Lady Gaga’s ‘The Fame’ Turns 5: Stan & Deliver
Stan & Deliver gives fans an opportunity to shake, cry and sing the praises of the albums they love from their faves.
Five years ago — before “Bad Romance,” before the meat dress, before Born This Way, before Marina Abramovic, before her friendship-turned-battle royale with Perez Hilton, before Little Monsters even knew what to call themselves — there was Lady Gaga, a burgeoning blonde starlet wrapped in a bubble dress who came with a promise: To save pop, one sequin at a time.
Like a disco stick-wielding space alien, Gaga crash-landed into the music industry with her massive debut single “Just Dance,” followed by her stutter-happy smash “Poker Face,” “LoveGame” and “Paparazzi.” She didn’t only revolutionize pop music at the time with her music (that RedOne-produced club-pop would soon oversaturate the radio) — she set the bar for over-the-top fashion (a blend of DIY Haus creations and haute couture) as well as upping the ante for video production, as her imagination (and budget) grew with each new release. Gaga utterly consumed pop culture in a way that hadn’t felt so thrilling since — well, Madonna.
Her refreshing, joyful pop offerings — sweetly-sung odes to a life filled with glitz, extravagance and glamour — catapulted the New York-bred songstress from club fixture to stadium filler within a year’s time. By the time her Fame extension The Fame Monster was released in late 2009, she was already skyrocketing to superstardom.
Today marks the five-year anniversary of the original release of The Fame (which came out in Canada first — fun fact!), so we’ve asked some of Gaga’s biggest stans and early supporters to discuss the album track-by-track — from “Just Dance” to “I Like It Rough.” So go ahead, let your hands rest from all the “Applause” for a minute and just dance — it’s (still) gonna be okay.
1. Just Dance: The first time I heard Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance,” I knew it was special.
This wasn’t just another dance-pop ditty that would quickly come and go. It was an incredibly well crafted and instantly infectious synth-pop confection featuring Gaga’s powerful vocals that had a timeless quality to it. “Just Dance” was clearly the introduction to something a lot bigger, but none of us knew exactly what was about to happen at the time the song was first unveiled.
One of the things I clearly remember is that “Just Dance” came with a certain mystique that put Gaga’s music front and center. There was one press photo of Gaga available at the time and it was a glossy photo of the singer wearing a blue dress laying down without facing the camera head on. It deliberately triggered a sense of intrigue (a Gaga hallmark) that helped set off a firestorm of interest among pop fans and beyond.
“Just Dance” also propelled producer RedOne’s status as one of the hottest pop makers on the scene. One of the song’s key moments is when Gaga namechecks the young producer at the opening of the track (that some initially confused with “red wine”). It firmly put the spotlight on the young Swedish-Moroccan producer who went on to collaborate with the biggest stars in music following his global success with Lady Gaga.
After hearing “Just Dance” and blogging about it very early on, I knew Lady Gaga would be a star to reckon with. In May 2008, MTV Logo asked me to nominate six artists for their annual NewNowNext Awards for the “Brink of Fame Song” category. I decided to nominate Lady Gaga, Semi Precious Weapons, Chester French, Janelle Monae, Hercules & Love Affair and Heloise & The Savoire Faire.
My nomination of Lady Gaga led to the star’s very first television performance ever when she closed the award show with a rousing performance of “Just Dance” together with DJ Space Cowboy. Even though Gaga did not end up winning the award (her tour mates to-be Semi Precious Weapons did), her TV performance turned out to be a milestone moment for the young pop singer who has gone on to inspire millions with her distinct brand of pop.
Name: Dan Hughes | Location: London, UK | Twitter: @Daneeeboy
2. LoveGame: There are pop songs that exist to change the world, there are pop songs that exist to further the mythology of the pop star at the helm, and there are pop songs that exist to fill space. “LoveGame” is not a remarkable song, and in 2013 – 5 years after it debuted – it could easily be erased from Gaga’s back catalogue with little consequence. However, this is not to say that “LoveGame” is in any way a bad song; “LoveGame” is a wonderful moment of pop frivolity which served to keep the upstart Lady Gaga machine chugging along at the beginning of her career.
