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Arts & Music

Pop star Lady Gaga gets into character

Curtis Ross The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: March 19, 2013 at 01:14 PM

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Becoming a pop star these days couldn't be easier. Witness Rebecca Black's "Friday," a knocked off song and video that have propelled the singer to international fame (or infamy).

Becoming a full-fledged cultural phenomenon, the kind that grabs the attention of the serious press and academics, takes a bit more effort.

Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, the 25-year-old performer better known as Lady Gaga, has achieved that fame in the three years since the release of "Just Dance," her first single.

Religion writers debate the significance of her videos in The Washington Post. "60 Minutes" profiles her. A college professor builds a course on the sociology of fame around her.

University of South Carolina sociology professor Mathieu Deflem teaches "Lady Gaga and the Sociology of the Fame," which he describes at as focusing "on the societal contexts of Lady Gaga's rise to fame. ... [It] is not a course about Lady Gaga as much as about the culture of the fame as exemplified by the case of Lady Gaga."

Not that Deflem is entirely objective. According to The New York Times, the professor "was instantly entranced with Lady Gaga when he saw her on 'The Tonight Show' in January 2009. Then he went to a concert in Atlanta. That led to his traipsing after her around the world to more than 28 shows. He owns more than 300 of her records on vinyl and CD, most of which are international releases. He has started a website, , a respectful and adoring fan site with pictures and audio downloads of rare Gaga songs."

Gaga inspires that sort of obsession.

There's a lot of Madonna in Gaga's persona (and in her music; recent single "Born This Way" drew criticism for its similarities to Madonna's "Express Yourself"), particularly in her provocative and occasionally ire-drawing use of religious imagery (and being blond by choice).

There's a lot of Marilyn Manson, minus the malevolence, misanthropy and nihilism, in her as well. She portrays herself as an outsider, a freak even, as much as she does a sex symbol. Dubbing her fans "little monsters" seems to invite the outcasts, the unpopular and the marginalized into her party.

Like both Madonna and Manson, Gaga courts controversy, whether through the use of violence in videos and her stage show, or her outrageous outfits, including the gown made of cuts of meat she wore to last year's Video Music Awards.

And the tunes, love them or hate them, are catchy. Even the curmudgeonliest of middle-aged music critics will be humming "Paparazzi" after minimal exposure.

Judging from an account of Gaga's first Tampa appearance, some of her success is due to elbow grease.

In Spring 2008, with "Just Dance" newly released, Gaga performed at Ybor City's G Bar. The presentation was minimal - two dancers with Gaga singing over prerecorded music, but G Bar owner Steve Donahue noticed something different.

"She was really interested in the performance," Donahue says. "A lot of track acts (artists who perform to prerecorded backing) do what they have to do to get their money. She was really building up and getting into character. I'd never seen that before.

"She went over all the details with the lighting guy so she'd have her lighting just right. She recorded an intro for the show that was exclusive to [G Bar]," Donahue says. "She took a lot of extra steps that she didn't have to take.

"She was super professional and a very sweet, very nice girl," Donahue says.

But if Gaga was ready for the spotlight, the Little Monsters were still undecided.

"At the end of the show she said, 'My name is Lady Gaga and I'll be in the VIP Section for two hours if anybody wants to come over and say 'hi,' " Donahue says.

"No one did!" he says with a laugh. "I had to send people over to talk to her!"

There have to be a few fans kicking themselves over that now.

"You think?" laughs Donahue.

LADY GAGA

Concert preview

With: Semi-Precious Weapons

When: 8 p.m., Saturday

Where: St. Pete Times Forum, 401 Channelside Drive, Tampa

Cost: $49.50, $85 and $175; (813) 301-2500

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