The death of Michael Jackson last June reminded us just how few stars there are nowadays who have that larger-than-life reach beyond their particular genre or niche.
Yet, lifting her blonde ambition straight out of the Madonna handbook, that is what Stefani Germanotta appears to have done.
Better known as Lady Gaga, Germanotta is proving to be more than an outrageously attired gimmick. In two short years, Gaga has become a major force in the music industry, selling more than 8 million records worldwide; she’s also the most successful digital singles artist ever, with sales in excess of 22 million. (Or at least until Sony dusts off those unreleased Michael Jackson tracks from the vaults.)
One, the experts are saying, with staying power.
“She will last because, also like Madonna, she’s already proven herself a master of reinvention,” said Thea Andrews, who until recently was "Entertainment Tonight’s" senior correspondent covering music and celebrity. “The difference is, Madonna adopted a new persona for every album, whereas Gaga does it for every song, every big performance.”
She’s got, Andrews told TheWrap, “that faux-edgy boundary-pushing persona that makes people feel like they’re indulging in something just a little naughty and cutting-edge.”
Indeed, mixing the theatrics of Bowie and Queen’s Freddie Mercury with slick sci-fi Europop dance beats, and wrapped in a fashion package of Jane Fonda’s Barbarella meets the Sex Pistols, Gaga certainly stands out from the rest of the Top 40.
Having sat behind the studio board for the original shock rocker Alice Cooper as well as Lou Reed, KISS, Pink Floyd, Jane’s Addiction and Peter Gabriel, producer Bob Ezrin knows a thing or two about star power.
“Her appeal comes not just from her attention to the ‘show’ part of show business, but also from an uncanny ability to match lyrics to melody and beat and create a sound that impels people to dance,” Ezrin told TheWrap. “I think she’s amazing.”
Barely known outside of the Interscope Records office and the New York club the Bitter End less than two years ago, Gaga is already making pop history.
When the provocative singer’s latest single “Telephone” — which also features Beyoncé — hit No. 1 on the Billboard Pop charts earlier this month, Gaga and the former Destiny’s Child front woman tied Mariah Carey with six No. 1s — the record since the radio airplay chart was started in 1992.
But it took Carey from 1993 to 2005 to have her six chart-topping singles. It took Beyoncé from 2003 to 2010 to have hers.
Gaga only even first appeared anywhere on the charts 16 months ago, only had her first No. 1 a mere 14 months ago and, most telling of all, hit No. 1 with her first six efforts in a row.
And in an age where music sales are in double-digit decline, her 2008 debut record "The Fame" has been on the charts for 72 weeks and is still the number 7 album in America. All this while accounting for over 321 million plays via free streaming on MySpace alone.
Her sophomore record has done pretty well, too. Coming in a regular and a deluxe edition, featuring a repackaging of “The Fame” along with eight new songs, 2009’s “Fame Monster” debuted at number 5 on the U.S. album charts.
In the U.K., as of this week, she’s got the No. 1 single with “Telephone” and the No. 1 album with “The Fame Monster.” In the past year and a half, she’s been No. 1 in Canada, Germany and Ireland and No. 1 in Australia, where she’s playing sold-out arenas until April 9 before heading over to Japan on her Monster Ball tour.
“She really runs the gamut in terms of demographics,” Silvio Pietroluongo, Billboard’s director of charts, told TheWrap. “She’s on the Pop chart, the Electronic chart, she’s gotten play on Rhythmic Top 40, which is more hip-hop, Adult leaning Top 40, Adult Contemporary and her albums are on the Billboard Top 200.”
She’s also expanding into videogames.
On March 11, she debuted on the “Rock Band” videogame with “Lady Gaga Pack 01,” a downloadable selection of her first four number-one singles plus a cover of “Poker Face” sung by “South Park’s” Eric Carmen, the ultimate pop culture backhanded compliment.
MTV may barely play videos anymore, but it played the lesbians-in-prison and Beyoncé-assisted mass murder of “Telephone” after it debuted on E!, Universal’s VEVO site andwas watched over 13 million times on YouTube in less than 73 hours.
It didn’t have anywhere near the impact of Michael Jackson’s 14-minute “Thriller” video from 1983, but FoxNews ranted against it and everybody talked about it for a few days.
Even Donny Osmond on his radio program Wednesday morning criticized the video for its depiction of graphic violence and explicit sex.
“I’m all for freedom of speech and against any form of censorship, but all I know is that I’m a parent and I’m upset about this," said the singer. “I wonder whether the music industry might need to rethink its marketing policies with regard to making an explicit music video containing profanity, sexual exploitation, nudity and graphic violence available to anyone with internet access. I wouldn’t want my child to watch this video. Would you?”
And the video has started up another controversy — about Gaga’s sexual orientation.
Discussing the racy video, Gaga told a Sydney radio station on Tuesday that "there are some people in this world that believe being gay is a choice — it’s not a choice; we are born this way."
It only follows that she’s even got a lawsuit.
On March 17, Rob Fuari — Gaga’s self-proclaimed ex-boyfriend, producer and co-writer of many of those hits — slapped her with a $30.5 million lawsuit, claiming that the 23-year old Grammy-winning singer reneged on an agreement to pay him 20 percent of her earnings.
Gaga responded to Fuari by suing him on March 19, saying she was tricked into their “unlawful” agreement.
No hearing dates have yet been set.
(Charles Ortner, Gaga’s lawyer in the case, declined to comment for this story. Fusari’s lawyer Robert Meloni, who called Gaga’s countersuit "ridiculous" according to the New York Post, did not respond to TheWrap by deadline.)