One Of These Things is Not Like the Other: David Bowie vs. Lady Gaga

Posted by Miserable Retail Slave on June 12, 2011 at 8:14 PM

by Josh

Recently, an old friend of mine and I had a discussion regarding Lady Gaga. She, being one who is a member of the more…alternative styles of living, loves her completely. “Born This Way” is her anthem, and Gaga’s lifestyle, in her eyes, seems to be rivaled only by more recent women who act as they will, a la Bjork.

In our conversation, however, she told me that Lady Gaga is this generation’s David Bowie. And I guess this whole tilted article is my response to THE WORLD.

As you may know, David Bowie is a rock legend. He’s been around since the late 60s, found success in “Space Oddity”, and never looked back. He’s also had many alter egos/rock personas, like Ziggy Stardust, Halloween Jack, The Thin White Duke, and all of them have been sexually and musically ambiguous. Lady Gaga is also sexually ambiguous, and likes to play dress-up with eggs and meat. She’s been shattering records left and right with speed of sale, as well as finding a special niche in the alternative crowds.

One of these things is not like the other.

Both of these artists, at their peak, depended solely on the nature of glam rock in order to spread word of mouth. The major difference here is that Mr. Bowie was a pioneer. He rose during an age of rock where The Beatles were beginning to crumble, and the dominant forces at work were The Rolling Stones, disco, and eventually other soulful renditions of rock n’ roll. Bowie jumped head-first into the sexpot and brought taboo out as a weapon. He created a cult of both devout listeners and personality with each new rendition of himself. In addition, he detached himself from each persona; Bowie was separate from Ziggy was separate from Duke from Jack. Like a metamorphosing butterfly that kept on gaining new bodies and wings, Bowie continually refreshed pop AND rock as we know it today. Not only that, but when Bowie came out as bisexual in 1972 to the public, he later made remarks throughout his career that this declaration was a mistake, largely due to the fact that it took away from his music in a sense and that he was a singer/songwriter before he placed himself in a sexual identity.

Today, Lady Gaga is completely dependent on her allegedly bisexuality in order to sell records. When one listens to her music, you can’t deny that it’s targeting a specific audience. It’s funny, because Gaga claimed in an interview to be the “least judgmental person on Earth”. I would argue that it works only one way. Today, the popular thing isn’t veganism, emo or anything from the previous decade. The popular thing is to be sexually ambiguous. When she arrived on the popularity track, which was as sudden as it was all-encompassing, she already brought a cult following in Haus of Gaga, already made statements for the GLTB community, and slammed it down our throats with catchy beats. As opposed to Bowie letting the tree grow, Gaga brought a tree from her backyard and threw it in the middle of the street. Sounds like a challenge to people who are content with tradition.

I would argue that art of any nature is all about subtlety. Bowie is still critically acclaimed for his ambiguous undertones because he didn’t make any all-encompassing statements about the nature of his work. He just went onstage, got into his personas and characters, and let the final product speak for itself. Lady Gaga, however, postures with her egg palanquins and bubble dresses, all the while making declarative statements about her work and herself. “I've got so many gay fans and they're so loyal to me and they really lifted me up. They'll always stand by me and I'll always stand by them.” “The fact that I'm into women, they're all intimidated by it. It makes them uncomfortable. They're like, 'I don't need to have a threesome. I'm happy with just you.” All of these quotes are from interviews of her. She’s laughing all the way to the bank. But I digress. 

And besides, do you think anyone’s going to look back at “Born This Way” and go, “Wow! What a song! This changed my life and defined an era!” Hell no; “Fame”, “Space Oddity”, “China Girl”, “Golden Years”, “Little Wonder”, my personal favorite “As The World Falls Down”, and oh so much more stand the test of time with no accusations of plagiarism from Madonna or Christina Aguilera. And let’s not forget that it was Bowie, not Nirvana, who originally wrote and performed “The Man Who Sold the World”. He has roughly as much dominance on today’s radiowaves as The Beatles, The Stones, Steve Miller Band, Creed, Phil Collins...and what does Lady Gaga have? Bad romance? Poker faces? You don’t hear Poker Face anymore. And one could argue that she simply hasn’t been around as long as Mr. Bowie, but that’s fine. She won’t be around for much longer anyway; another crazy pop icon will dethrone her, and the rest of the world will not miss her. Besides, pop already has their court filled: Michael Jackson, Madonna, Britney Spears, and of course, David Bowie himself.

tl;dr Bowie just goes out there and does it, Lady Gaga is an attention whore, blah blah blah.