What was remarkable about Lady Gaga when she scrapped her way on to the scene in 2008 was that she was the ultimate party-crasher. In truth, she was a self-styled pretender, borrowing DIY imagery from the greats who proceeded her to try and ‘fit in’ in a world of slickly produced major label products. Her dedication to the art form provided the energy to allow Gaga to compete with the most major of players, and it was momentum that made her a household name.
Lady Gaga released better tracks ahead of “LoveGame” – While “Just Dance” defined her RedOne produced trademark sound, and “Poker Face” dominated the dance floors with its insanely addictive chorus, “LoveGame” is little more than an electro-dance track with a questionable line about taking a ride on your disco stick. As Madonna once correctly asked: “What the hell is a disco stick?” But from her earliest shows through to the release of her second album, “LoveGame” remained a mainstay of her live set lists, and an integral part of the Gaga canon.
By the time the song got the single treatment in 2009, Gaga was already a big name in pop. But the song provided an opportunity for Gaga to further her pop posturing with a beautifully produced video in which she visually references the iconic imagery of Britney’s “Toxic” and Michael Jackson’s “Bad.” It is also the moment in which she solidifies her own iconography, that of the disco-stick wielding pop star from out of space (itself a Bowie reference), all white one-piece and absurd sunglasses, it’s an image that will be trotted out to represent that period in Gaga’s career much like Madonna’s punk bride or Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust.
It was with followup single “Paparazzi” that Gaga began to destroy the image she had built of herself as a mysterious other-worldly pop being. So “LoveGame” stands as the last testament to a Gaga who was not a megastar, but a girl from Manhattan in a homemade dress with her own smoke machine in the corner of the club desperately seeking our attention.
In the context of The Fame, “LoveGame” sits sandwiched between better tracks. In the context of her career, songs like “Bad Romance” will be remembered for their sonic brilliance, while tracks like “Born This Way” will be remembered for defining the Gaga story, and the frivolous “LoveGame” will be lucky to make a Greatest Hits collection. But 5 years on, one play can take me back to those heady days of 2008, when everything felt new, everything was exciting, and it seemed as if Gaga was about to take us all on a journey to a new world of pop enlightenment.
Name: Claire C. | Location: Kansas City, MO | Twitter: @imclairemonster
3. Paparazzi: Being a Monster for over 3 years now, my favorite Lady Gaga song to this day is “Paparazzi” from the Grammy award-winning album, The Fame. A love song to the media, Gaga lives for the fame and glamour within the flash of a camera. A reoccurring theme of Gaga’s work, “Paparazzi” is still my favorite creation of the idea. The song, performances, and video tell the story of the rise and fall of the icon.
The music video presents Gaga as a glamorous celebrity falling from her balcony to her death, with paparazzi capturing the ultimate tragic shot for the tabloids. In the background can be heard knife stabs in synchronization with the snaps of the camera. The scene follows with Gaga now crippled, getting out of a limousine to a wheel chair and dancing in a Thierry Mugler chrome piece with crutches. Newspaper headlines flash applauding the artist once again, screaming “She’s Back!”. The video and lyrics mirror one another and the beat is unforgettable and pop perfection.
The prevailing reason I am a Lady Gaga fan is not just for the music, but the whole show. At the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards Gaga performed “Paparazzi” and ended the act hanging from the ceiling bleeding in the center of stage. She lives for performance art and bleeds her artistry. I think I speak for the masses when I say the 2009 VMA performance of Paparazzi is the holy grail of all performances to Little Monsters.
The fact that Gaga is coming back to perform this year after hip surgery and being bound to a wheelchair after months of aggressive rehabilitation is not only extremely ironic, but iconic.
Lady Gaga is a total artwork.
Name: Ro T. | Location: Austria | Twitter: @gagamonster96
4. Poker Face: In 2008, Lady Gaga landed onto the pop landscape and took over the world with her follow up single to her fresh debut “Just Dance,” the club banger that we all just couldn’t escape: “Poker Face.”
The “Mum-mum-mum-ma” hook of the song made it an instantly catchy fan favourite, followed by the verses and the groundbreaking chorus — and let’s not forget the “bluffin’ with my muffin“ lyric! The song is arguably one of the biggest signature hits from the Pop Queen and has broken countless records, currently being the 6th highest selling digital song in the US. In my country, Austria, the song has spent a total of 12 weeks at #1 and topped the year end charts of 2009.
