Lady Gaga and the Sound of Music

Lady Gaga is all over the map, musically.  One moment she’s performing the most youth-oriented techno dance music, and the next she’s singing jazz standards with 88-year old Tony Bennett.  She’s played piano with Elton John and Yoko Ono, and includes classic rock covers in her concerts of original music.  A contemporary pop star through and through, she’s brave enough to sing songs from The Sound of Music in a classical-type voice at the Academy Awards, with Julie Andrews listening just offstage.

On the surface, this type of versatility seems unusual these days, but I think it actually highlights an aspect of Lady Gaga that’s even more rare.  She’s not afraid to show her breadth of musical taste and experience.

This might not sound like much, but think about it for a moment. It’s well-known that rock guitarist Eddie Van Halen loves classical music. He’s played classical piano his whole life and even named his son “Wolfgang,” which was Mozart’s first name. But have you ever heard him play classical music in public? No, he sticks to the rock music which made him famous. This is understandable, since the public (and critics) generally like to pigeonhole artists into small categories. He plays it safe and I don’t blame him (although I’d love to hear him play Mozart on piano sometime.)

Van Halen’s not alone in excelling at various styles of music. In fact, most musicians enjoy listening to and playing lots of different genres.  To a musician, it’s all music: Bach, jazz, pop, rock, folk, blues and Broadway.

What makes Lady Gaga so special is the way she’ll wear this versatility on her sleeve (over her trumpet tattoo!).  Sure, most pop singers acted in their high school musical theater productions, but do they sing show tunes at the Oscars? Many pop stars took piano lessons as a kid, but do they improvise the blues with Yoko Ono?  And many top 40 artists have enjoyed jazz at some point or other, but do they take an extended leave of absence from singing pop music to focus on jazz exclusively, like Lady Gaga has done recently? (In fact, she credits her friendship with Tony Bennett as enabling her to retain her sanity despite the pressures of superstardom.)

So the way I see it, Lady Gaga, talented though she be, is a fairly typical well-rounded musician.  What sets her apart in a big way, though, is her willingness to perform what she wants publicly, and to do it all with such class, dignity, and artistic integrity.

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