Inescapable, inexplicable, infuriatingly addictive and an irrefutable pop phenomenon. She is Lady Gaga and she has come to take your children. If this were true, I’m sure it would be a fair trade but in reality, her goals are much, much higher. A fashion and style icon, Gaga has made her two years in the public eye seem like a special kind of Chinese water torture. Chances are you’ve either succumbed to her spell, or fighting the effects with all the strength you can muster.
If you were a teenager in the 80s you’d be getting a sense of déjà vu right about now. Gaga is for all intent and purpose Madonna: The Next Generation and she has on her side something Madonna never had when it counted – the internet. She wields it with purpose and confidence, and she doesn’t have to worry about Playboy releasing some old cash-strapped nudie shots. Search the internet, look around your magazine shelves and all mystery is rendered null and void. Gaga has taken over-exposed to new meanings, to where, perhaps for the first time in pop music, the focus isn’t on what a pop star isn’t wearing, but what she is.
Nominated for a record 13 awards in the 2010 MTV Music and Video Awards (which she won seven), Gaga has infiltrated our television screens, our internets and our daily lives. You’ve probably lost friends and family, succumbing one by one to her call, to join her junior Manson family, or what she adoringly calls her ‘little monsters’. At this point, it still would take almost heaven and earth to make the staunch plastic pop hater/serious music fan drop their guard and pay attention. And when it does, like it did to yours truly, it’s something that demands further investigation and even perhaps a certain amount of respect.
Having been able to defend against Gaga’s earlier, inferior efforts, it was her worldwide top 10 hit, “Paparazzi” that broke through the mental shields, but it evoked negative and rage-filled behaviour. No matter which part of the globe you were on, “Paparazzi” was like an airborne virus that followed you everywhere. As soon as it was identified who the object of my derision was, she quickly became “that fucking Lady Gaga”. I’d as sooner set fire to my record collection than be caught listening/watching/purchasing one of her records, but then on October 25, 2009, something unexpected happened — “Bad Romance”, Lady Gaga‘s sixth single was released and I lost my entire record collection in a freak ‘unexplained’ accident.
There are few things greater in recorded music than the all-encompassing pop song. It’s like music’s version of Excalibur — wielded only by the worthy (with ego and talent in abundance), able to cut through the airwaves with such power that the effects are seismic. There have been only a handful in the last decade (that at best I want to be aware of. I do not need to be made aware of more) that leave you in a state of ‘oh-my-fucking-god-what-was-that?-oh-shit-I’m-listening-to-pop-music-and-I’m-liking-it’. Of those that I wish to out myself for liking, Kylie Minogue’s 2001 worldwide chart hit “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” is one, and of course, there is Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance”. Both have that intense, almost dizzying drug-like rush that takes over your nervous system and holds you transfixed, and before you know it, you’ve become a pop junkie looking for your next hit.
From bitter hater to obedient pawn is the ultimate goal of the artist who wants their face on everything and music heard everywhere. They love the lovers, but they love the haters who become lovers even more. Even if you fall prey and end up feeling used, she still wins. There’s no denying the power of Gaga and there’s no denying “Bad Romance”. What is it about songs whose lyrical pull is ‘want’ over ‘need’? The dreamy allure of Kylie’s “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” reads as an almost lyrical bookend to Gaga’s desperate and doomed romance. If Kylie aspired to be pop’s impossible princess, then Gaga is pop’s tarted-up coke whore, but no matter how you dice it, both are attractive propositions.
“Bad Romance” on the surface is a rather grotesque little ditty. As soon as we’ve bypassed Gaga’s operatic scene-setting warble, she’s already preparing herself for a trip to the STD clinic. How else can you possibly read “I want your ugly/I want your disease”? Clearly how bad this romance is or could be is established from the get-go. From then on in, she drops the shock for a little celluloid fun, throwing in some Hitchcock references and making what appears to be an allusion to the 1953 film “From Here To Eternity”. “I want your drama/The touch of your hand/I want your leather studded kiss in the sand”. The imagery instantly brings forth that of Burt Lancaster in iconic embrace with Elizabeth Kerr in the beach, albeit with weird biker overtones.
The Hitchcock references are easily and readily picked upon “I want your psycho, your vertigo shtick/I want you in my rear window, baby you’re sick”, all of which probably flew over the heads of her teen audience but add to the suitably sinister feel of the track. Regardless of its filmic quality, the line “I want you in my rear window” is the most lyrically subversive Gaga has come up with to date, something that makes “Love Games“ “I want to take a ride on your disco stick” sound cheap and tacky. Which it is. If some hot little blonde thing came up to me in a nightclub and said “I want you in my rear window” my jaw would hit the floor faster than my drink.
If you were to make a career out of studying pop songs with a focus on Ibiza-styled dance anthems (and why would you?), you would notice “Bad Romance” is nothing special. A synth-driven track with a driving oompa-oompa beat that lyrically builds from little verse to little verse to soft build into BIG CHORUS and then repeat. What sets “Bad Romance” apart from the rest is its transmutability. You could take this song and turn it into almost anything. Check YouTube, there are bound to be covers of “Bad Romance” done death metal, done country, as a piano ballad, or even emo hate-rock style. Interpret it any way you like and it would still sound like a hit. But it’s that soaring, anthemic chorus that shoots “Bad Romance” into the upper reaches of the pop stratosphere. The slow swell of the pre-chorus becomes this goose-tingling euphoric moment as the track reaches its “I want your love and I want your revenge/You and me would make a bad romance” climax. Even the drama-filled bilingual middle eight where Gaga is grabbing for whatever she can raises the tension level to a point that’s almost impossible to climb back down from.
A song has its most power when it has a direct line to your consciousness. Some songs will speak louder and clearer more than others, and this is because you understand exactly what is being said, because you’ve either felt it or are living it in real time. There’s nothing like being stuck in car with someone who’s playing The Fame Monster over and over while you’re actually going through the nuclear fall-out of a “bad romance”. You relate to everything you’re hearing. You want to go completely Hitchcock on the person that is making you to feel this way, yet even in the midst of all the insanity, this song oddly becomes your moment of solace. Gaga wasn’t selling something new, she just expressed it in a way that hadn’t been said before. And she made bad romances sound like fun, which I can honestly assure you, aren’t.