It’s tempting to think that Lady Gaga’s image is getting in the way of her music. It might even be what Lady Gaga wants you to think. But make no mistake: Music isn’t Gaga’s chief art form. Yes, she’s a decent singer (of catchy but mediocre songs), a classically-trained pianist, a dancer who’s arguably better than Madonna, her closest analogue. But what she’s really doing is an extended piece of performance art: Her medium is her image.
Gaga said as much in a “60 Minutes” piece before the Grammys last weekend, telling Anderson Cooper that “one of my greatest artworks is the art of fame.” The interview itself was an example of her work, full of outrageous costumes and cryptic statements. (“This is the cup I drink out of every day, this is the diamond I put in my coffee when I get nervous.”) At one point, she showed up in her underwear, and the fact that she lacked a stick-thin celebrity body was, itself, a statement on the public’s expectations. Her whole career is a meditation on how to get famous, how to stay famous, and how to avoid the standard tropes of fame: the rise, the fall from grace, the inevitable rebound.
And yes, showing up for the Grammys in an egg — like appearing last year in a dress made of raw meat — was an essential part of the act, a continued effort to keep people surprised. Like Madonna, Lady Gaga understands that constant reinvention is a way to keep your story alive, while also controlling the story completely. Her art is the act of staying one step ahead of the fame machine. She’s writing her own tune, and it’s a minor masterpiece.