*After Lady Gaga let go of the last note from her “Sound of Music” performance, you could almost hear the collective dropping of jaws from coast to coast and around the world. Gaga left the audience at Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre stunned. Julie Andrews couldn’t conceal her awe.
This wasn’t a flavor of the moment sticking her toes in uncharted waters for the sake of novelty. Vocally and stylistically Gaga exuded the skill, grace, force and patience of someone with an understanding of what she sang. At her finish, her arms outstretched, she whimpered to herself the way people do when they know they’ve nailed it.
Lady Gaga is the truth. Admittedly, I discovered this much later than her fans, during a 2010 TV show I happened to catch that featured her singing, playing piano and leading her band. A few months later she’d arrive at the MTV Music Video Awards wearing the infamous raw meat dress that would have made Jimmy Dean proud. But by then I couldn’t be distracted by performance-art attire. I knew that beneath the shank steak was a formidable talent.
In any case, Gaga’s Emmy-worthy Oscar performance was the crowning point of a musical coronation. At the Grammys with Tony Bennett she sang the Irving Berlin classic, “Cheek to Cheek”; the following evening, during the Grammys’ televised musical tribute to Stevie Wonder, she attacked Wonder’s rollicking, funky, “I Wish,” singing and playing electric piano with his band. By Oscar night, Gaga had illustrated equal comfort with the Great American Songbook, R&B and Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway musicals.
Though infectious, Gaga’s songs don’t appeal to me. But you don’t have to be a lover of an artist’s music to appreciate their ability to entertain, and as performers, a handful of young artists are showing the others how it’s done.
They’re putting in the work. Long ago, they honored their talent by recognizing what those talents were/are and then went about the relentless development of those skills.
Blowing minds is a goal. They know that if they do everything onstage as they did during the torturous hours, days and weeks of rehearsals, the day after the show tongues will wag.
And, of course, The Show is everything. Their recording sales are still substantial, but they realize recorded music is an ever shrinking revenue stream. Their legacies—and incomes–will be made in front of audiences, some of whom have never seen talent of their magnitude properly showcased.
Coronation week put Gaga’s music in perspective for me: when she sings her electro-pop ditties and wears the eccentric outfits, she’s serious. When she’s conventionally glammed up, swinging jazz and performing pop standards, she is earnest, then, too. To her, it’s all the same. It’s just music. And she knows that if the music doesn’t get you, the performance will.
Steven Ivory, veteran journalist, essayist and author, writes about popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio, TV and the Internet. Respond to him via [email protected]