“Poker Face” is a song that will be remembered for many, many years to come. It’s pop, it’s electronic, it’s futuristic, it’s fashion, it’s New York, it’s Gaga.
5. Eh, Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say): The fact that I am from London means that I was actually witness to “Eh, Eh (Nothing I Can Say)” actually airing on MTV and receiving legit levels of (mild) promo. Strange to think that it was released a mere nine months before “Bad Romance” came out – I mean, it is fair to note that the creative standards as a track and piece of visual content are somewhat…different. However, the less serious side of this era is now what is making a comeback with rumoured tracks off of ARTPOP like “Burqa” or “Swine” and Gaga’s return to a “lack of maturity”. It made it to number 2 on the Swedish music charts and we all know that Swedish pop fans have exceptional taste.
Visually, the #BeatsPromo and #BabyGShockPromo-filled Italian-American 1950’s themed video (filmed in what appears to be the “Edge of Glory” corner of the Paramount lot) by Joseph Khan (let’s not get into that relationship) where Gaga nods heavily to her Guidette roots is essentially genius. It’s Gaga’s only remaining visual ploy to marketing herself at a mega-mainstream audience since “Poker Face.” There are no Disco Sticks, no masks, alien eyes, claws, accentuated cheekbones, clown make-up, it’s Gaga playing the most popular Italian-American girl in town (nothing has changed there) with a perma-tan in a series of blonde wigs and leotards doing NORMAL things like ironing and eating carbs. If this video isn’t genuinely timeless, then what is?
Gaga once said on video: “I wanted to show a different side of myself — perhaps a more domestic girly side. And I wanted to create beautiful, stunning ’50s futuristic fashion imagery that would burn holes in everyone’s brains.”
“Eh, Eh” was just the beginning…
6. Beautiful, Dirty, Rich: “Beautiful, Dirty, Rich” is a song that every Lady Gaga fan should appreciate. Although it comes across as an up-tempo party song, it’s probably the one song from The Fame that gave little monsters an idea of her time living in the Lower East Side of New York City — a time when Stefani Germanotta truly did transform into the woman we now know as Lady Gaga. Gaga has admitted that she was going through some dark times when this song was written, but today it stands as a symbol for her fans everywhere. That you can feel beautiful, dirty and rich when out partying with your friends and having a good time.
The promotional video that accompanies the song is also what makes it unforgettable. It was created as part of the promotion for the TV show Dirty Sexy Money, and although it’s not the highest budget music video in the world, it was one of the earliest signs that Lady Gaga really was about to become someone memorable.
However, nothing can top “Beautiful, Dirty, Rich” live. As part of The Fame Ball and Monster Ball tours, it was one of my all-time favorite performances from the tours. Maybe it was the amplified beats, or the “bang bang bang” choreography that everyone in the crowd could take part in. Once “Beautiful, Dirty, Rich” started playing, you knew you were in for one of the best nights of your life.
7. The Fame: In the height of electro-pop in 2008, Lady Gaga most certainly embodied a phoenix from the flames for me in a world a mediocre Top 40. There was something about her innocent confidence and a real coolness about her quest for “The Fame” that ignited an instant connection straight into my psyche. Perhaps it was the oversized shoulder pads, the fierce, iconic strap-on keytars and her rebellious bravado wielding her disco stick that struck instant fascination, but nevertheless, Gaga was the IT girl, moulding a whole new generation of young listeners who would finally appreciate performance art in pop. With the effortlessly cool Cherry Cherry Boom Boom (Martin Kierszenbaum) producing the funky guitar-laden title track “The Fame” as a thematic song in her debut era, Gaga’s journey to the top was unprecedented in the rapid fire boom of social media.
I can’t even imagine the challenge Lady Gaga has had to get to the top since she released “The Fame.” I bet the creative and emotional journey wasn’t as easy as it looks. No doubt, she’s had to sacrifice a lot of herself to get “The Fame” she sang about in the early days. But one thing is most certain; Lady Gaga is an artist of amazing technical calibre, a showgirl extraordinaire and a natural born leader. With Lady Gaga skyrocketing to the pillar of “The Fame” and making this song her reality, a lot now rests on those XL shoulder pads. The inherent world of celebrity that comes with “The Fame” she achieved may cause me to raise the odd disapproving eyebrow from time-to-time, but I was and still am proud to have witnessed (and blogged about) the humble beginnings of Stefani Germanotta. Every time I hear the guitar and maracas intro to “The Fame”, those tiny hairs still go erect on the back of my neck.
