Goo-goo over Gaga

She's the kind of girl mothers hope their sons don’t bring home.

Outspoken, outrageous, over the top and in your face, she has probably raised more eyebrows in her still-young career than Madonna – the woman she is often compared with – has over decades.

But no matter what your opinion of her you have to hand it to Lady Gaga: she’s a maestro at marketing, a wizard at reinvention and a skilful handler of the one thing that can make or break an artist in today’s world: the internet and everything that comes with it.

And it has propelled the 25-year-old New Yorker to the top of the celebrity pile.

She recently made the No 1 slot on Forbes magazine’s Celebrity 100 list, knocking Oprah Winfreyoff her pedestal for one main reason: her social media power.

Oprah earned vastly more than Gaga did in 2010 – $290 million (about R2,03 billion) to the younger woman’s $90 million (about R630 million).

But when it comes to the internet, Gaga is the reigning queen. She has 32 million Facebook friends, 10 million Twitter followers (or Little Monsters as she calls them) and more than a billion YouTube views and has successfully pushed her music and the products featured in her videos through this medium.

Forbes’ editor Dorothy Pomerantz calls her “the best example of how celebrities will need to manage their careers in the coming years”.

Justin Bieber and his entourage know the drill already. The 17-year-old is No 3 on the Forbes list and, as Pomerantz says, “if this were 10 years ago he’d still be paying his dues in small clubs and schools. But thanks to the internet he’s a sensation.”

A decade ago Britney Spears was the most searched-for person on the net but she relied on releasing her music and the occasional TV advert to keep her on the top rung of the success ladder.

“Essentially she existed before Facebook, Twitter, iTunes or YouTube,” one music writer says. “These days celebrity is achieved by being constantly accessible and meticulously interacting with a fan base.”

Gaga was modest in her acceptance of her elevated status. “It’s nice,” she said shortly after the release of the Forbes list.

“Only Oprah is infinitely more important and influential than me. I’m just grateful to have even ever met her, really.

“What matters most to me is how fans feel about the work I’m doing and the music. But it’s always really, really nice to get compliments like that. I really appreciate it.”

The week Forbes announced their list should have been all about Oprah’s departure from the talk-show world and there was plenty about it in the media. But as people gathered to say farewell to the queen of chat the Lady Gaga machine was moving effortlessly on.

And being Gaga-driven it was often shocking – and unfailingly unique.

She arrived at a gig in a gold coffin, sporting a fake pregnant belly. She went on Saturday Night Live, delivered a performance of Born This Way and at the end – again sporting a bump – lay down with her feet in stirrups and simulated giving birth on stage to an oozing yellow liquid.

In the same week she tweeted a picture of herself cosying up to Justin Timberlake (after dressing up as a wine bottle in a skit with him for Saturday Night Live) and gossip magazines went into overdrive.

You have to wonder, as Gareth Cliff did on his 5FM show recently, how many more reinventions Gaga can come up with.

“It must be hard work having to produce something different all the time,” he said.

But the artist once known as Stephani Germanotta seems to relish the challenge.

She has, in a series of memorable outings and performances, worn meat as a dress; emerged from an egg; sported outfits that made her look as if her skin had grown studs and donned a lobster for a hat. She sat on a toilet for one music video and blazed fire from her breasts in another.

And recently, in a video for her song Judas, she dressed as a latter-day Mary Magdalene figure with a crucifix on her panties, clinging onto a biker Jesus wearing a crown of thorns.

This get-up offended many people, with Christians saying she had taken things too far. Some fundamentalists even likened her to Satan. But Gaga refused to be cowed.

“It’s more about pop culture as religion, my identity as my religion,” she told The Guardian newspaper.

Dr Pete Ward, senior lecturer in theology at London’s King’s College and author of Gods Behaving Badly, a book about religion and celebrity, says her use of religious images shouldn’t be viewed as offensive.

“She’s basically saying what Jesus is saying – we should love God and love each other, it seems. I think what she’s illustrating is people using a religious metaphor to talk about what they’re doing. I quite like that she has a serious intent. What she’s doing shouldn’t be confused with real religion.”

Read the full article in the issue of YOU, 2 June 2011.

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