Layers of Gaga
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Before Lady Gaga soared over the crowd of 5,000 in Park Theater, Las Vegas, she tweeted to her fans that she could hear them. Embroidered in a glittery display that combined Bowie with Elton -- as well as a keytar has become synonymous with her -- Gaga sang her first hit, Just Dance, for her Little Monsters, including Katy Perry herself. Gaga has already captivated Vegas, and a look back at her career is necessary in order to appreciate her artistic evolution.
Lady Gaga’s Vegas residency, Enigma, is only a new chapter in her decade-spanning career. The show unfolds another layer (and a new path) of discovery. For so many artists, this is unachievable; they are stuck to a genre that binds them to make a certain “sound.” Lady Gaga, however, has played with every sound and genre imaginable. Gaga’s versatility and openness to artistic change puts her on a path that, at the end of her career, might position her among such greats as Freddie Mercury and Whitney Houston.
The peeling of Gaga’s first layer occurred in 2011 with the legendary Tony Bennett. The two of them recorded a sublime rendition of The Lady is A Tramp, a classic from the Great American Songbook. Listeners were treated to a surprise combination that featured goosebump-inducing vocals from a pop star that was dominating with her first two albums. The track was placed on Bennett’s second duet album but did not sway the general public’s mind about Gaga’s true abilities. Many saw her only as a successful singer who could sell records. Today, that public perception has transformed.
Another peek into Gaga’s versatility is revealed in her cover of La Vie En Rose, because most pop stars sing French classics, right? Gaga has added the tune to her arsenal of songs that she can sing at any time and anywhere -- whether that be in Royal Albert Hall or at the Rose Bar in New York City. Still, her vocal abilities and talent were mainly known by her loyal fanbase but underappreciated by the mass public.
This all changed at the 2015 Academy Awards. Lady Gaga’s Sound of Music medley freed her, and as she displayed her classical training, it was as if she was telling the world, “This is what I can really do.” The performance was the talk of the night and drew a standing ovation from Julie Andrews herself. This was Gaga’s greatest night at the time because the world was experiencing a different side of Gaga, one that appreciated a plethora of musical styles.
Ever since the Oscars, Lady Gaga’s metamorphosis has quickened and she has covered a massive amount of musical ground. In 2015, she honored Stevie Wonder with a funky cover of I Wish. A year later, she sang a powerful and patriotic rendition of the Star Spangled Banner at the 50th Super Bowl. Over years of hard work, Gaga’s medium and voice have evolved to a point where she can sing a cover of New York, New York while also rehearsing with Metallica for a Grammy performance. The New York native sang with Queen; The Rolling Stones; and performed raspy, authentic snippets of Led Zeppelin's Black Dog on the Howard Stern Show. Lady Gaga was consecutively proving that she could mold her artistic vision to any genre she pleased and, most importantly, she was having a wonderful time.
Maybe the greatest indicator of Gaga’s status is who she has shared the stage with. She has performed with (or for) Elton John, Sting, Blondie, Carole King, and Stevie Wonder. Lady Gaga sang for five former presidents at the One America Appeal charity concert, and recalling her career reveals that she was surrounding herself with legends as early as 2010, differing from her peers and crafting for a career that will last for decades to come.
Lady Gaga’s career has forever changed with the critical success of A Star is Born. Released in October, the movie is still playing in theaters and Gaga flourishes in an industry that has accepted her with open arms. True artistry is rare. There are a plethora of singers, musicians, and entertainers who add their bit to an expansive history and culture, but Gaga has already become the most influential and versatile artist of our generation. As I wrote before, her path leads her to become one of the greatest artists of all time, and in several decades I will relish having watched her exponential growth as an artist.
It was easier to be musically ignorant a decade ago when Gaga first stepped onto the scene; one could mistake her outfits and antics as all glamour, a burning star that would fade away as many rising musicians do. But Gaga has shown perseverance and longevity that continues to add value to music and, now, acting. For someone to discredit Lady Gaga as untalented today is to willfully ignore her evolution and voice. For the longest time, I was used defending Gaga from criticism by sending a myriad of videos of her vocal prowess to friends and nonbelievers. But today is a new day, and as many of her former peers have faded, Gaga shines brighter than ever before, a star reborn and ready for a global audience that now recognizes the talent that I fell in love with when I first heard Paparazzi play on the radio so many years ago.