Posted byon 08/04/2011 at 5:00 PM
#1 Lady Gaga
And the honors for biggest pop star in the world right now go to…who else? Since her emergence in 2007, no one has better embodied the ideals of pop than Lady Gaga, who has been responsible for more memorable hit songs, iconic pop culture moments and shifts in the Top 40 landscape than any other artist in recent memory. She creates more headlines than anyone else, but only because she has the songwriting abilities, studio savvy and performance mastery to back up the hype, and she might be the greatest case example of why pop music deserves to be taken seriously since the heyday of Michael, Prince and Madonna in the ‘80s. It’s never a given that the biggest pop artist of any point in time will also be the best, so for being both simultaneously over the last few years, Gaga is an obvious choice for No. 1 on our list. (And when you’re done with Gaga, the entire list of artists on the Popdust 40 is viewable here.)
NOWNESS: Born This Way and its title track were the most anticipated album and single of 2011, and neither disappointed, the latter topping the charts for six weeks and becoming one of the all-time anthems for the LGBT community, and the former selling a million in its first week and already spawning two additional top ten hits. And all the while, Gaga has been ever-present on TV, where she has guested on both American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance, in magazines, where she’s covered V, Rolling Stone and Harper’s Bazaar this calendar year, and in the headlines, which she’s made for naked photo spreads, surprise club appearances and her on-off relationship with New York’s most famous unfamous bartender, Luc Carl. Simply put, there’s no artist it’d be harder to imagine pop without right now than Lady Gaga. (20/20)
RESUME: Can you believe it’s barely been three years that Lady Gaga has been in our lives? Debut single “Just Dance” didn’t even top the charts until early 2009, but since then, Gaga has scored nine top ten hits, including two additional No. 1s, and sold nearly 22 million albums worldwide, an incredible achievement in this day and age. Meanwhile, her 200-date Monster Ball Tour ranks as the 15th most-successful tour of all time (the highest by any artist on this list outside of Gaga idol Madonna), and in the era of social media, Gaga perhaps holds the most important popularity superlative of all—she has the most Twitter followers of any human being on the planet, with over 12 million Little Monsters hanging on her every word. (9/10)
DRAMA: Gaga’s had her fair share of drama dealing with zealots of various stripes, including religious evangelicals upset with her pro-gay message and animal rights activists not amused by the whole meat dress thing. She’s also been on the receiving end of plenty of sniping comments from peers or predecessors, most recently Bette Midler and Eminem, though the latter claimed his dis to be a joke. And then there’s that whole mess about who exactly invented “Lady Gaga”—ex-producer Rob Fusari claimed it was him and sued her for $35 million, Gaga disagreed and countersued. Still, for all the tzuris in her professional life, Gaga must be docked a few points here for having relatively little in her personal life—as far as we can tell, things with her family and close ones are all good, and what little drama there is with maybe-boyfriend Luc Carl is surprisingly uninteresting. (13/15)
THIRD-BEST SONG: If you accept “Bad Romance” and “Poker Face” as her two best songs—and they’re certainly her most enduring thus far—then No. 3 would probably have to be something off Born This Way. The American public might go for the title track, and Gaga herself would go for her personal favorite “You and I,” but we’re gonna go with “Edge of Glory,” one of 2011’s best pop songs and an all-purpose anthem to match nearly anything by Gaga songwriting heroes Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi. The year might not see a musical moment more sparkling than the song’s heavenly bridge, where the seas of synths part for recently deceased guest saxophonist Clarence Clemons, giving us one last classic sax break to remember him by. We are thankful. (10/10)
MUSIC VIDEOS: If we handicapped Gaga by considering only her music videos and no other factors, she still would probably have been number one on this list. Her videos are filled with symbolic plot lines (“Alejandro” is about the angst of being a gay Nazi? Maybe?), wtf visuals (the telephone hat in “Telephone,” her fish eyes in “Bad Romance,” the entire Mother Monster prologue to “Born This Way”), and allusions to filmmakers like trash king John Waters, visual sculpture artist Matthew Barney and cold dread master Stanley Kubrick that let some of her viewers feel very highbrow about themselves. There’s also more underwear dancing than could possibly be counted. No one has done more to make music videos a cultural event again than Gaga; even her detractors are forced to tune in to see what the fuss is about. Though admittedly we’ve watched the “Telephone” video several times now and still don’t know why she felt the need to poison everyone in that diner. (10/10)
