It was during my brief tenure as an assistant-manager of a West Village erotic novelties store that I developed a taste for contemporary pop music. Our shifts were twelve hours long and Top 40 radio – Z100 or KTU in our case – was de rigueur during the entirety of the the day (10 a.m. - 10 p.m.) shift. Once in a while, a higher-up would allow us a taste of the classic rock station, or an iPod surreptitiously plugged in to the sound system, but those reprieves were both rare and brief. The dyed-in-the-wool noise-addict with whom I tended shop during most of the night (10 p.m. - 10 a.m.) shifts would blast Cannibal Corpse or Venetian Snares around 3 or 4 (the store having long since emptied out and the few remaining customers dallying just long enough to pick up some prophylactics,) but this too was rare. For six months I received a daily dose of two- or three-hour long repeating chunks of music offered by the pop stations. On Friday and Saturday nights the rotation dropped between 45 minutes to an hour. I can't name any titles or artists, but if you were to play a pop song that reached its peak between August and December of 2006, I probably know every single lyric.
Like every hip, young whateverthehell, I enjoy Lady Gaga and I doubt I would have been able to without the experiences outlined above. Certainly, the bridges in her songs are often crap, on the ground of sounding far too much like all the other R&B-based pop music around, but the tracks themselves reek of a certain genius in construction and marketability. I've heard and said plenty about her image (the New Madonna/David Bowie/etc.) and ability to bring the genuinely weird back into a genre yearning desperately for weirdness. She doesn't leave any room for argument about authenticity because there isn't any at all. Much as I respect Vampire Weekend for not bothering to play the po' boy hipster and instead fully embracing their My Parents Own A Yacht upbringing, I respect Gaga for overtly posing meant to be marketed. What can you really say is inauthentic about a pop star who in her latest video (oozing with [experimental filmmaker] Matthew Barney influences) is bid upon during the climax of its narrative?
Unsure of my own feelings toward her music, I found what turned out to be a litmus test for likability. While I generally dislike virtuoso guitar – technical masturbation not being my cup of tea – I adore Igor Presnyakov's cover of “Bad Romance.” His playing has real soul in it (you may want to take notes, Mr. Malmsteen) and his interpretation both creates a brand new song, and brings to light every element of the original which makes it a good pop song. Enjoy.
...and make sure to check out his YouTube channel for more of the like.