A polarizing pop-culture figure, Lady Gaga has dominated the artistic landscape for more than a year.
With a string of massive hit singles under her belt -- just try listening to any Top 40 station for a couple of hours without hearing two, three or even four of her songs -- and a reputation for outre outfits, the woman born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta makes headlines with just about everything she does. Now, she's bringing her "Monster Ball" tour to Dallas' American Airlines Center for a pair of sold-out shows, starting Thursday. (She'll return to the AAC on March 14, in case you can't get enough -- or couldn't get in -- this go-round.)
DFW.com critics Preston Jones and Christopher Kelly recently sat down to discuss the phenomenon known as Lady Gaga; here are some excerpts from their conversation. Find the complete chat in podcast form at dfw.com/music.
Kelly: What do you think people can expect when they go see Lady Gaga?
Jones: She's been quoted as saying it's a musical theater experience, less of a concert. There's a whole theme to the show, and it's structured like a Broadway musical -- which should be interesting to see because you don't see a lot of artists put that much thought into staging a tour these days. So I think there's going to be a lot of spectacle, there'll be all the hits, of course, because she only has the two albums so far. It should be one of the highlights of the concert season.
Kelly: I think a lot of people are going to be asking the question 'Is Lady Gaga just a flash in the pan, or is she, as some people have suggested, going to be as big and enduring as Madonna?'
Jones: I haven't seen anything from people that have attended the show that indicates she's going to flame out. I'm interested to see [where she goes]. She has a new album that's supposed to come out in the early part of next year ... that'll really be the test. These shows have been selling out across the country, but it'll be the test to see if her next album has legs and hits.
Kelly: What do you ascribe [her success] to? She has a good sound, particularly Poker Face and Alejandro, which has echoes of [Madonna's] La Isla Bonita and Ace of Base. The songs are incredibly catchy and well-produced.... [But still] this is a big, big deal for a new artist to be filling up arenas and selling them out.
Jones: Right, you have to remember, this is her debut headlining tour. She's never been to Dallas before, this will be her first time here and she's playing a 20,000-seat venue. I think you can trace her success, in this fragmented era, to her ability to grab people's attention visually first. As catchy as the songs are, she went in knowing the visual is what drives the culture now.
So with all these outlandish costumes -- on red carpets and in videos and on TV performances -- she's captured people that way and then used the songs to hook them into staying. One of the things people knock her [for] is that style drives the substance. She can sing, she can write -- she had a whole career as a songwriter before she was ever Lady Gaga. So the chops are there, it's just you wonder if that gets obscured by all the crazy costumes.
Kelly: The other thing that interests me about Lady Gaga is that, in this age of insane over-exposure -- and she is over-exposed -- but in this insane era where celebrities Twitter and Facebook, and we know everything about them, she remains a weirdly elusive character. No one really knows who she is. She's this girl from Manhattan, she's got a really long Italian name, but I feel like a lot of her personal life, she's sort of held us at bay.
Jones: Like everything else around her, that's by design. There was the recent Rolling Stone cover story and the writer spent two or three days with her on tour and had ample time with her to sit and talk. It was basically presented as a Q&A, and she doesn't really give anything away. There are facts that are known about her, but past that she speaks in that opaque, man-behind-the-curtain way. I don't know if there's not much there, or if it's part of her building a mystique.
Kelly : Or if she's just an ingenious architect of her own celebrity. We all think of Madonna as the person who invented this modern notion of a star who has to reinvent herself every few years. I feel like Lady Gaga must have been sitting in front of her television watching MTV, furiously taking notes. She's refined what Madonna did, and taken it to a new level.