Sunday, April 17, 2011

Gaga does not write/perform Abba-worthy songs

To be fair, Gaga never said she did that I'm aware of (although, now, when her recorded output is becoming increasingly plodding and redundant and unpleasant, Gaga has exhibited a willingness to assert that her latest records are best-of-decade items), but many of Gaga's fans have made versions of the claim. Why it wouldn't have been enough to say that in 2009 Gaga got onto the sort of (largely producer-driven) hot streak of 3 or 4 excellent singles that Janet Jackson got onto with Control and then again with Rhythm Nation (and, beyond music, had one of those, culture-convulsing 'year of [insert artist name here]' years in 2009, the way only 20 or 30 pop music figures have ever done) is never explained.

Consider the following from The Stranger's David Schmader:

Lady Gaga's music is deeply conventional, but ingeniously so, marrying hooky verses to hooky bridges to hooky choruses (which are often split into two increasingly hooky parts), with one-off bonus hooks thrown in here and there for kicks, all of it produced with a consistency that's positively ABBA-esque. Just as Stephin Merritt (himself a die-hard ABBA fan) has made a career out of studious distillations of the Great American Songbook, Gaga's doing the same with dance pop, identifying the genre's most effective intoxicants and boiling them down into unprecedentedly effective pop crack.
Schmader never quite comes out and says that Gaga is as good as Abba or his beloved Stephin Merritt, but the overall impression is that, yes, Schmader thinks that that's her level.

Well, no. Not close. (I'm not sure that even Schmader thinks Gaga's so ingenious these days.) Just as Oasis had a few good songs but were never close to being as good as The Beatles and were made to look especially ridiculous by their own and others comparisons to this effect, so it's just obvious that Gaga 'is' Janet Jackson if she's lucky (although BTW isn't shaping up to be close to the equal of Rhythm Nation). That's still an amazing achievement for someone so young and relatively unformed, but if Abba-quality is going to be in the cards for Gaga, she's going to have to take some time off and really think about writing and about finding the right collaborators. Gaga's (evident to me at least!) manifest destiny - putting her piano and performance skills to work playing Jobraith covers and playing Judee Sill in a Sill bio-pic (or maybe playing both in some funky new miniseries for HBO) - remains undiscovered.

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