8. Money Honey: “Money Honey” is an example of EXACTLY what Gaga’s debut album The Fame is all about. This is the Lady Gaga that we all fell in love with: obnoxiously shallow, simplistically contrived, and not claiming to be anything that she is not. “Money Honey” explores the wondrous world of the rich and famous, and the finer things in life — comparing the galore of money with the intoxication of love: “It’s good to live expensive, you know it but my knees get weak, intensive when you give me k-kisses, that’s money honey!”
Produced by RedOne and penned by Gaga herself (alongside RedOne and Bilal Hajji), this synth heavy pop spectacular is without a doubt one of the album’s under-appreciated songs. It takes me to a place I’d rather be…you know, on a yacht somewhere sipping champagne and being insufferable.
Name: Carl Williott | Location: New York, NY | Twitter: @cwilliott
9. Starstruck (feat. Flo Rida & Space Cowboy): At first, Lady Gaga didn’t seem like a revolution to me. Then “Just Dance” came on at a work Christmas party in 2008, causing my drunken female colleagues to bust out an impromptu yet seemingly choreographed dance. Utterly confused, I sought out The Fame and haven’t stopped spinning it since.
You could say I was “Starstruck” (see what I did there?). This deep cut impressively matched minimalist electronics (they actually sound like twinkling stars!) with syrupy Auto-Tune synthetics and a beating-heart hook — a combo that would soon be ubiquitous thanks to 808s And Heartbreak. Then there’s Gaga’s turntable-as-body lyrics (“Put your hands on my waist, pull the fader…Cue me up, I’m the 12 on your table”) which gave the millennial pop set its version of Bruce Springsteen‘s “strap your hands across my engines” come-on.
But here’s the real testament to the quality of this forgotten gem: it made Flo Rida seem palatable.
Name: Robbie Daw | Location: New York, NY | Twitter: @chartrigger
10. Boys Boys Boys: I’ll be honest, when I first heard The Fame in late summer 2008, the only songs that struck a chord for me were “Paparazzi” and “Poker Face.” But fast forward to February 2009, when, like a large portion of Americans at the onset of the recession, I suddenly found myself out of work, with a lot of time on my hands. I’d pop on albums like Lily Allen‘s It’s Not Me, It’s You and Gaga’s The Fame, and one day the latter just clicked.
With its synth-pop swagger and too-clever-to-be-simply-juvenile lyrics (“Baby is a bad boy in some retro sneakers / let’s go see the Killers and make out in the bleachers”), “Boys Boys Boys” plays like shiny homage to the feel-good pop of the ’80s — and The Fame, in turn, felt at the time like a similar type of “event” pop album we hadn’t experienced since the days of yore. RedOne co-wrote and produced this track that might have made for a decent fifth single off the album, had The Fame Monster and “Bad Romance” not come along so soon after “Paparazzi.” Instead it just had to settle for being my own personal recessionista anthem.
Name: Bradley Stern | Location: New York, NY | Twitter: @muumuse
11. Paper Gangsta: “Paper Gangsta” is one of the songs that came serviced on the later releases of The Fame, including the US edition. It makes sense too, given that the song’s hip-hop flavor clearly appeals to the more “urban”-eared radio in America.
“Paper Gangsta” is a standout from the bulk of the frivolous electro-pop revelry of The Fame: On one hand, it’s a kiss-off track about a dude who talks a good game with no cash. But underneath, it’s an autobiographical track penned based on her brief stint with Island Def Jam around 2006, when she was unceremoniously dropped after only a few months — she even cleverly name-checks the label early on in the song.
Gaga’s lyricism is often silly and occasionally nonsensical, but “Paper Gangsta” is unforgettably damning: “I’m looking for love, not an empty page full of stuff that means nothing but ‘you’ve been played,'” she rap-sings. The song, and the memory of Gaga wailing this one out on top of a dentist’s chair during the messy first leg of The Monster Ball, will not soon fade away.
