July 1, 2010 — -- She bounded into the pop culture world as a beacon of hope, a pint-sized pixie pushing pop songs but still pushing the envelope, a square peg not content to squeeze into a Britney or Miley hole.
That was then -- circa "Bad Romance" and "Telephone," which, admittedly, were not that long ago. It's only taken a few months for Lady Gaga's revolution to roll back on itself. Her schtick -- wearing next-to-nothing, strutting in super-high platforms, running ragged 'round the world -- has turned her into a spectacle.
Gaga has become a parody of Gaga. You know your act has lost its edge when everyone from babies to grandfathers starts mimicking it.
For more than a year, Gaga tried to outdo herself every day. Mission accomplished. She now struggles to shock. She showed up at a Mets game and flashed her middle finger. She busted into the Yankee's club house just because. The overwhelming response to the news that she may have dressed up as a man for Vogue Hommes Japan? Shrug.
It's like walking by the neighborhood miscreant ranting and raving about how we'll all be damned to hell on your way to work. No need to stop and listen, he'll be doing the same thing tomorrow.
While Gaga continually reinvents her appearance, her music has been slow to evolve. Much has been made of her latest single, "Alejandro," sounding like a ripoff of Ace of Base's 1993 hit, "Don't Turn Around." People said its video was a little too reminiscent of Madonna's '90s fare.
She told Rolling Stone that her upcoming album will feature music "more bitter than it was before," but the song she debuted at Elton John's White Tie and Tiara Ball late last month, "You and I," begs to differ. While it's a change from her usual dance-pop sound, there's no dark undertone to her rollicking piano riffs.
In the court of public opinion, the tide seems to be turning against Gaga. Last month, in an interview with WFAN radio, Jerry Seinfeld called her a "jerk" for her antics at that Mets game. "I'm not one of these all-publicity-is-good people," he said. "People talk about 'you need exposure' -- you could die of exposure."
Feminist critic Camille Paglia delivered a swift blow to Gaga's attempts at sensationalism. In a New York Times op-ed last week, she called Gaga and her "compulsive overkill" a "high concept fabrication without an ounce of genuine eroticism."
Ouch. To be sure, Gaga still has legions of fans. But maybe it's time for her to tweak her formula.
"I liked Gaga better when there was a divide between her wild onstage antics and her offstage behavior," mused Michael Musto, culture critic for the Village Voice. "I think she should try to keep that difference going because it makes her more interesting and textured. Lately, she's been making an offstage spectacle of herself too, and that diminishes her brand a bit."
Gaga might take the advice to stop relying on outfits for press and starts making music the main event. If her new album is indeed a "cake that has a bitter jelly," perhaps she can amend her recipe for success thusly: less shock value, more real substance. A shiny veneer is all well and good, but a well-built product beneath it is what will really stand the test of time.
"I don't feel she's peaked at all. Every video is buzzed about, every song is number one," Musto said. "People want her to be tired because she's been on top for all of five minutes and today's audiences and media get restless more quickly. It's true that Gaga started at such a high pitch, and with so much outrageousness that it's hard to keep topping that, but I have every confidence she'll keep doing so."