Looking for Fame
Born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, Lady Gaga was once upon a time just a New York-based aspiring singer-songwriter who had landed a deal with Interscope after working on demos with producer Rob Fusari for a couple of years and a failed deal with Def Jam, from which she had been dropped.
By the summer of 2008 very few people outside of the music industry knew who Lady Gaga was, when her record label launched her debut album on August 19, 2008 in Canada without knowing that it would soon go on to become a Pop phenomenon.
When we look back at what was going on 10 years ago we can all remember this girl singing and dancing on stage with her weird fashions and costumes, but a lot of what made Lady Gaga who she is today also comes down to the music. She introduced herself on the music scene with one of the strongest Pop albums in a while and she basically had the whole package: the hits, the mysterious aura, the fascinating personality and the talent that distinguished all of the great ones that came before her.
The Fame is a meticulously crafted record. It’s jam packed with catchy hooks and strong melodies, even if they are often disguised under layers of electronic production and synths. And the lyrics are sleek and clever with just that touch of ambiguity that will make you listen twice just to grasp what she’s actually saying.
The album slowly began to be released around the world as the first single “Just Dance” picked up steam on radio and in the clubs. Produced by Akon, it is a Dance track about being lost in the music and dancing wasted in the club. What made it click with people was its catchiness, the fact that it’s a fun and light song, but also it being released at the cusp of the Electro-Pop era, of which Gaga became the epitome.
As soon as “Just Dance” reached #1 on the Hot 100, Interscope was ready to hit with the centerpiece of the album, “Poker Face.” This time Gaga showcased her quirky lyrics, built around metaphors and innuendos, but also her vocals and musical skills by opting to perform the song in a stripped, piano-only arrangement that shed light on her as a songwriter and not just an image driven label puppet.
“Poker Face” was also accompanied by an impactful music video, another aspect that would characterise her future releases and her career as a whole. Lady Gaga basically grew as an artist as more people became aware of her and her “crazy” image and speculation arose around her persona. Her label knew this, she knew this and they took advantage of it, creating one of the most iconic eras ever.
With two #1 hits on the Hot 100 the album quickly started increasing in sales over the course of winter and then spring of 2009, capturing the attention of chart followers for such an organic growth at a time when first week numbers are crucial. The following two singles released, “LoveGame” and “Paparazzi,” solidified the success of the album, reaching #1 at Top 40 radio and respectively #5 and #6 on the Hot 100. The former is another catchy Electro-Pop number about the club scene, while the latter is a rather sultry midtempo track about a woman stalking a man to obtain fame and success.
A number of songs on the album deal with the theme of fame as suggested by the title: “Beautiful, Dirty, Rich” is a synthy Pop/Rock song depicting Gaga’s life as a struggling aspiring artist in the Lower East Side; “The Fame” and “Money Honey” are about the correlation between celebrity and materialism and the promiscuity that comes out of fame.
The two “ballads” of the album “Eh Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say)” and “Brown Eyes” draw inspiration from Gwen Stefani’s brand of synthy 80s-influenced Pop/Rock and they interrupt the flow of Dance uptempos on the tracklist with a nice change of pace.
Starting with the “Paparazzi” music video, Lady Gaga also introduced a new side to her artistry. Directed by Jonas Åkerlund, the video is a short film centered on a murder plot and features numerous movie references and some of Gaga’s trademark costumes, making it the first of a series of elaborate productions that constitute in a way her legacy as a visual artist and reviver of the music video as a form of marketing and music promotion. The iconic performance of “Paparazzi” at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, along with the nominations and awards she received, truly felt like the culmination of Lady Gaga’s journey to fame and superstardom.
That was the moment everybody knew this girl was here to stay. In retrospect, it is amazing to see how much hard work must have been put in the creation of what we became a phenomenon. In the past 10 years none of the new girls in the Pop scene has come close to having the same impact on pop culture so swiftly. And even if Lady Gaga were to be remembered for her costumes and antics, they will always be attached to her biggest and most iconic songs to date. She’s gained her rightful spot in culture, no matter what the detractors may think.