Lady Gaga: She's not just "another pop chick with blonde hair"
SONIC REDUCER "I'm from the underground. And I'm making pop music and I'm not a bit ashamed about it."
So sayeth Lady Gaga on the cellie last year on the way to a radio show at a Raging Waters in San Demos where she was dying to get wet. Alas, she forgot her Jellies at home and didn't want to get her towering D Square pumps splashed ("I'll find a private part of the park and just go in my birthday suit"). Yet I'm sure Christian Siriano could relate to this pop fashionista dilemma regardless of whether he'd sniff at her taste-defying getups or not. After all Lady Gaga is the pantless, prep-school-bred amalgam of Carole King and Madonna reimagined as a hot tranny mess, a Gossip Girl turned Fame Monster.
OK, Gaga is no tranny, strictly speaking, though at the time she told me she was thrilled about appearing at SF's Pride Fest ("I grew up in the dance and theater community I've been surrounded by gay men and women and transgendered my whole life!"). Still, this bio queen's obviously snatched more than a scrap of inspiration from clubland's OTT drama kids, and she's rough enough around the edges to make any sex bomb efforts an exercise in wise-ass deconstruction. From the gag of her "Radio Ga Ga" handle to her go-there way with the attraction-repulsion factor, Gaga is enough of a fabulous freak to embrace a gag-able frisson I'll be looking for that vomiting video vixen on the megascreen at her upcoming show at the newly reopened Bill Graham Dec. 14.
There's more than a smudge of Her Dancefloor Madge-sty in the diva's diamond-hard pop persona, wardrobe switch-ups, and workaholic drive. Lady Gaga impressed me at the time with a disarming sincerity and brusque sweetness: she was eager to be understood by serious music fans who might dismiss her as a throwaway popster. "The level of commitment and dedication it takes to put on a perfect pop show is very difficult," she exclaimed. "And I think some of the underground snobbery is fear and not understanding that discipline.
"Listen, I come from a party background and I used to party like crazy! That was a lot of my source of creativity," she continued. "But my life has changed a lot now, and I can't do that shit. I got to go to bed, and I gotta wake up, I gotta work out, I gotta go to rehearsal. I got to pound, pound, pound, work, work, work hard so that every time I hit the stage it's flawless. And if it isn't flawless, I gotta work myself up to where it is otherwise I'm just another pop chick with blonde hair."
But unlike Madonna, Gaga, like King, initially came from the flip side of the pop factory: as a songwriter, ghosting, she said, for Britney Spears and Pussycat Dolls. "I started to write pop songs mostly because I'm a classically trained pianist," she explained. "Beethoven and Bach and the structure of those classical pieces are really just rudimentary pop chord progressions. So it was something I understood." A vocal coach pointed out to her how easy it was to play a Mariah Carey tune by ear "'It's because you've been playing Bach inventions since you've been four, and it's the same kind of idea'<0x2009>" and she says, "That's how I found out I had a knack for it, and I've been writing, writing, writing, since I was 13 years old."
Those skills came in handy when she started playing piano to beats in her undies at clubs in New York City's Lower East Side, and had to come back to, for instance, a heckler who yelled, "Why don't you play something serious?" Her response should be familiar to fans of "Beautiful, Dirty Rich"'s and "Poker Face"'s provocation: "I put my leg up onto the piano with my crotch pretty wide open to the audience, and then I did a very old school George Gershwin ragtime improv on the piano pretty complicated. The whole idea was 'Fuck you, I'm going to be sexy, sing about sex in my underwear, and then I'm going to do this really, really difficult piano virtuoso moment and show you it really doesn't matter.' People associate glamour and being female and being nude and being provocative with stupidity there's a great deal of intelligence and conceptualizing behind my work."
Sun/13Mon/14, 7:30 p.m., $48
Bill Graham Civic Auditorium
99 Grove, SF