Lady Gaga – The Fame
Lady Gaga – The Fame
Lady Gaga has been so omnipresent in the years following the release of The Fame, it’s easy to overlook that the album only made a modest, though relatively formidable, impact upon its release (debuting at #17 in the U.S., peaking at #4), only gradually turning Gaga into a commercial juggernaut. Back then, it wasn’t immediately apparent she would be any different from the other flash-in-the-pan pop artists of the late 2000s, releasing a couple of songs before disappearing from the public eye. Of course, as The Fame stayed on the charts month after month, churning out single after single, it became clear what made Gaga unique. Rooted in musical theater as much as the underground clubs, Gaga (whose real name Stefani Germanotta doesn’t roll off the tongue as well) crafted herself as a postmodern Madonna, positioning herself as a performer as much as a musician, complete with over-the-top stage shows and costumes. Moreover, she conceived The Fame as a collection of songs both celebrating and mocking celebrity culture, all the while infusing it with an assertive sexuality that’s slick, if sometimes forced. (“Got my ass squeezed by sexy Cupid”? Really?)
While the album is, on one level, a concept album, it certainly doesn’t play like one, particularly since lyrics about a party-hardy lifestyle lend themselves well to dance music anyway. But as many references as there are to clubbing and taking rides on disco sticks, there are also images of instability (“Just Dance”), obsession (“Paparazzi”), deception (“Poker Face”), and superficiality (the title track, “Money Honey,” “Beautiful, Dirty, Rich”). While these themes grant The Fame some focus that it otherwise wouldn’t have, Gaga unfortunately never offers any biting commentary, leaving many songs (especially in the latter half) disappointingly lightweight. This isn’t a huge issue, though, because the emphasis isn’t on the words—it’s on the thick, club-ready beats and dance rhythms.
This is where the comparisons to Madonna start to overshoot. The Queen of Pop ushered in a new sound during the post-disco era—the dance-pop that has existed in some form or another in the decades since her debut. The thing about The Fame is that it offers no such revolution, not sounding incredibly different from the legions of other pop albums of the 2000s. (It also doesn’t help that, while an able singer, Gaga shares similar vocal tics with Gwen Stafani and Christina Aguilera.) Gaga and her producers use the same sort of template as other recent pop records, borrowing from electro, house, disco, glam and hip-hop, so synths, pulses, beats and vocal manipulations all predictably make their appearance throughout the album. Of course, this doesn’t discount the record since albums don’t necessarily need to be innovative to be worthwhile, especially when pop music is concerned. And The Fame does have its share of fine songs, particularly in the first, single-heavy half, where the music is edgier and the hooks cut deeper. There are a few missteps here and there though—the dated Euro-pop redux “Eh, Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say)” for example—which causes the record to lose some steam in the second half. The Fame is far from essential, but it does establish Lady Gaga’s sensibilities, the same sensibilities that would come to shape the face of dance-pop in the late 2000s. And though the album isn’t hugely inventive, half of pop is having the style and charisma to sell the music, and with this record, Gaga showed she had style for miles and miles.