Lady Gaga's Family Tree
by Rachel Devitt | May 23, 2011
Lady Gaga's roots are always in question, and no, that's not a line from her new song, "Hair." Everyone and their sister wants to attribute Gaga's sound (and her success) to every other pop star and their sisters including the Lady herself, who typically leaves her roots rather boldly uncovered. So, in honor of her new, genre-spanning album, Born This Way, we decided to take a climb through Gaga's artistic family tree. We've sketched out our initial findings for you, tracing the strains and shared traits that make up her musical DNA. If you love Gaga, you're gonna love getting to know her family.
Explanation: Well, duh.
Shared (or Inherited) Traits: Religious blasphemy (in the name of love, baby). Provocatin'. Publicity-generating sartorial uses of lace. Dance-pop DNA (see also: disco sticks). A propensity for high drama.
Explanation: Musically, there was a brief window where Prince and Madonna were married, right?
Shared (or Inherited) Traits: The ability to rock and dance (sometimes simultaneously). Interesting coiffures. A life lived on the fine line between sexuality and spirituality. A life lived on the fine line between eccentricity and earnestness. Sexual ambiguity. Squeaky pop-up vocal augmentations. A propensity for high drama.
Explanation: What can we say? Dad remarried a few times. Not quite full-time mother figures, but definitely significant influences.
Shared Traits: Artsy cool. The fine line between punk and pop. Soft-focus pop feminism. Looking super hot in front of a bunch of skinny boys (or pro wrestlers, as the case may be). Throaty and/or breathy (as needed), but always slightly aloof vocals. A good dance beat with a side of grrl power.
Explanation: The kind of girls she dreamed about growing up to be.
Shared Traits: Provocatin'. Sexual/sartorial scandal. Quirkiness. A vague queerness. A vague alienness. Dystopian dance grooves. Postmodern girlishness.
Explanation: OK, Gwen's not really bitter so much as just grown up and above it all at this point. But Xtina is totes bitter. Stupid little sister Gaga gets all the attention now.
Shared Traits: Dance-poppin' with an edge. Blonde ambition. A Marilyn fixation.
Exemplary Tracks: Christina is all like, "Yeah, I liked 'Born This Way' better when it was called 'Beautiful' and I sang it." Gwen is like, "Um, Gaga, don't you think 'Americano' is a little ... immature? Why not try a more classic Russian/retro sound, like 'Rich Girl'?"
Explanation: Katy Perry might get all judgmental about Gaga's religious beliefs, but it's easy to look down when you're perched on top of a giant banana. Robyn, on the other hand, just wants to stop sweeping up the corners of the charts and get a chance to dance at the ball.
Shared Traits: Well, none of these ladies probably wants to admit how much they have in common, but come on, they all grew up in the house Madonna built.
Exemplary Tracks: Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl" is the pink-faced version of Gaga's legit LGBT activism, but her "E.T." is a pretty direct response to Gaga's weirdo chic. Robyn, on the other hand, is just fine "Dancing on My Own" instead of with legions of Little Monsters. That said, much of Born This Way, from "Heavy Metal Lover" to "Government Hooker," is picking up the robo-dance industrial complex Robyn is puttin' down.
Explanation: Come on. If they haven't already, you know these three and Gaga all want to make out. Preferably at the same time.
Shared Traits: Sexual flexibility. Rabid gay fan bases. Fierce, funny attitudes. Killer eye makeup (well, maybe not Mika).
Chosen Family: Scissor Sisters.
Explanation: You can't choose who brings you into the world, but you can sure choose your musical family, and Gaga has made it clear that Jake Shears, Ana Matronic and company are part of hers, from inviting them on tour to creating a second album that picks up where their own three albums leave off.
Shared Traits: Dark, debauched disco. Crocodile rock. Female drag-queening. Rabid gay fan bases. Euro-pop chic. Awesome names. Affinity for brunch.
Explanation: OK, they're a little too close in pop age to actually be Gaga's descendants, so think more like a drag house, and Gaga's the den mother. She paved the way for Ke$ha's club-kid wrangling, dance-pop experiments and weird name. And she's practically the patron saint of Glee, which embraces the Little Monsters outsider ethos and has aired not one, but two Gaga-themed episodes, both of which carried anti-bullying and gender-queer messages.
Shared Traits: A belief in the power of pop to blow sh*t up (literally or figuratively). A kind of rock 'n' roll-meets-Broadway showmanship.
Exemplary Tracks: Ke$ha's "Blow." All of Glee's Gaga covers.
Cool Young Aunt: Nina Hagen.
Explanation: Krautrock meets Europop. A diva who spent most of Gaga's childhood backpacking the world but sending super-awesome birthday postcards (though she never got the date right).
Shared (or Inherited) Traits: Euro-divatude. Krautrock cool.
Exemplary Tracks: Gaga's "Scheibe."
See also: Super-Cool Great Aunt Sally Bowles (from Cabaret). Cool Older Cousins The Dresden Dolls.
Kind of Cool/Kind of Lame Uncle: Axl Rose.
Explanation: The kind of guy she thought was super-awesome when he showed up all tatted up to family reunions when she was eight, then later realized was kind of a loser with not much to his name but a beer paunch and some glory-days stories, then later decided was kind of ironically cool again.
Shared (or Inherited) Traits: Sexual rumors. Rock 'n' roll camp. A fixation on hair. Long-awaited, hotly contested new albums. Killer guitar riffs.
Exemplary Tracks: "Hair," a sort of ode to hair metal, if hair metal had ever admitted the source of its power.
See also: Dad's college buddies we always called "Uncle," aka the New York Dolls.
Kind of Lame/Kind of Cool Uncle: Bruce Springsteen.
Explanation: The guy she thought was kind of a tool when he'd bust out the guitar at family reunions, but later realized was actually pretty awesome.
Shared (or Inherited) Traits: Anthemic rock. Earnestness (possibly masquerading as irony -- and vice/versa). Killer guitar riffs. Sax appeal. Clarence Clemons.
Explanation: Gaga's spiritual guides in glam and classic rock, respectively.
Shared Traits: Flamboyance. Rock operatics. Dandyism. A way with accessories. A love of scenes where people do a lot of coke.
Fairy Godmother: Hedwig (and the Angry Inch).
Explanation: Try and tear them down, America.
Shared Traits: (Critical) femininity. A Barbie Doll crotch (allegedly). The queer soul of rock 'n' roll.
Exemplary Tracks: "Wig in a Box" begat "Hair."
Explanation: They were in a three-way relationship. Hey, it was the '70s!
Shared Traits: Rock 'n' roll regality. Sexual ambiguity (at least for a while). A finely tuned sense of the overlap between glam, art rock, classic rock, musical theater, pop, fashion and drugs.
Explanation: Grace Jones' androgynous artsiness + ABBA's campy sweetness (via Madonna and Prince) = Gaga.
Shared Traits: See above, plus a serious family history of disco fever.
Explanation: Three formative musical freaks.
Shared Traits: Quirkiness. A perpetual middle finger to social norms. Uncomfortable/fascinating sexuality. A theatricality that pushed at the boundaries of their respective genres.
Great-Great-Grandmother: Gertrude "Ma" Rainey.
Explanation: She was blatantly sexual and blazingly independent when society said she oughta be home meekly washing dishes. She was an undeniable trend-setter whom people flocked to see and still can't stop talking about. And she was unconventionally yet undeniably attractive. Gaga wouldn't exist without Ma.
Shared Traits: All of the above, plus (alleged) bisexuality.