, that she took things typical to the straight male gaze, and inverted them – empowered them – actually alienating straight male audiences. She was never a sex symbol to straight men (it was the straight white male patriarch who hated her), she was a figure of sexual empowerment to women, gay men and ethnics (sound familiar?). Gaga is just as sexual, it's just that she's not attractive, whereas Madonna was absolutely breath-taking in her younger years. That has nothing to do with the ideology of either of them, though. You guys need to take your head of your Gaga behinds and realise that this has all been done before but in a time when it actually meant something. The biggest difference is actually that Gaga isn't really that shocking, because these things are not anymore. Look at the flop that Judas was, in the end it didn't stir anything. Like A Prayer was like a cultural earthquake. But it was a totally different era. In replicating Madonna all these years later, Gaga actually robs it of resonance and meaning.

  • Amy Araya

    Okay, that YouTube example is not a “mashup”. It says in the description “I matched the speed and pitch of Express Yourself with Born This Way the result is…interesting.”
    Anytime you match the speed and pitch of something, it'll probably sound similar. Besides, didn't Madonna rip off “Respect Yourself”?

    Whether or not she is copying Madonna, it's sort of a fallacy. Madonna was derivative of Bette Midler. Bette Midler was derivative of Mae West. Mae West was derivative of Lillie Langtry. You can find comparisons in anything if you try hard enough.

    And believe it or not, Madonna wasn't the first pop star to stir up religion…

  • Adam Martin

    It doesn't matter who copy's who. As long as it's beautiful to me, the music is A+. :)