Lady Gaga Wants to Be Bruce Springsteen, NOT Madonna

So, this is something that has been percolating in my brain for a while. Ever since Gaga hit the scene, she has been most often compared to Madonna and at a lesser degree to Grace Jones. Both comparisons are fine, but shallow. Her use of dance music of the most mainstream as a way to engage the populace at large reeks of Madonna. Her crazy costumes and never breaking character are closer to Jones in the conception of a dance diva. When they first kind of hit at the same time, Gaga and MIA were placed in a weird lady musician feud. MIA always seemed to take the bait and try to slag Gaga, which honestly wasn’t a good look. (Sidebar: I love MIA’s music and think she is a real talent. However, this feud was dumb and reductive and as it happened on the heels of her NY Times takedown, it appeared less saucy and more desperate.)

Where was I? Gaga has mostly been compared to Madonna. This became an even bigger issue when her hit song “Born this Way” was released and people found it quite musically similar to Madonna’s “Express Yourself”. Personally, I could actually not care less about this debate. All popular music is appropriation of some kind or some other style. So, without the constant copying and mutating of old songs, music would never actually evolve and create new sounds and new artists. But, beyond the “type” of music each artist makes, they are actually not really all that similar. Madonna has always been more of a polymath (whether she’s good at any of them is actually a debate for another time. This post isn’t really about that.) and Gaga is much more about crafting both a highly unique and hugely succesful pop music persona for maximum listener engagement. And, it is expressly her music and persona that make me think of her as closer to the heir to Bruce Springsteen than that of Madonna.

Let’s get the most superficial similarity out of the way. Both Gaga and Springsteen love the way Clarence Clemons played saxophone. He was a member of Bruce’s band from almost the beginning and right before his passing he appeared on two songs on Gaga’s last album and was featured during his sax solo in her “Edge of Glory” music video. But, this love of the Big Man is not the only thing they have in common it’s just the most fun one.

The biggest similarity between Gaga and Bruce is that once they achieved true pop fame, they began on a two-pronged path. The one path features more adventurous music, bigger chances with their style, and general tone of their music. As their music started selling to a smaller group of true believers, they conversely had bigger and more profitable concert tours. Bruce has been around for a very long time now (close to 40 years musically), but his records still sell quite well and his tours sell-out over massive, multiple night stands all over the United States. When he plays a venue like Madison Square Garden in NYC, he is there for almost two weeks of shows and they sell out in no time. Now, Gaga has not done anything similar to that…yet. I think Gaga’s becoming more important than her music. She appears to be working to become one the biggest and most influential acts ever. With the Springsteen template it could possibly work out that way.

Gaga’s The Fame was a similar sensation that Springsteen’s Born in the USA was over 20 years earlier. In both cases, the albums churned hit after hit that made the artist even bigger than when they began. Each album was a phenomenon and united various music fans in a way that few pieces can. We live in a pretty diverse and divisive culture. Very few albums come along that draw fans from different ages, genders, and races, but both Gaga and Springsteen have forged that connection.

All of this is speculative. I obviously do not know Lady Gaga and everything I have just written about is strictly my opinion. But, there is something about the idea of a 60-year-old Gaga doing a 3 hour show of all her songs as a sold out arena of spectators sit enraptured, that makes me a bit giddy.

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