Thanks for reading.


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Reply RFP
8:54 PM on June 12, 2011 
Lady Gaga dresses like she's a hip, ultra-alternative niche artist, yet makes the most accessible, radio-friendly Top-40 mainstream pop that a person could make.

Bowie was androgynous and made parents uncomfortable with his appearance, but made no attempt to dumb down his music for Top-40 airwaves.

He using his musical influences in an attempt to create a persona and sound that was somewhat original, while Lady Gaga just wants to be Madonna, Jr.
Reply Josh
10:26 PM on June 12, 2011 
My problem with her is that she is all "look at me guys, I'm born this way!" and everyone's like "OMG so am I!!!11!!1!!one1!!", but that's not art, that's trying to become a face to a crowd. I'd argue that Bowie and other artists persist because they just did what they wanted and didn't care who was watching, even in eras where success was defined by flashiness.
Reply Sam
8:42 PM on June 15, 2011 
Great read, I couldn't agree more.
Reply me
3:14 AM on August 23, 2011 
Agree 100%
Thank you for this article!
Reply Kinny
10:00 PM on November 7, 2011 
My issue is whenever I go to do something Bowie-y, like dress up or do some outrageous make-up I get comments like "oh, so you're into Gaga too" and I just glare. Dude it's really annoying!! Especially with the Ziggy lightning bolt. How many times I had to correct people this Halloween!!
Reply cbnchs
1:59 AM on December 16, 2011 
Reply pigfucker43
2:16 PM on December 29, 2011 
great article, agree totally. couldn't have put it better mysef.
Reply What
10:22 AM on June 2, 2012 
cbnchs says...

"Steve Miller Band, Creed, Phil Collins"

Reply What
10:25 AM on June 2, 2012 
"Lady Gaga dresses like she's a hip, ultra-alternative niche artist, yet makes the most accessible, radio-friendly Top-40 mainstream pop that a person could make."

Yes, she's totally generic.
Reply danny
5:57 PM on June 2, 2012 
i think Lady Ga Ga sucks. Everything about her is so unoriginal. Her music is terrible too. Boring watered down pop music. Bowie is God. Everybody copies from him.
Reply KAM
7:15 PM on June 10, 2012 
OMG i LOVE you. beautiful article, wonderfully said! you make Bowie sound as entrancing as he really is. i also pretty much melted when you said "As The World Falls Down" was your fav. what a beautiful song; it's probably my fav too.
see, i think Lady Gaga is ok. when the mood strikes, i listen to her. the mood doesn't strike so often. but i wouldn't THINK to compare her with DAVID BOWIE in ANY way. my favorite part about your article is your mention of subtlety. THANK YOU!!! Bowie just does what he feels, and that's what we fucking love him for! Gaga is all an act, couldn't be more fake, see-through, and facile. there's nothing there to be seen. Bowie really touches your soul with everything he does, because his act is so pure. DAVID BOWIE FOREVER!
Reply Carolyn
10:57 PM on November 12, 2012 
Nice analysis, I enjoyed reading it! But you forgot to mention that Lady Gaga was also heavily influenced by David Bowie. Her song "Fancy Pants" has almost the exact same guitar chords as Bowie's "Fame." But to be fair, it goes both ways. David Bowie didn't come up with those chords either, he used the ones from the song "Footstompin" by The Flares from 1961 whose song Bowie actually performed on the Dick Cavett show before Fame came out.
She also took the famous lightening bolt painted on his face and made that her own. I don't think she should be criticized so much about all this because I think she is still a great artist and very talented. But I do agree that she will never reach his level. (at least in my opinion, Bowie is my favorite artist of all time :] )
Reply fla
11:33 AM on January 9, 2013 
Damn! What you said it's plain to see. I really can't understand why most of people are so dumb and not get it!