Drag queen isn't a bad starting point when describing the other side of Lady GaGa. Her image is both high fashion and trashy - she favours platinum blonde hair extensions, oversized sunglasses and catsuits - and her signature stage prop is a decidedly phallic implement called a "disco stick". GaGa may want us to think she's just jetted down from Jupiter, but she actually hails from the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where she attended the same convent school as Paris Hilton. Joanne Stefani Germanotta, as she was then known, found her niche doing "very theatrical performance arty shows" on the Lower East Side, developing the persona we now know as Lady GaGa.
GaGa is stylish, ambitious and appealingly pretentious - but she isn't deep. Her lyrics tend to ricochet between the witty and the inane, often within the course of a song. 'Poker Face', one of the best tracks here, features both passable innuendo ("I wanna roll with him, a hard pair we will be") and childish, half-arsed nonsense ("I'm bluffin' with my muffin!") Her ballads, the best of which is the plastic reggae of 'Eh Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say)', are utterly lacking in emotional heft. And then there's 'Money Honey', a spectacularly ill-timed ode to materialism on which GaGa tells us "it's good to live expensive" and fantasises about "the Jag, the Jet and the mansion".
Then again, when she gets the songs right, it hardly seems to matter that what she's singing about - fame, flings, being "beautiful dirty rich" - is shallow. 'Love Game', 'Paparazzi', 'I Like It Rough' and future single 'Poker Face' are every bit as effective as 'Just Dance': bombastic electro-R&B monsters that are almost impossible not to dance to. 'Boys Boys Boys', a fun flipside to Motley Crue's 'Girls Girls Girls', is almost as impressive, while 'Disco Heaven' cheekily celebrates the decadent nightlife of 1970s New York. At 16 tracks, The Fame is far too long, but it's packed with potential hits.
She's not nearly as original as she thinks she is - Grace Jones, Gwen Stefani and Christina Aguilera all deserve thank-you notes - and she makes Madonna seem like a paragon of warmth, but it's hard not to view Lady GaGa as a good thing. She already presents herself like a huge popstar - check out the 'Poker Face' video if you're not convinced - and has worked out she'll need brilliant pop songs to become one. The Fame, for all its faults, has plenty of those.
> Click here to read our recent interview with Lady GaGa