When Lady Gaga won a Golden Globe last month for (deep breath) Best Performance by an Actress in a Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television, the big “news” was how Leonardo DiCaprio seemed to mock her as she made her way to the stage. (Leo denied this, but he apologized anyway, because that’s what famous people do these days.) The real spectacle, however, was Gaga’s awkward, unintentionally hilarious acceptance speech. Eager to play the grand Hollywood dame, Gaga was breathless, stunned with gratitude as she thanked the cast and crew. “Because of you,” she said, fighting back well-timed tears, “I was able to shine … I guess.” Halle Berry’s Oscar meltdown felt calm by comparison. Except this was for, you know, a Golden Globe. For American Horror Story: Hotel, no less. WTF!?
If it sounds like I’m being harsh, well, I’m feeling a lot of Gaga hate lately. I don’t know where it’s coming from. But it’s been sudden, and it’s disturbing.
While I’ve never qualified as a Lady Gaga fan—“Poker Face” is the closest I’ve come to genuinely loving one of her songs—I’ve always appreciated her presence: the meat-dress parades, her love of the gays, her willingness to work with anyone from Clarence Clemons to Marina Abramovic. I also admired how she responded to her declining record sales by playing smaller venues, touring alongside Tony Bennett, singing showtunes at the Oscars. These aren’t the choices of some chart-obsessed megalomaniac, hell-bent on world dominion. They’re the moves of a career-focused artist who’s got the big picture in mind. I think that’s pretty classy.
But after the Golden Globes came the Grammys, and with the Grammys came Gaga’s David Bowie tribute. Bowie had barely been dead a month, yet for some reason, she thought it appropriate to present the performance as an Intel ad. She crammed about 50 songs into a rushed medley that was all flash and just wrong. Surely many folks thought it was a perfect match—they both dig weird outfits!—but Bowie wasn’t just about costumes and quick changes and cool staging. Bowie actually rocked.
Before you accuse me of being a grizzled, rockist old fart, know that I’ve never been a stickler for authenticity. I’ve always preferred the pop artifice of a synth-pop group like Pet Shop Boys to the so-called pure skills of an American Idol contestant. The most common rave I hear about Gaga—“she’s so talented!”—rings hollow to me. I mean, have you ever listened to, say, Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” and thought, “Gee, she’s really talented?” No, you’re all sweaty and catching your breath and loving life. Too often, I hear or see Gaga and all I can muster is, “She really does have a very capable voice.”
Obviously the woman can put it to good use. Her 2015 Oscar tribute to The Sound of Music was impressive. Her delivery of the National Anthem at Super Bowl 50 was pretty first-rate. But is it too much to ask that she stop acting like some pretentious opera diva and stay away from my beloved Bowie? Right now, Gaga feels like Barbra Streisand in the ’70s, desperate for relevancy, trying to be too many things at once, and unfit for delivering even a passable rendition of “Life on Mars?”