Name: Jewel Wicker | Location: Atlanta, GA | Twitter: @jewelwickershow
9. Again Again: The weakest track on The Fame is actually pretty catchy!
“Again Again” is simple in that it’s extremely repetitive (the chorus only has three words) and features a minimal piano and guitar backing, but Lady Gaga’s aggressive vocal delivery and clever word choice (“when you’re ‘round I lose myself inside your mouth”) to describe an irresistible love affair keeps listeners engaged and on their toes the entire song.
This allows the track to stand beside huge pop productions without feeling completely out of place.
Name: Alex Kazemi | Location: Canada | Twitter: @alexkazemi
12. Brown Eyes: Gaga’s best trick is keeping you guessing.
For example, 2008’s “The Fame” short film showcased a girl being held in her arms as “Brown Eyes” was played in the background. The meaning of the song is unknown, but it is a power ballad — much like “You and I” and “Speechless” — that lets you know that Gaga is undefeatable when you are listening to her romantic brain and fingers banging on a piano.
Name: Maryanne Dimech | Location: Sydney, Australia | Twitter: @eyelovegaga
13. Summerboy: “Summerboy” isn’t the most well-known song off of The Fame, but it is certainly one of my favorites. 5 years after it’s release and i’m still madly in love with it!
It gives off such a feel-good energy, it’s a happy song and creates an amazing vibe. I love the use of real instruments in “Summerboy,” the way the guitar is played in the intro. You hear two different things in each headphone (or speaker.) The song is about a fling — or perhaps dating someone in the summer even when you know the relationship isn’t going to last, so you just make the most out of it. It’s very different to most of the songs that are on The Fame, and that’s what i really like about it. It’s a cute, fun pop song that never ages.
Name: Hannah Rad (East Village Radio) | Location: New York, NY | Twitter: @HANNAHRAD
14. I Like It Rough: In August of 2008, Lady Gaga had one of the biggest pop hits in her back pocket, and her “home turf” didn’t even get the cut on the initial release of The Fame. It’s been 5 years since St. Jerome’s favorite half-naked performer offered up her debut disc, and I’m still wondering why “I Like it Rough” was given nary a monster’s paw of praise.
Sh*t, Canada got it as a bonus track on their iTunes edition of the album and the Brits, Irish and Japanese found the emotionally-charged burner as the 5th track on their respective releases. So why the diss on the Stateside long player? (Note: in October of ’08, iTunes loaded another version of the LP, with this track in tow.)
REGARDLESS of the track list conspiracists, let’s just bang it out with the brass tacks of “I Like it Rough.” Produced by Interscope’s Martin Kierszenbaum (who split writing credits with Gaga, and gets a vocoder-ed “Cherry Cherry Boom Boom” shout out as the track opens), the mid-tempo arrangement hits you with the instrumental chorus before Ms. Germanotta even opens her mouth. And yo, when she does? Oh, it’s all about the pre-chorus scene setting as Gaga finds herself boudoir-bound with loads of Kleenex and then she chews on pearls. Weird? Yes. But shade aside, we launch into her anthemic questioning: “You’ve got me wondering why, I like it rough…” My word…I still feel the real feelings listening to Gaga get all rhetorical (an activity I’ve done about 15+ times while penning this).
Back when I was still capitalizing the second “g” in Gaga, another lady by the name of Sheena Beaston was blazing her own path to pop stardom. In celebration of The Fame‘s release, I’d writ the provisional post of support urging people to go buy the album. Hey, if you go visit the now antiquated site, you’ll not only find the original piece (omg that template. I can’t.), but also a young Beastonian’s love for “I Like it Rough” (as well as a frowned upon mp3 of which the download has since been disabled. Hey, I myself like it rough, not illegal).
You know, maybe one of my favorite Lady Gaga tracks was never meant to be the beloved bastard. But, that’s precisely what it is; a second thought, a bonus track, a partner that doesn’t return our affection. It’s easily enough spelled out for us in the lyrics: we the lovers of “I Like It Rough” are outside, and we’re banging and this one just won’t let us in. WHY? Is it because you don’t mean it? Or because I don’t feel it? Yes it’s rough. UGH.