"Did I miss the Lady Gaga boat?"
That's what a 40-something friend recently asked me. He had never seen a Lady Gaga video, didn't know what all the fuss was about, and felt, well, old.
Lady Gaga became a phenomenon when Generation X wasn't looking. Suddenly, it's Gaga 24/7. Everywhere.
Parents may think their kids have returned to infancy with all the babbling about this music goddess. Some worship her on social media sites they've created (the International Church of Lady Gaga
, for one). Some want to live with her. They want her to be president. They stutter and stammer before spewing, "I have to see Lady Gaga in concert. Now. Can we drive to [insert farthest place from where you live]?"
You need a brief "Paws Up" primer just to keep up. (More on "paws up" in a few.)
As of Monday, Lady Gaga, who has used social media and the Internet to parlay her fame to astronomical altitudes, became the most followed person on Twitter, surpassing Britney Spears' previous record.
At 24, this new Queen of Twitter
has 5.7 million followers. That's more than President Obama's political organization
(5 million) or former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin
(230,000). On Facebook, Lady Gaga has 16.5 million fans, which also tops Obama, Palin or any other political figure. Politicians could only dream of such adoration.
Lady Gaga calls herself Mama Monster. Her fans, in turn, are Little Monsters. She instructs them to get their "paws up" -- a battle cry to support her and her causes. Yes, Lady Gaga is political. She could very well be the left's answer to Palin
. The Gaga, as she is sometimes known as, is educating an entire demographic on gay and lesbian issues
, the global AIDS epidemic, immigration, and even the controversial Westboro Baptist Church
, which picketed some of her concerts this summer.
At the Monster Ball -- the name of her fantastical costume-heavy world tour -- she often lectures the little monsters on the wrongs of the world. At Arizona's Monster Ball
, she spoke out against the state's immigration laws.
The pop goddess regularly appears on major magazine covers (including Vanity Fair's September issue
) and garners fashion awards for surreal Dada-inspired endeavors, such as elevating bubbles
to new couture levels. She's nominated for 13 -- a record number -- MTV video music awards. (Take that, Madonna.)
She influences her fans to be individuals through dance songs. A teenager I know attended her St. Louis concert in July. He said it was life-changing. Since all sorts of things, minor and major, seem to earn this designation from teenagers, I asked how.
"I came out of the closet to my mom," he said.
Whoa! Okay, that's on a level well above changing hair color or piercing a body part.
(Note: Lady Gaga, despite internet rumors, is not a drag queen. She simply has many who worship her, and her hyper-creative get-ups are clearly inspired by them. Thanks to drag queens' love for her, her music and fashion will forever be immortal in drag shows and gay clubs around the world. Just ask Cher.)
If you grew up in the music video age, it would be easy to compare Lady Gaga, whose real name is Stefanie Joanne Angelina Germanotta, to Madonna, who had already recorded "Like a Virgin" by the time Gaga was born. Don't bother. You will only end up getting mad when teens start explaining the differences. Madonna never bit a bloody heart and then bathed in "blood" from a fountain. Madonna wasn't influenced by glam rockers KISS
. Madonna wasn't a musician. (Sure, she strummed the guitar but Lady Gaga writes her songs and is an accomplished pianist.) If you must throw back to the 1980s, think more Cyndi Lauper, whom Lady Gaga has aligned with to promote HIV and AIDS awareness
Lady Gaga took her name from the Queen song "Radio Ga Ga," but she's become a video empress. Her most popular video, "Bad Romance
," has captured nearly 267 million views on YouTube. She has sold 13 million records and 51 million singles. Her fans span the globe, going to great lengths to re-create her costumes, wigs and googly-eye look
She even has just one degree of separation between herself and the White house. Gaga's video "Telephone" also features Beyonce Knowles, who sung the Etta James' classic "At Last" during Michelle and Barack's Obama's first dance as first lady and president.
Parents, don't be afraid of Lady Gaga. Sure, her videos are both sexual and religious in nature and often depict murder and prison, but so does reality TV. She shoots sparks from her bra and she plays a flaming piano. Her latest video, "Alejandro
," features the singer in a latex nun costume. (Remember: Madonna, too, took on the Catholic Church
, and it lashed back.)
Lady Gaga pushes buttons beautifully -- just like Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin
and even Keith Olbermann.
For all the sex in her videos, she advocates celibacy (though she confesses to having sex). "I remember the cool girls when I was growing up," she said in one interview. "Everyone started to have sex. But it's not really cool any more to have sex all the time. It's cooler to be strong and independent."
It definitely is, Lady Gaga. This 21st-century role model treads in Madonna's former controversial waters, but seldom, if ever, did Madge speak about celibacy and being choosy. The final lesson of the parental Gaga primer might just be one of the oldest lessons of all, one that your kids are learning -- even though you can't get past the visuals: Don't judge this Mama Monster by her cover.