• Jon Heatherly

Fab Lady Takes Cue from Bold Queen

We explore where Lady Gaga got her name and her inspirational roots.

Image by SMP Entertainment via Wikimedia


To understand Lady Gaga’s work, you must first know Freddie Mercury and Queen. The rock-opera fusion and over-the-top performances appeal to many music fans. We’re fortunate Queen continues touring with Adam Lambert today, though it isn’t easy to replace someone like Mercury.


Lady Gaga, who rose to prominence in 2008 with her album The Fame, continues the legacy in several aspects. Any Gaga fan knows where Mother Monster got her name; it comes from Queen’s 1984 hit, “Radio Ga Ga.” She embraced both the name from the iconic band’s single but also some common themes like disparity, dystopia, gender, and sexuality.


Gaga, born as Stefani Germanotta, plays similar instrumentation to Mercury himself. Her performance style on stage hints at his inspiration, as well. Below is the music video for Queen’s hit, and we’ll note some recurrent themes in Lady Gaga’s work. Then we’ll touch on the LGBTQ+ currents in their electrifying careers.



Instrumentation

Image by Royal Variety Charity via Wikimedia


Gaga rocks the pianoforte when she takes the stage. Freddie hammered those ebonies and ivories, and he soothed with those keys. Gaga brings that same energy to her audiences.

Have you ever tried to sing and play an instrument simultaneously? It requires enough skill and discipline to play one, but playing two musical instruments takes a special kind of person. I would love to learn their techniques.


Mercury could sing in four octaves, according to urban legend. You can hear the low-end vocal register, F2, in “Somebody to Love,” and his highest recorded note was a D6 from “Impromptu” in 1985. Gaga sings a solid three octaves from F#2-G5-C6.


As the fable goes, Freddie first opposed the idea of synthesizers in Queen’s music. Some mistook Brian May’s augmented guitar as a synthesizer, though it wasn’t. As these electronic instruments grew more sophisticated over time, Queen began to incorporate them more.


Many of Gaga’s tracks are borderline, if not EDM. Yet, her full repertoire covers such large swathes of musical genres. She belted out some jazz numbers with Tony Bennett for Cheek to Cheek, but she almost sounded southern rock at times on Joanne. Good luck if you try to typecast these artists.


Image by mgroot via Wikimedia


Performance

Image by Carl Lender via Wikimedia


Freddie exemplified showmanship, and so does LG. Mercury theatrically danced and flourished, ever-engaging with his audience. Gaga may seem more stoic and picturesque, yet she empowers her audience to participate. They both make you feel as if you’re in the seats of a historical theater.


Queen drew crowds with their dazzling costumery. Freddie wore leotards and bright colors — disregarding conventional boundaries of gender and sexuality.



Lady Gaga does much the same, but perhaps with a more haute couture flair. Whether dressed to feed a ravenous pack of wolves or to protect your order in shipment, she’s often wears heels by Alexander McQueen. Or fashions by Fecal Matter (@matieresfecales).


Both artists can sing quite operatically in technique. Freddie’s countertenor voice dwarfed that of his fellow band members, and Gaga’s mezzo-soprano voice belts out a large range, too. Mercury’s voice features a rather unusual vibrato in that it oscillates more rapidly than most other vocalists.


One could describe Queen as flamboyant on stage, and the Lady by the same token. Mercury and crew’s performances felt explosive. Lady Gaga holds little back in terms of shock value, pushing boundaries, and grand performances. Stay tuned tomorrow as we highlight common themes of their art.


Image by JBreeschoten via Wikimedia


Themes

“Radio Ga Ga” features dystopic imagery in its music video. It includes scenes from the 1927 German expressionist silent film Metropolis to build its backstory. The feature depicts a futuristic society of beaming skyscrapers with a handful of super-wealthy at the top. The vast majority of us toil away like automatons in the polluted underground to maintain the oligarchs’ opulence.


