In the Suburbs: Gaga over Lady Gaga's dazzling evolution
She's worn meat dresses and body-covering white fur. She once wore a blown-up replica of the Mona Lisa. Journalists, like Emily Zauzmer of Harvard Political Review, said that "she rose to fame with jarring tunes ... tunes that have driving beats, tunes that rely heavily on techno sounds.
"Her hair has changed as rapidly as her outfits have,. Her ever-evolving locks have gone through a kaleidoscope of hues and styles -- from spiky strands ... to a faded mix of white and gray and turquoise, to a pile of ringlets atop her head."
And the list of eccentricities goes on.
Was I a fan of this bizarre performer? Hardly. But all that changed Feb. 22 at the Oscars when a strange transformation occurred and Lady Gaga knocked Hollywood skeptics off their feet. Her medley of songs from the 50-year-old classic film "The Sound of Music" moved millions to tears.
"When Scarlett Johansson leaned into the microphone and announced the act, the group that I was watching the show with audibly balked. Lady Gaga singing Julie Andrews' songs? Who does she think she is?"
But Gaga knew exactly who she was and proceeded to drive all of us gaga. She made the "Hills Come Alive;" she belted out "Climb Every Mountain" with a voice so pure it made all of us want to find our dreams. And she gave us warmth with her soothing rendition of "Edelweiss," among others.
My wife and I just looked at each other dumbfounded as if we'd experienced our own transformation. Who was this amazing performer? We had known nothing of her vocal capability and versatility, only of her extreme style statements.
Now we are believers.
Said Zauzmer: "She stripped off the meat, simplified her style, and left the techno musical embellishments at the door. She gave up the glare and glamour of pop for the soothing nostalgic melodies of the oldies. ... Her blonde hair and lovely gown reflected the gorgeous simplicity of her voice.
"By the time Julie Andrews walked on stage at the conclusion of the medley, there was not an un-dropped jaw in the room. When the screen legend gave her successor a hug, Lady Gaga's brilliant transformation seemed to be complete."
In reality, according to Zauzmer, "everyone's favorite on-screen nun was not only patting the performer on the back for a job done and a song well sung. Rather, she was passing the torch from one generation to the next, a sign to viewers young and old that the hills will always be alive with the sound of music."
After this amazing performance, I have a whole new appreciation for this young performer, whose musical versatility and evolution as a contemporary artist actually began barely a year ago when she teamed with Tony Bennett, who Zauzmer categorized as "an unlikely duo -- an 88-year-old jazz great and a 28-year-old pop rule-breaker -- but together they are unstoppable."
Now I want the CD that won them the best traditional pop vocal album at the recent Grammy Awards.
As this newly invented Lady Gaga captivated a skeptical Hollywood audience on Oscar night, I couldn't help remembering a similar performance on television in the '60s with Julie Andrews singing opposite a very unlikely musical partner -- Carol Burnett. The two were singing a medley of theater music when all of a sudden, Burnett started belting out "A Boy Like That" from West Side Story.
My wife and I were riveted to the TV, and Andrews herself seemed shocked at the vocal talents of this comedy diva. The audience went wild at the end of the performance, which seemed to overwhelm Burnett. Andrews was in tears. The two later went on to do a successful performance at Carnegie Hall, but no one watching that evening will ever forget Burnett's transformation to musical diva.
From now on, I'll be keeping an eye out for any new Lady Gaga renditions in the nostalgia market and I'm hoping that perhaps she'll make a CD of the songs from "The Sound of Music."
And one thing seems certain. Her evolution as a singer of classic show tunes is just beginning. But it will be difficult to top her Oscar performance and her moment of glory with Julie Andrews.
Steven Gaynes "In the Suburbs" appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.