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Lady Gaga

     The Fame (Interscope, 2008)
     The Fame Monster (Interscope, 2009)

Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta began her career in New York City's piano bars, playing dramatic singer-songwriter material. But after becoming disillusioned with her tunes and immersing herself in cocaine and burlesque, Germanotta adopted the moniker Lady Gaga (inspired by a producer who sang her Queen's "Radio Ga Ga" in response to one of her glammy harmonies), and set out to become the biggest, boldest pop star in the world.

Lady Gaga's debut, The Fame, is a daring strut toward that goal — a clash of Eighties pop beats, futuristic synth pulses and meditations on the lust for stardom, constructed with the same cheeky verve as her outfits. (Gaga has a taste for geometric hair and dresses constructed out of large plastic bubbles). Its first four tracks are all killer singles, starting with bloopy party-your-worries-away jam "Just Dance" and pickup anthem "LoveGame." Gaga, a bisexual who counts Andy Warhol, Grace Jones and Madonna as influences, pushes buttons with "Poker Face," singing about longing for a woman while in bed with a guy over a jubilant chorus, and she explores celebrity photographers' symbiotic and psychosexual relationship with burgeoning stars on the darkly erotic "Paparazzi." The album's deeper cuts mine variations on the same theme with assistance from producers RedOne and Rob Fusari. Buzzy synths zip across disco guitars on "The Fame," as Gaga admits her "teenage dream": "We got a taste for champagne and endless fortune." And she decries a music industry "Paper Gangsta" who asks her to sign away her life, speak-singing over piano clomps like a fiercer, alien Fiona Apple.

The Fame Monster, a re-release of The Fame with an eight-song EP attached, shows off Gaga's taste for pastiche, drawing on Seventies arena glam ("Speechless"), perky Abba disco ("Alejandro") and sugary throwbacks like Stacey Q ("Monster"). The disc's smash single "Bad Romance" is an operatic slice of bouncy pop ecstasy, but its secret weapon is a team-up with Beyoncé called "Telephone." The track begins with gently plucked harp strings but quickly explodes into a frenzy of syncopated synths that mimic the purrs of a cell phone — Gaga and Beyoncé each have a frustrated lover on the line, but there's no time to chat because, as Gaga says, the club beckons: "I left my head and my heart on the dance floor."

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