LIVE SHOW: Gaga’s live show is a musical seemingly stitched together from off-Broadway productions of Blade Runner, Studio 64 and If You Got The Money, Honey: The Guns ‘N’ Roses story. There’s ridiculously over-the-top guitar solos, glittery beats by the dozen, armies of backing dancers who haven’t eaten carbohydrates since the Clinton administration and a surprisingly touching piano interlude. (Who knew “Poker Face” would have worked as a Cole Porter song?) But even more important than the tunes and the spectacle is the pep talk. Once you’re in the Monster’s Ball, Gaga wouldn’t dare dream of letting you leave before she’s told you many times in several minutes-long rambling interludes how amazing you are, little monster, and how you were born a superstar and no one can ever, ever, ever take it away from you, and she loves you just as much as you love her. To Gaga’s immense credit, it never sounds like shtick. (5/5)
NON-MUSICAL VENTURES: Like any good pop star, Gaga has tried her hand at merchandising, including her own line of tangle-free headphones, dubbed Heartbeats, and her own MAC Cosmetic lipstick line, Viva Glam. Proceeds from the sale of Viva go to benefit HIV and AIDS charities and speak to Gaga’s true extra-musical passion. Gaga is a tireless advocate for the LGBT community, and her support extends far beyond saying “Bless God And Bless The Gays” at award shows. Last fall she appeared at the National Equality March rally on D.C.’s national mall and at a anti-“Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” rally. She went one step further on Twitter, asking her fans to reach out to United States senator Harry Reid, one of the leading advocates of repealing the ban against openly gay soldiers serving in the military, and urge him to push for the Senate to vote for the law’s repeal, and to contact their own state representatives as well. Amazingly enough, @HarryReid responded with a promise to do so, stating that “It’s the right thing to do. Come back to Vegas soon!” We’re not saying that Gaga single-handedly overturned one of the most shameful, prejudiced laws in United States history, but she certainly helped! (5/5)
FASHION/HAIR: People often talk about Gaga’s knack for earworms, eye for provocative visuals or versatile voice. What often goes unmentioned is that Gaga is one of the most hilarious musicians working today. Just look at the stuff she wears! Vinyl nun habits! Coke-can hair curlers! Bubble dresses! Suits made out of raw meat…that are supposed to serve as powerful/confusing metaphors for civil rights! But Gaga is not one to solely rock some avant-couture (all of it designed by her Haus Of Gaga production team and most likely inspired by the phrase “I dare you to wear this.”) She’s also happy to spend time in her music videos or onstage romping around in glittery leotards or her underwear. Simply put, no one else is coming up with anything on the level of the outfits she regularly displays. Just don’t expect her to show up wearing pants. (5/5)
HOTNESS: For her first Rolling Stone cover feature, Gaga said that “I don’t feel like I look like the other perfect little pop singers.” She posed naked on that cover, so she’s clearly got plenty of confidence in her supposedly less-than-perfect looks. It’s been noted by more than one critic that unlike most pop starlets, Gaga focuses almost solely on entertaining and empowering her female and gay fans, and any attention from straight guys is just an afterthought. She certainly is much more likely to dress to shock and perplex, rather than titillate. But when the mood strikes her, Gaga can do wonders with a pair of boots, lingerie and attitude. (8/10)
WHO THEY’VE DATED: Gaga has sung about her love of “Boys, Boys, Boys” and proclaimed her bisexuality, and her best tracks ooze with freeform lust. But don’t get the wrong idea. Gaga has talked openly about her celibacy, telling England’s Daily Mail “I’m single right now and I’ve chosen to be single because I don’t have the time to get to know anybody. So it’s OK not to have sex, it’s OK to get to know people. I’m celibate, celibacy’s fine.” Hey, dating and sex is fine for most people, but for Gaga that just takes time away from designing the next cigarette sunglasses. It’s worth noting here that she has a tattoo inspired by Rainer Maria Rilke, her favorite poet and the bard of the romantically confused, so perhaps she’s more shy than one might suppose. Anyway, even Gaga cannot survive on work and fake blood alone, and last year she reportedly dated her stylist Matthew Williams. And then, of course, there’s her on-again/off-again boyfriend Luc Carl, a New York bartender/musician and the inspiration for many of the songs on The Fame, as well as most recent single “You and I.” (3/5)
FAN CRAZINESS: She loves her little monsters, and they certainly love her back. The Internet is filled with videos of fans rushing the stage to hug her, fans gushing about how they met Gaga and she was as awesome as you’d hope and galleries of tattoos done in her honor. But perhaps the best tribute to her fans’ devotion is that when Gaga used the Twitter accessory TwitLonger to post the lyrics to her new single “Born This Way,” 8 million devoted Gaga fans crashed the site! (5/5)
TOTAL SCORE: 93
To read the Popdust interview with Lady Gaga, click here.
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