Lady Gaga — so much to answer for. Everybody who makes a pop video these days wants to cop her style: Miley Cyrus and Christina Aguilera are just the latest stars to dress in Gaga drag, going for that decadent Sprockets art-porn vibe. They're totally shameless about it, but then, shameless is part of how Gaga has redefined pop cool — to the point where "cool" and "shameless" look the same.
Miley's "Can't Be Tamed" is in the great tradition of the video where a teen starlet screams, "I'm a grown woman now!" Back in the Britney days, this meant fondling a python on MTV in your underwear, but for Miley, it means going Gaga. Just last year, Miley was singing about wearing sneakers on the dance floor. Now she's like, "Hey, y'all, I think I should be a mutant bird-creature in leather boots, lap-dancing a falcon in my nest. In a cage. At an art exhibit."
The video begins with a crowd of hoity-toity Euro types with opera glasses at a museum, where the host announces, "In captivity for the first time, the rarest creature on Earth: Avis Cyrus!" The mean adult world is trying to hold Miley back, but she needs to spread her wings and dance around with no pants, as the crowd gasps in terror.
It's different for Christina: She already made her "I'm grown up now" video in 2002 with "Dirrty," rocking booty shorts and chaps at a hip-hop strip club. Now, sexy means busting lesbian S&M robot moves in a perm, a rubber bustier and the Carrera shades from the "Bad Romance" video. Poor Xtina — back then, she played second fiddle to Britney, now it's Gaga. (She even went online to post, "I have nothing against Lady Gaga . . . . This is not the first time I have been unfairly pitted against another female artist.")
Gaga would be quick to point out that she swiped it all from Madonna, David Bowie and Grace Jones — she's a pastiche, a walking performance-art project. She never asks to be taken seriously as a soul singer or a sex symbol. (What other pop star would boast, "I'm not trying to make your dick hard"?) The irony is that established stars like Miley and Christina can seem both more serious and more sexy just by stealing a bit of Gaga's Eurotrash glimmer. It's not only the ladies in the house, either — check out Jay-Z's amazingly arty video for "On to the Next One." Everybody wants that Gaga reflex.
This is a story from the June 10th, 2010 issue of Rolling Stone.