Lady GaGa: Fabulously Decadent Hit-Maker Lady Gaga Is Poised To Conquer The World

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In one, a dignified young brunette is onstage with a piano and a jazzy ballad, performing for a university audience. In another, the girl and her blue-jeaned band gamely make their way through a Led Zeppelin cover tune. But there’s a bonus layer of intrigue to those old YouTube clips, which have piled up tens of thousands of views. They’re a peek at a pop phenomenon in its infancy: Lady Gaga in the making. And they help document one of the most successful self-reinventions in recent pop history. The world is now well-acquainted with the 23-year-old New Yorker born Stefani Germanatto, whose infectious dance-pop and edgy presence have brought her to the cusp of global superstardom. She was a college student and aspiring songwriter when that camcorder footage was shot. Now she heads into 2010 with momentum from five Top 10 singles and several show-stopping performances, and it’s a good bet that by 2020 we’ll view her as one of the decade’s cultural icons. By transforming herself into a fabulous glam queen, Lady Gaga joins an elite clique of artists who have made careers out of reinvention. The obvious comparisons are the ones Gaga has cited herself: Madonna, David Bowie, Freddie Mercury, Bette Midler. They’re musicians who empowered themselves to craft new personas — sometimes over and over again — and to use public image as its own artistic statement.
For most artists, pop spectacle is a kind of showbiz façade. For Lady Gaga, it’s a form of self-expression. And making it click is no small feat: In an era saturated with colorful characters, when outrageousness is always just a mouse click away, Gaga’s panache has managed to stand out. Talk to fans and industry pros about the appeal, and one word pops up a lot: authentic. There’s something organic in the synthesized sounds of “Paparazzi,” something honest in the eccentric couture fashion, even something serene in the visual razzle-dazzle.
“Lady Gaga has the real goods. You could see that very early. You saw her and just said, ‘Whoa, this is something special,’ ” says Live Nation’s Rick Franks, a three-decade industry veteran who booked Gaga for a pair of Detroit shows this week. “Talent shows itself every time. You’ve either got it or don’t, and she’s got it. She’s got star power as large as anyone, and right now it’s all working.”
She’s been happy to flex that star power, raising the stakes as she goes. This week’s Detroit stand, originally scheduled for the Fox Theatre, was moved to Joe Louis Arena as Gaga continued to beef up her production — expanding from a theater set into what Franks calls a “major Broadway spectacular” that will arrive in eight semi-trailers. Easily dismissed at a casual glance as just another prefab pop concoction, Gaga has won over fans with a smart, self-aware approach. Behind the Kermit the Frog dresses, there seems to be an implicit message: Yes, this is performance art. Yes, I’m refashioning myself on the fly. Yes, this is my adventure, and you can dive in if you want. That attitude — and the realization that genuine musical talent is at work — has earned Gaga the trust of even skeptical listeners. “That’s what ended up selling me on her,” says Kelly Stanaj of Grand Blanc, a mother and former art teacher whose tastes lean to classic rock. “I’m not so keen on electronic dance-pop. When I first started hearing her — hearing ‘Poker Face’ nine times a day at the gym — I was kind of annoyed. “And then I saw her perform live on TV. I realized this isn’t just some Auto-Tuned, keyboard dance thing. This was real. She is dedicated to her music down to the core.”
Stanaj, now a diehard Gaga aficionado, will attend Wednesday’s show with her police-officer husband, also a converted Gaga believer. She’s been startled by her own giddiness, harking back to her high-school days in the late ’80s. “Gaga just strikes every chord with me,” she says. “It’s exciting. And she’s going to keep redesigning herself — she seems driven by that artistic expression.” The Stanajes are part of a growing, diverse fan base, one well beyond the young females and gay men who were her audience early on. In just 10 months, says radio executive Michael McCoy, Gaga has secured the sort of broad following that often takes years to cultivate. “She wasn’t so far out there that people couldn’t understand what she was doing,” says McCoy, program director at WKQI-FM (95.5). “There was a sense of seminormalcy in there. It was organic and accessible.” The hype was already buzzing when Gaga played Royal Oak Music Theatre last March, a glittery, high-energy show for 1,700 curious concertgoers. Natalie Sugarman, then the venue’s marketing assistant, was impressed by the set, but amazed by what followed. “She came into the lobby and signed everything for every single person waiting in line,” recounts Sugarman, who watched for 1 1/2 hours as Gaga attended to her fans. “She was making a personal connection with people. For an artist to take that time, at any level, is something rare.”
That’s something that should serve her well over the long haul. And a long haul does seem likely: Even in this speedy pop era, with its frantic churn rate, Lady Gaga appears equipped to keep writing her own script. Because even a frantic pop era has room for that timeless, intangible it.
“It’s that X factor that draws us to certain personalities and keeps our attention,” says Stanaj. “It just might be indescribable — if we could describe it, everybody would be fabricating it. We have that with Gaga, and we haven’t had it in a long time.” BY BRIAN MCCOLLUM

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BORN THIS WAY - 2/11/11