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At the Grammys, Lady Gaga goes too far

Posted by Rob Anderson  February 14, 2011 01:08 PM

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5__1297638677_0353.jpgFrom meat dress to egg wrapping, Lady Gaga is moving from food group to food group as she promotes her super-charged brand of celebrity.

"I'm a master of the art of fame," she told Anderson Cooper during the "60 Minutes" interview that preceded the 53rd annual Grammy Awards.

And so, she is. But maybe, with all that calculated selling of self, the 24 year old pop sensation is also selling herself short.

"You gotta have a gimmick" is a famous Stephen Sondheim line from the musical "Gypsy." But when the gimmickry becomes so exaggerated it eclipses the talent that launched it in the first place, maybe it's time to start thinking more about what really made Gypsy Rose Lee famous: stripping down to the bare essentials.

Lady Gaga's fans love her outrageousness and celebrate it as much they celebrate her music. But if you want to be a legend, not just a highly-paid cartoon character, it takes more than a crazy costume and a latex-clad entourage.

A reminder of that truth came at the start of Sunday night's Grammy Awards. The night kicked off with a tribute to Aretha Franklin, whose pure artistry is the foundation of her fame. Sure, Aretha had big dresses and hair over the years, as well as an out-sized personality. But she is celebrated for the power of her voice and the driving beat of her music. In the end, that's what credibility is all about.

It's why Madonna, who long ago mastered what Lady Gaga is selling now, branched out to stage and other musical venues. Madonna created a brand, and exploited every penny out of it, but still wanted what Aretha sings about: R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Today's entertainment is a furious combination of sound, light and outrageous special effects. On its own, a beautiful voice only gets an entertainer so far.There must also be smoke, fireworks and videos, whether people are watching a musical performance or a football game, or the audience will quickly start texting or checking Facebook.

Lady GaGa knows that and works it. As she told "60 Minutes" it's all about marketing.

But now, after being carried onto the Red Carpet in an egg, what's next for the queen of pop? She is setting a high standard — or maybe a low one? — for herself and competitors.

Will she embrace another food group? If so, will it be fruit, vegetable or dairy?

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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