It's a pretty clever idea for a song: Use telephone metaphors to describe a relationship that has been hung up on, getting a busy signal, etc. Throw in such visual accessories as a bulkily shaped phone, color-coordinated hat, body-wrapping telephone cords and a booth from which to bust out.
These ideas are so great, they were apparently thought up twice -- once by current mega-superstar Lady Gaga, and before that by Minneapolis electronic performance artist Brooke Aldridge, a k a Lolly Pop.
Gaga's 2010 single and video "Telephone" bears a surprising if not uncanny resemblance to the 2004 single "Life on Hold" and accompanying artwork by the Aldridge-fronted band Telephone! Aldridge also coined the term "electro-pop opera" long before Gaga used it for her tour coming Monday and Tuesday to Xcel Energy Center.
Aldridge's supporters are openly accusing 2010's biggest pop music star of stealing her ideas. There's even a Facebook page called "Lolly Pop Has Been Knicked by Lady Gaga." They can point to an early Gaga producer who may or may not have exposed Lolly Pop's work to Stefani Germanotta, the clubhopper who would bleach her hair and shed a lot of clothing to become Gaga.
"People sometimes just want validation for their hard work, and I think that's what Brooke is hoping for," said Monte Moir, Aldridge's producer/mentor, who was a bit of a fame monster in the '80s as keyboardist with the Time. Addressing the specific allegations, Moir said, "Speculation? Yes. Proof? No."
At this point, I should point out that I believe these claims are about as cuckoo as a coat made out of stuffed Kermit the Frogs. Aldridge has done some clever and fun work, but you'd be hard-pressed to find Minnesotans who have seen or heard it, much less a New Yorker.
That said, it's hard to dismiss the notion -- perhaps not even a criticism -- that Gaga is indeed a copycat who freely lifts her outrageous style, mostly vapid songs and club-girl personality from other performers.
Aldridge is just one of many female acts claiming Gaga copied their music or look. There seems to be one for every major city. And that's not even counting Gaga's former boyfriend and career molder, Rob Fusari, who is suing her to the tune of $35 million for not crediting his creative input.
Collectively, you can't help but think all these folks are onto something.
Some of Gaga's other publicized accusers include fellow pop singer Kerli, who recorded for Island/Def Jam around the time that Gaga -- then a Fiona Apple wannabe -- was dropped from the label. Check out Kerli's "Walking on Air" for proof. You also can see a whole lotta Gaga in photos of Irish singer Roisin Murphy.
Then there are the performers too famous for Gaga to deny knowing. Among them are avant-pop icon Grace Jones, who -- after reportedly turning down an offer to collaborate with the Lady -- said, "[I] prefer to work with someone who is not copying me."
Madonna, in her never-ending quest to still appear young and hip, has been much more welcoming of Gaga's attempts to fill her shoes (which she does by pretty much going to the exact same shoe stores). But just because Madge excuses her doesn't mean we have to. You can easily I.D. four of Madonna's MTV hits in just one of Gaga's videos, "Alejandro" ("Like a Prayer," "Vogue," "Express Yourself" and "Erotic"; look them up on YouTube, kids). She's even copping Madonna's cause célèbre, gay rights. And doing a damn good job of it, by the way.
Gaga pushes gender and sexual boundaries in ways that might make Prince and David Bowie wish artists could copyright androgyny. Many of the fashion statements that have earned Gaga high praise for being daring and original aren't really all that original. Anybody who knows Cher or Elton John knows this.
Not a lot of people, though, remember the 1959 sci-fi movie "The Mole People," from which Gaga lifted her crowned/masked red costume for last year's VMAs. The flaming bra she is sporting on tour was (bravely) pioneered by one of T-Pain's dancers in 2008. Even her most famous wardrobe item, the "bubble dress" she wore on the cover of Rolling Stone, was copied from a 2007 runway show by designer Hussein Chalayan.
Gaga deflects criticism by saying she is creating "pop art," an unabashed mish-mash of mass-produced modern culture. That argument actually holds up in her music, which runs a wide, see-what-sticks gamut from the obvious Madonna to Gwen Stefani, Blondie, Erasure, European techno and other stuff you wouldn't otherwise hear in frat-boy bars.
The "pop art" lingo sinks like Christina Aguilera's new album, however, anytime Gaga tries to buoy herself as something more than just another prefabricated pop singer. Like when she compares herself to Andy Warhol. She told the BBC, "Warhol kept telling people, 'This is art, this is art, this is art,' and eventually they said, 'Andy Warhol is brilliant, he is the future of art.' You have to keep hammering the image."
It's nice to think Gaga might turn her fans on to Warhol. Those of us who already know a thing or two about the guy, though, can probably say this in unison: You, my Lady, are no Andy Warhol.
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