Hugo McGregor looks at life B.G. (before Gaga) and after the release of her iconic The Fame Monster.
Historians use the term B.C. (before Christ) to mark the period of time before the birth of Jesus Christ; a seismic moment in history. It follows, then, that if a historian were compiling a chronicle of my life, they would refer to my early years as B.G. (before Gaga).
Indeed, it would be modest to say Lady Gaga played a crucial role in shaping the man I am today. Her music took a lonely, theatrically repressed, closeted kid and transformed him into a confident, dramatic star (granted, my mum wasn’t too pleased that I was nine years old and singing about wanting to take a ride on a “disco stick”). I was a devout disciple of Gaga, even showing up to a school disco in a t-shirt with her face plastered across it - which, at the time, made me feel like something of an Instagram baddie. Since then, I’ve stuck by her through all her eras (#JusticeForARTPOP), but one album in particular holds a special place in my heart: The Fame Monster.
A permanent resident of almost every gay man’s Spotify library, The Fame Monster really was that bitch. Gaga’s magnum opus is a small but flawless curation of eight songs, exploring themes of sex, fear, and the dark side of fame. It’s the album that proved Gaga wasn’t just the flavour of the month, and established her as one of pop’s modern innovators. I was already a Gaga fan after The Fame, but The Fame Monster cemented my transition into a full-blown Little Monster. Truth be told, my tiny queer heart belonged to Mother Monster (what the most dedicated stans call her) from the moment I pressed play and heard her chant, “Rah-rah-ah-ah-ah!” I’m still not sure what it means but, damn, it makes me feel alive.
Everything about The Fame Monster era — from the album’s gothic, Hedi Slimane-shot cover, to Gaga’s infamous VMAs meat dress — was iconic. Its impact on the music industry cannot be understated. Track the resurgence of 80s synths and vocalisers in 21st century pop music, and it traces back to Gaga. Her boundary-breaking artistic choices and daring performances also set the bar for the level of individuality and creativity to be expected from modern pop stars. During this era, Gaga served us three of the most iconic music videos of the century: Bad Romance, Telephone, and Alejandro. The accompanying video for each single was bolder than the last, and elevated the songs to high art. I even had a giant poster of the Telephone cover art above my bed, which made for an interesting discussion piece whenever I had male friends round for a sleepover. Plus, the Alejandro music video did for Catholicism what Rihanna did for umbrellas.
The term “filler track” clearly doesn’t exist in Gaga’s vocabulary, because every song on The Fame Monster could’ve been a single. The crème de la crème, however, is Dance in the Dark: a five-minute-long belter about fear and fragility during intercourse. Let me be clear: if gay clubs were churches, this would be their hymn. What Dance in the Dark does so well is balance Gaga’s tortured lyrics with a killer hook and beat, and the result is euphoric. During the bridge, she summons a legion of famous women who were chewed up and spat out by the media: Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, Princess Diana... A haunting reminder of society’s tendency to idolise and exploit vulnerable women. My only beef with the song is it wasn’t made a single, but that’s an issue between her management and I.
Most importantly, though, The Fame Monster provided me with a sense of belonging; or, rather, it helped me find comfort in not belonging. I’ve always been a bit of an outsider, never fitting the mould of a “typical” boy, and this was something I was deeply ashamed of as a child. However, discovering Gaga gave me a figure to look up to: she was authentic, unapologetic, and (best of all) weird. The Fame Monster was my safe space when I came home from a rough day at school, and subsequently soundtracked many a bedroom concert. I listen to it less nowadays, but when I do, I’m immediately transported back to that stage. So, thank you, Gaga, and The Fame Monster, for changing my life.