Metropolis (1927) - "In a futuristic city sharply divided between the working class and the city planners, the son of the city's mastermind falls in love with a working-class prophet who predicts the coming of a savior to mediate their differences."


Gaga’s work conveys similar symbolism, whether the fascist state undertones of “Alejandro” or the mail order bride feel of “Bad Romance.” The Lady portrays Queen’s vision come to fruition in the present day. Yet, despite the dark, industrial vibes, both artists proclaim themselves to the world. It’s pretty inspirational.


Image by Carlos M. Vazquez II via Wikimedia


How poignant that Queen published “Radio Ga Ga” in 1984! With hints of Orwell, Freddie and the gang try to turn back the nuclear clock amidst a then ongoing cold war in the real world. How relevant today, given that we also have pandemics, climate catastrophes, global conflict and domestic instabilities.


Chromatica, Gaga’s latest album, features a litany of themes related to human dystopias and perseverance amidst the trials. “Rain on Me,” featuring Ariana Grande, precipitates prescience with the imagery of stormy, urban centers.


The music video for the album’s first single, “Stupid Love”, portrays different clans working together to overcome common hardships. She also touches on topics like mental health in “911” and recovering from physical trauma in “Replay.”


One finds it difficult to deny that motifs began through Queen inspired Gaga’s vision. Find traces of other influences in her work like Madonna, but there’s no comparing to they who name you. Next, we would be remiss to overlook our next topic — their themes of human sexuality and gender.


Sexuality

We celebrate Pride every June since Stonewall, and both Queen and Lady Gaga are spectacular icons within the LGBTQ+ community. But, separating their sexualities from their art proves to be an impossible task.


Freddie pushed the envelope hard for his time by being himself, and his premature death underscores the ongoing global HIV epidemic. Likewise, Stefani gender-bends with her costumery, roleplay, and bisexuality.


Two of their most bendy characters were Jo Calderone for Gaga and Queen in their I Want to Break Free video. Freddie and the gang dressed in drag while imitating Coronation Street, a British soap opera.



Gaga created an entire masculine alter-ego, Jo Calderone, who first appeared within the pages of Vogue Hommes Japan in 2010. Jo later appeared in Gaga’s “Yoü and I” video.


Freddie wailed about wanting to break free, and Gaga bears the good news that we are born this way! Both arrived before their times, or perhaps just in time. However, one finds calculating the effects of their influence difficult, as it takes several years to come to fruition.


Carrying the quicksilver current sparked by Mercury, Germanotta evolves that spirit to its following form. Mother Monster gives rise to many little monsters from Father Fae’s inspiration. Their collective musings empower generations of youth who desperately need outlets for self-expression.


Image by Truu. via Wikimedia


Final Thoughts

Queen and Gaga Rock You and I — Ya can’t say Lady Gaga sprang from a vacuum, and luckily Freddie Mercury’s legacy lives on in myriad ways.


Gaga very much embodies the spirit of Queen, but she brings her unique flair. Thankfully, Queen tours Europe right now with Adam Lambert.


Both Gaga and Queen stand as artistic muses for countless people across the world. I find their music and themes quite relatable, as today we live in a world where there is artificial scarcity.


We all lack because we toil away for an opulent few who extract our labor value using an eroding safety net as coercion. The alternative is destitution in some corner of Metropolis — as long as they don’t catch you sleeping.


When will we organize about it?


Both artists motivate me to strive for liberation for my fellow queer, trans, and all working people. We can enshrine our rights if we recognize the spirit within one another; we have to work together or be split apart.


Thank goodness we discovered new ways to be ourselves through the daring of these creative powerhouses. A bold Queen first rocked us then gave this fab Lady her cue.


Do you have a favorite song by Queen or Lady Gaga? Feel free to mention that in the comments, and thanks for reading. I look forward to seeing continued developments in their careers and influences.


Image by Justin Higuchi via Wikimedia

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