The Problem With Lady Gaga’s Bowie Tribute
People have asked me what’s so offensive about Lady Gaga’s Bowie tribute. I don’t expect the merely casual Bowie fans to understand what is so clear to those who admired him deeply. But her performance reduced all the diversity and bravery of the man to a series of wigs and costumes. It was the type of tribute a drag queen would give to Cher. Quite simply, it reduced him.
“Well, who would have done a better job?” defenders ask. With a costume changing medley? No one. It was a terrible idea – although her vocals were also stilted and bizarre, but no, from its inception a “costume change-laden best of” was a terrible idea. It was Vegas. It was mass produced. It was for a Grammy’s audience and that’s fine, but by its very nature, appealing to a Grammy’s audience runs against the majority of Bowie’s career.
Well, some say, that’s what Gaga does. She takes pieces of people and adds it to her own thing. And isn’t that what Bowie’s about? Being yourself? No. You might have read that in a meme, but Bowie fans understand that is not at all what Bowie was about. That’s why Bowie, quite simply, was never himself. He adopted characters and personas. And even later in his career, without the characters, he claimed that person on stage was not really him. And it’s not just performance. Any fan of Bowie’s work knows he used countless voices. He didn’t just put his Bowie signature on something. Instead, his signature was doing whatever it took to make the song work. Deeply crooning, lightly dusting a vocal, or using a full rock voice. Hell, even months before his death he was using a voice I’ve never ever heard before to effectuate a song like “Sue.” Whatever the song needed is what he gave. The legacy of Bowie surely is NOT be yourself; it’s never let who you are keep you from doing what you want to do. So Gaga doing her thing is the most un-Bowie-esque of behavior and not a fitting tribute.
Bowie is dead now. He cannot speak for himself, and when his son speaks on his behalf to express oblique criticism of Gaga, the press gets confused. What’s his problem? The crowd loved it! Gaga fans loved it! Great. That is not the test of greatness. That is not the genius of Bowie. He existed on a plane above all of that. And I don’t hate anyone who can’t attain that greatness in a tribute. Who could? It’s an impossible task. But I will never stop being pissed off by people who want to reduce Bowie into something lesser just because its easier for them to understand.