Lady Gaga: sure, she’s derivative. But so were her predecessors. The thing about Lady Gaga is that she is open about it. Madonna, her most obvious precursor, behaved as though nobody except Madonna had ever behaved like that. Whereas Lady Gaga’s genius, which makes her perhaps a greater artist than Madonna, is that she behaves as though she knows what it’s like to be a pop music fan because she is herself one. With Madonna, it’s a kind of shell game in which we’re supposed to not point out that she ripped off this look from Cyndi Lauper and that look from Marilyn Monroe. This is why Madonna’s work seems so corporate and impersonal. We can believe that Madonna herself wants it that way, but it looks the same as if it had been designed by a committee, because Madonna herself thinks like a committee. Whereas Lady Gaga’s brilliance is that her work, although openly derivative, has all the messiness and embarrassing degree of apparent overshare of indie music. She knows that her fans worry about her and care for her, whereas Madonna always behaved as though she doesn’t give a fuck and can overcome trouble with sheer force of will. Gaga dramatises her own trouble in her work: look at her mastery of new media like the long-form video (Marry the Night). Madonna’s effect is of ruthless self-will, whereas Gaga gives the impression of someone who’s constantly trying to reward her fans for their loyalty — there are stories of her buying pizza for fans queuing up at signings, which you really can’t imagine Madonna doing. (Madonna as modernist, compared to Gaga as postmodernist; Madonna is like T.S. Eliot, Gaga more like Frank O’Hara).