Lady Gaga: The Fame


Of all the synthesiser-toting singer-songwriters allegedly set to rescue the nation from the dreariness of landfill indie in 2009, New York's Lady GaGa is the most straightforward proposition. In contrast to Little Boots' unlikely cocktail of technological geekiness and north western-accented DIY aesthetic, or Frankmusik, with his Paul Morley-penned record company biog, the former Stefani Joanne Germanotta is a songwriter by appointment to the Pussycat Dolls, Britney Spears and New Kids on the Block, and a protégé of rapper Akon. She's also already a global commercial success. Her single Just Dance has made the top 10 everywhere from Australia to Switzerland and been nominated for a Grammy. It's a beguilingly compulsive tale of pulling a drug-induced whitey, with a combination of clipped marching beats, sawing electronics and mild R&B flavour that bears a vague resemblance to Nelly Furtado's Maneater.

That success seems to have led Lady GaGa to come to some pretty bullish conclusions about her own originality: "I'm defying all the preconceptions we have of pop artists," she recently told one journalist, seemingly confident of a place in the history books as the world's first pretty female singer performing synthesiser-heavy R&B-influenced pop. "I'm very into fashion," she clarified, all previous pretty female singers having apparently performed their synthesiser-heavy R&B-influenced pop clad in stuff they grabbed at random from the George at Asda half-price sale.

You certainly wonder what she's talking about when you hear her debut album. Sonically, there's nothing here that you haven't heard already. Synthesisers grind away raveishly, there are plenty of modishly knowing 80s influences, while her voice lands somewhere between Gwen Stefani and Madonna. The title track sounds like something the Xenomania production team might dream up for Girls Aloud. A little more esoterically, Money Honey is about two notes shy of a lawsuit from Cameo for infringing the copyright on Word Up, while Eh Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say) and Paper Gangsta bear the influence of early 90s Europop: the former is the first song in a long time that warrants comparison to the oeuvre of Ace of Base.

As the album's title and songs called Starstruck, Paparazzi, and Beautiful, Dirty, Rich suggest, the lyrics gleefully celebrate the most vapid and ephemeral aspects of celebrity - "I'm shiny and I know it", "We're plastic but we'll still have fun" - a stance that, bullish as ever, Lady GaGa has suggested warrants comparison to Andy Warhol, but you could just as easily argue warrants comparison to Samanda off Big Brother. Most of her love songs come couched in the terms of fame: "Now we're on our own, I've got a request, would you make me No 1 on your playlist?"

Icy love songs, shameless pop music that comments on its own shamelessness as it goes along: it's hard not to feel that you've heard a lot of this before. The title track reiterates her belief in her own originality - "I'm obsessively opposed to the typical" - but elsewhere you're struck by the feeling that Lady GaGa's pronouncements of her own uniqueness may have less to do with shamelessly talking herself up than the fact that she has absolutely no idea about what constitutes the typical. "He's a bad boy with some retro sneakers," she sings on Boys Boys Boys. "Let's go see the Killers and make out in the bleachers." He took you to see the Killers, you say? He certainly sounds like an edgy character, recklessly thumbing his nose at conventional tastes. Where's he taking you for your next date? The Ideal Home Show?

There's clearly a pretty immense gulf between what Lady GaGa's perception of herself and the reality. It's annoying, as pretension tends to be, but equally, there's a sense that it doesn't really matter. Pop music doesn't have to be blindingly original or clever to work: it needs tunes, and Lady GaGa is fantastically good at tunes. As pop albums go, it has an impressively high strike rate. Bar a couple of grisly piano ballads, virtually everything on The Fame arrives packing an immensely addictive melody or an inescapable hook, virtually everything sounds like another hit single. You might snigger at the posturing of Boys Boys Boys, but there's something undeniably exciting about the way the key shifts audaciously when it reaches the chorus. You may quickly tire of hearing the album's theme constantly reiterated, but the tune of Paparazzi takes up residence in your brain and refuses to budge.

It's not particularly clever - at least not in the way Lady GaGa thinks it is - but The Fame certainly sounds like it could be big.


Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

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