Gay Light Bulb Moment!
I think I’ve figured out what’s fundamentally different from Madonna and her protege-without-permission Lady Gaga. Lady Gaga makes bold statements with her words during interviews, her fashion and her performances, but her songs themselves are mostly standard pop music. She claims there’s a deeper meaning behind them and I believe it, but she doesn’t actually express that meaning. Poker Face might really be about bisexuality and Paparazzi might really be about media killing those with fame, but the lyrics of the songs themselves just suggest cliche sexy pop themes, nothing extraordinary. Even Gaga’s best music (and make no mistake, she has some great music) is still pop music that rarely makes a truly bold statement. Whenever she DOES attempt to make a bold statement, as with Born This Way, Speechless, or Dope, it comes off sounding inauthentic and forced, and a little cringey.
With Madonna, however, the message is right there in the music and doubly so in the performance. When she says “I’ve made up my mind, I’m keeping my baby,” she’s making a bold statement, and for the time in which she said it it was in incredibly bold statement. It’s the same with all of her music. With each new album she reinvents herself and chooses a new direction, and though there are plenty of standard love song and breakup ballads, she makes bold statements and follows through with them, rather than just hinting at them. Making her songs even more powerful are the fact that Madonna said the things she was saying and expressed her sexuality at a time when people didn’t openly flaunt their bodies on stage in an attempt to sell records. When Madonna rolled around grinding the stage on the VMAs, she was making an actual statement about freedom of sexuality, but when Britney Spears did it it meant nothing, it was a marketing campaign and she herself probably never put any thought into the performance. Madonna still has staying power, her newest album is ripe with fantastic pop music as well as messages that are sometimes hard to swallow, but always topical, and always true.
Madonna might not have the singing chops Gaga has, but Madonna reinvented pop music, and Lady Gaga is simply doing more of the same. I really love both artists, but even though Lady Gaga brings her own brand of weirdness to pop music, her open appeal to the gay audience (something that, by the way, every pop star since Judy Garland has had) has rallied crowds of fans around her who are so obsessed with her that they don’t even look at what messages she does try to send, and insist that Madonna is “tired” and “old,” but between the two of them, Madonna was the one who forever changed pop culture, and the one who continues to reinvent herself with each new album. Her voice hasn’t gone downhill, her performances haven’t gone downhill, she is still just as relevant today, as are her songs from the 80’s. In twenty years, I still think that “I’ve made up my mind, I’m keeping my baby” will have more of an impact that “Puh-puh-puh-po-ker-face-puh-puh-po-ker-face.”