Lady Gaga received a standing ovation at the Oscars for her rousing “Sound of Music” tribute. Even Julie Andrews approved.
For one, Lady Gaga is as much a persona as she is a person. It’s hard to focus on vocal prowess when a performance includes such theatrics as vomit art or a dress made entirely of raw meat. A 2009 Washington Post review of Gaga’s debut album “The Fame Monster,” noted that the pop star’s antics often overshadowed her music.
The thing is, Gaga doesn’t really need to rely on gimmicks and glitz: She’s a competent songwriter in her own right. She co-penned every track on “The Fame” and has written catchy tunes for fellow dance-pop vixens the Pussycat Dolls and Britney Spears. Her piercing voice expresses the desperation of “Paparazzi” far better than fake blood ever could, and she doesn’t need raunch to capture falling out of love on the chirpy ballad “Eh, Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say).”
But the collective reaction to Gaga’s performance goes beyond her penchant for the dramatic. In the age of the isolated vocal track, we’ve found another way to parse talent. When it’s bad, we tear down the artists we build up — zeroing in on the ways that they might not be as talented as we’re led to believe. When it’s good, we hold it as proof that we’ve found the real deal.
On Twitter, some viewers offered theories as to why Gaga sounded so darn good:
Because she got engaged
Because she is a singer and can actually, you know, sing*
Here’s why we shouldn’t be surprised. It’s hardly the first time Lady Gaga has stunned with her ear for the classics. She and Tony Bennett have been collaborating since 2011 and recorded the chart-topping pop album, “Cheek to Cheek,” last year. It’s an eyebrow-raising partnership — he’s 60 years her senior — but it’s clearly working. The duo recently performed at this year’s Grammy Awards, where “Cheek to Cheek” took home the award for best traditional pop vocal album.
And long before she was Lady Gaga, the singer put her vocals on display as Stefani Germanotta, NYU student. Here she is performing in a 2005 talent show, where one judge concluded, “Norah Jones, look out!”
In many ways, Lady Gaga’s Oscar performance was as Gaga as it gets. She appeared on stage in a flowing, shimmery gown, her bicep tattoos on full display. She was herself and she wowed us (and Julie Andrews). Why would we expect anything different?
This post has been updated.