the most interesting thing about glee’s gaga episode was ryan murphy’s extended, veiled commentary on gaga’s music and image, best delivered through puck’s offhand quip, “gaga, isn’t he just like a guy in girl’s clothes? like… bowie?” like bowie indeed. and marilyn manson. and hedwig. all cross-dressing artists (one of them is fictional, though which one that is i’ll let you decide for yourself) who rely less on cock than shock to rock.
i don’t think it’s mere coincidence that the gaga episode also features the guys doing cover versions of kiss. that’s right, perhaps the greatest shock rockers of all time. ryan murphy was obviously saying that, what, gaga?, she’s just kiss sans (yet) the lunch box.
but i think ryan murphy’s most interesting critique of gaga’s music was in how the two gaga covers were done. poker face was a stripped back piece, with rachel berry and another cross dresser idina menzel (she is more andro than gyny) belting it out over a single piano. like many mtv unplugged covers, this understated version of poker face reveals the pleasant melodic structure of a song that for so long has been buried under over-the-top sonics, a theatrical singer’s antics and the occasional underwear worn as mask.
the other cover, of bad romance, was done in totally the opposite way. the campness was turned up to eleven, with über-androgyne kurt taking lead and the rest of the cast in cast-off ersatz gaga costumes (finn’s was made from shower curtains). this is a deliberately bad version (complete with a harder, better, faster, sillier vocodered verse and stadium house remix synth everywhere) which ironically also reveals that the song is actually pretty catchy. the song survives the intended butchery. kinda impressive.
so by doing one cover really well and another one really bad, and showing that done better poker face could sound better and bad romance done badly couldn’t get any worse, ryan murphy showed that gaga is really neither really good nor really bad. in other words, she’s just mediocre.