It took a while for Lady Gaga to really break through into my consciousness — Poker Face slipped right past me; Bad Romance (and wacky fashion statements) got her on my radar; Edge of Glory intrigued me; but it wasn’t until Born This Way that I began to think seriously that she could be someone quite special — and then it was the tiny spare cover of Born This Way by 10 year old Maria Aragon that actually got me to sit up and seriously contemplate where she fits into the pantheon of pop icons. Born This Way, I realized, had heart, integrity, and a message. Someone to watch.
It was a week or so ago when I started seeing promos for “A Very Gaga Thanksgiving”, which seemed on the surface to be an … um …. unusual juxtaposition. I noticed that she was emphasizing to anyone listening to her interviews that she conceived and directed the special, which piqued my interest even more. I just couldn’t quite figure out where she would go with it, or whether it would work.
Well, for me, it worked.
It was very carefully laid out — warm and low-key, visually sumptuous but appropriately restrained without losing the Gaga-ness of it all. Other words that come to mind — direct, unpretentious, sincere, and old school (as the holidays should be), with just a touch of carefully and sparingly applied edge.
In a decision clearly designed to underscore the mainstream nature of a network Thanksgiving speial, the show kicked off with a duet of The Lady is a Tramp with 80-something (and still kickin’ it) Tony Bennet in an intimate jazz clubby kind of set (turns out it’s the banquet hall of Sacred Heart) that had what were clearly Gaga-esque touches throughout, a set that would return throughout the how and provide an interesting, holiday, velvety vibe.
Next smart choice: a cute segment at Sacred Heart, where LG went to elementary school, ending with the grade schoolers singing a few bars of Born This Way in an a capello, innocent way that is reminiscent of the charm of Maria Aragon, and reminds of the life-affirming message of the song — then a segway into a high energy (but restrained by Gaga standards) rendering of the song on the night club set.
A touching rendition of “The Edge of Glory”, which she introduces by saying she wrote it for her grandfather, recently passed, and dedicates it to her Grandmother….then stops partway through, wipes away what’s obviously a genuine tear, and tells a story about her grandfather and Christmas cookies……it feels unscripted, and sincere….
Moving into the second half, a cute segment where chef Art Smith makes a deep fried turkey and pecorino waffles — and the whole segment comes close to making you feel like you’re at what would be a … well….. Lady Gaga Thanksgiving….including recipes to be downloaded.
Her acoustic rendition of “Hair” comes with an evidently sincere and heartfelt explanation about how the song grew out of the sense of alienation and rejection that came from not being one of the cool kids in the very banquet hall of Sacred Heart School where the special is being recorded.
Then — after having thoroughly set the audience up with a half hour of acoustic, touching, heartfelt, G rated material, she comes back from a break 60 minutes into the 90 minute show with just a touch of the true, edgey, subversive Gaga — Bad Romance complete with a fiery red dress (in marked contrast to her other outfits) and a hilarious, completely subversive “mic in a flesh colored sock” that looked completely like it was, well, what Justin Timberlake put in a box on SNL….Now, the hilariousness is directly related to the fact that this was a subtlety that presumably the 10 year olds on the couch (any still awake at 10:35 after having been tryptofaned into oblivion) would not catch.
At the beginning of the show, Tony Bennet says: “I see in Lady Gaga a touch of genius. She’s very creative and very productive ….and I think as time goes on she might become become America’s Picasso.” And later he says: “She’s the most creative person I’ve ever met and I’ve met … I’ve been around a long time in show business, I’ve met all the great masters.” When Katy Couric tells Gaga that Bennet calls her the new Picasso, she respons: “I don’t know if I’m the new Picasso, but I’m certainly twisted like many of his paintings.”
This kind of twisted works.
But it’s not the twistedness that that resonates — it’s the surprising humanity, the ability to achieve an unexpected intimacy and, crazy hair-no-eyebrows-wacky-clothes-and-all, be able to reach out an touch the audience. She accomplishes that and on a holiday dedicated to eating — there is no doubting that Lady Gaga is her own unique blend of spices, not something you’ve ever had before. In spite of my slow start and general resistance to fandom, I have to confess, she’s winning me over.
Throughout our pop culture history, the great ones have had that — an ability to surprise, confound, break the rules on the one hand — but reach out and touch us, and she’s got that ability. Jagger, Lennon, Madonna, Clapton — she is gradually establishing herself as owning a place at that table.
A Very Gaga Thanksgiving night indeed.