I don’t get Lady Gaga. I think she’s absolutely fascinating—in neither a good nor a bad way—but I couldn’t tell you exactly why. In about a year and a half, she’s managed to pretty much skip pop-diva status and allowed herself to exist as a transcendent po-mo-pop-musician/fashionista/artist/being/whatever else you want to call her. And this is all pretty polarizing: Either you see a legitimate artist who’s created a niche for herself, intelligent, creative, complicated enough to spit in the face of the Britneys and Christinas. Or you call bullshit and see a pseudo-intellectual, egomaniacal sorry excuse for a 21st- century Madonna. Or you see both.
That same sort of conflict and uncertainty is present on The Fame Monster, her follow-up EP to platinum selling debut The Fame. Initially, The Fame Monster was supposed to be a bonus disc to accompany a reissue of The Fame, but Gaga insisted that the eight new tracks were conceptually and artistically and musically their own beast, and deserved to stand alone as an EP. Or something like that.
Written and recorded in the immediate aftermath of Gaga’s worldwide success, The Fame Monster deals with the darker side of celebrity so glorified (albeit maybe a bit tongue-in-cheekily) on her debut. The first single, “Bad Romance,” revels in the nightmare it tries to create with Hitchcock references and somber vocals. But the song lacks cohesion: First it sounds like a Cher song, then there’s the sneering faux-European accented verse, the power disco chorus, and finally the bland spoken-word bridge. Similarly, “Monster” and “Alejandro” deal with the darker side of sex and love, and while both are half-decent club/pop songs in their own right—and much more well-organized than “Bad Romance”—they don’t seem like complete thoughts. Or not complete enough to warrant a separate release, anyway.
But despite what Gaga’s said about the more serious content of Monster, she never completely escapes the vapid, sex-obsessed songs that made her famous. “So Happy I Could Die” trudges along under a monotonous pulsing bass drum and heavily reverbed vocals about how great it is to be famous and enjoy fine wine in clubs; and “Telephone” is just as weak lyrically, and features Beyonce, whose thirty-second vocal spot pretty much outshines any of Gaga’s own singing.
Most aggravating, though, is “Dance In The Dark.Monster The song attempts to veer towards the seamier side again, but not before Gaga decides to name-drop everyone from Liberace to Stanley Kubrick in a bridge that’s an absolute rip-off of the end of Madonna’s “Vogue.” But Gaga’s assertion at the beginning of the song that she’s a “free bitch” reveals an overt hypocrisy in her music. Lady Gaga has every right to embrace the “free bitch” thing and do whatever she wants with whomever she wants; but these themes, these monsters she wants to confront on Monster are a direct result of how she consciously chooses to live. And then these ideas are manifested in a genre of music whose sound—either intentionally or not—further glorifies this lifestyle. And, you know, maybe Lady Gaga’s completely aware of this; or maybe she wants you to at least think she’s completely aware of all this. Either way, that doesn’t make The Fame Monster any better of a pop record.