The World Is Ready for a Lady Gaga Renaissance
Gaga's turn in 'A Star Is Born' is said to be career-defining. Will it put her back on top?
Lead image from trailer via YouTube
Lady Gaga was born to be famous. It’s a fact she knows well: at the beginning of her career in the public eye, she’d trot out some variant of it with regularity. “Some people are just born stars,” she once told The Sun, “You either have it or you haven’t, and I was definitely born one.”
It’s hard to disagree with her: for a decade now, Lady Gaga has been just about as famous as it’s possible to be, and there’s barely been a moment when that hasn’t felt like the intentional, natural order of things. She’s one of those people for whom fame feels like an organic progression rather than a stroke of luck. Even after failed auditions, record label disappointments and years spent in backrooms writing songs for other artists, fame came to her eventually, lapping at her feet as easily and inevitably as water stretching in from a rising tide.
Perhaps this sense of destiny is why Gaga, raised on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, a pianist since she was three, always seemed prepared for fame even when she was new to it. The world at large learned her name upon the 2008 release of her debut album (titled The Fame, so intrinsic was—and is—the concept to her mystique and mythology, particularly in her early work) and because of early hits “Poker Face,” “Just Dance,” and a little later, “Paparazzi.” She drew attention to herself without reservation, courting the press with edgy soundbites (“I can actually mentally give myself an orgasm”) and outlandish, often utterly ridiculous fashion choices. Like Madonna before her, she was completely ready for it, never overwhelmed, and seemingly meticulously prepared to clutch every opportunity for being noticed in both clawed paws.
While handling fame has never seemed too much of a problem for the artist formerly known as Stefani Germanotta, her ten years in the limelight have not been without their challenges. Last year, in the Netflix documentary Gaga: Five Foot Two, which followed her as she made her fourth album Joanne, she admitted that her romantic life has suffered because of her stardom, and her two most recent albums, ARTPOP and Joanne, floundered critically, accused of bloating, disjointedness and unoriginality in certain corners of the press. Recently, Gaga also revealed that she has been struggling with the chronic pain condition fibromyalgia after she was forced to cancel tour dates in support of Joanne.
The missteps and setbacks, however, have been threaded through with Gaga’s long game. Over the years, she has shaken her tabloid-fodder persona and become someone who is thought of much more seriously. The seeds for her reinvention were planted in 2011, when she surprised some by showcasing world class vocal chops on a version of “The Lady Is a Tramp” with swing legend Tony Bennett, for his album Duets II: The Great Performances. It was a collaboration so mutually fruitful that Bennett recruited Gaga for a full record of Great American Songbook duets (Cheek to Cheek, released in 2014), in the process lending this lifelong showy theatre rat a level of musical legitimacy that set her in a new league in the public consciousness. Gaga always knew she would be famous, of course, but all along she was looking to launch herself into the highest echelon of fame. She wanted to be timeless.
It’s true that she has always been most convincing as this type of Vocalist’s Vocalist, singing the standards, floating just outside the zeitgeist—her Super Bowl national anthem outweighed her Halftime Show the following year; her performance of “The Sound of Music” at the Oscars back in 2015, alarming for its simplicity, is one of her best ever turns. It’s as a Garland or Streisand-like presence—the big, classic, powerful musical theatre voice and the painfully expressive features—that Gaga thrives. And for her latest trick, she has followed directly in Judy and Barbra’s footsteps, appearing, as both actresses have before her, as the lead in a remake of the Hollywood classic A Star Is Born.
A Star Is Born—a much-loved Hollywood story about a famous but washed-up male musician whose life collides with that of a much more talented and young woman—is ultimately a tale about fame. The iteration that Gaga stars in, directed by actor Bradley Cooper who also stars, is the fourth version, and in casting Lady Gaga in it, Cooper has blessed her with the role of a lifetime and vice versa. It’s a part which feels uniquely relevant to her and her story—quite clearly, she understands fame like few others—and it could take her career in a completely new direction: she is already being heralded as an Oscar contender.
In a review that calls the film “damn-near perfect,” Rolling Stone asks of Gaga, “who knew she was not just an actor but such a first-rate one?” In the view of the Guardian’s five-star take, she “mesmerizes,” while for Empire (another five stars), her turn is “compelling and well-crafted.” They’re verdicts that would delight any pro, and while Lady Gaga has acted before (most notably in Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story anthology TV series), A Star Is Born is her most lauded role, and will no doubt finally, firmly catapult her to the heights she has always eyed for herself, and back into the top tier of pop stardom, a position she’d perhaps arguably fallen from.
I’d argue that this is only right. Since her emergence ten years ago there have been very few stars like Lady Gaga. Though the pop landscape has changed immeasurably in the last decade—social media, which had not quite taken full hold during her early career, is now totally dominant, and fans seem to value relatability more than anything—I think that means that more than ever, there’s space for Gaga at her very starriest to plug.
Though the days of meat dresses are (thankfully) over, and though she herself does embrace social media (sometimes hamfistedly), Gaga represents the type of celebrity that arguably exemplifies why we have celebrities in the first place. Hers is the sort of talent that feels far away in its magnitude, and her artistic approach to the mainstream inspires onlookers for the very reason that it is not relatable—instead it’s a very specific, heightened, individual vision.
The stage, therefore, seems set for a Lady Gaga renaissance. This December, amidst probable continued Oscar buzz, she’ll take on that hallmark of the bonafide musical heavyweight, the Las Vegas residency (like Judy Garland before her). Currently slated for a runtime of two years, Gaga’s residency will be divided into two separate shows—Lady Gaga Enigma and Lady Gaga Jazz and Piano—indulging all sides of her musical artistry. This, paired with the widespread approval of her role in A Star Is Born, seems to signal that Lady Gaga is moving into a new level of fame—one that straddles forms, and which mirrors that of her predecessors. Her time for being recognized as a genuine Hollywood great is coming, and honestly, it’s about time.
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This article originally appeared on Noisey UK.