Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta has had a lot of ups and downs, and being the modern diva she is, she’s fit them all within a very short amount of time. To wit, homegirl has jam-packed more hits, flops, reinventions, and outfits into a scant 12-year period than most pop stars do in a lifetime. But, undeniably, unequivocally, indisputably, her highest high was the video for “Bad Romance,” released on November 24, 2009.
Do you remember where you were when you first saw Gaga catwalk across a room in a pair of Alexander McQueen armadillo heels?
Do you remember how long it took you to learn this choreo?
Do you remember whose face you first yelled in about this video that they just Had. To. See?
Gaga’s 2008 debut album, The Fame, established her as an overnight pop star, but one whose bonkers looks often upstaged her songs. The “Gaga” was evident in her outfits, but at the end of the day her music wasn’t particularly innovative.
With “Bad Romance,” however, she not only became a bona fide pop phenom, but achieved the perfect marriage of her outré image, her artistic and blatantly commercial ambitions, and her very real talents as a musician, creating a song as bombastic and weird as the visuals that accompanied it.
And what visuals. If the song “Bad Romance” was a hodgepodge of seemingly disconnected ideas—the chanting and the moaning, the random Hitchcock references, the bridge intoning listeners to “walk, walk, fashion, baby”—the video felt like disconnected ideas that had been hurled mercilessly at the wall in an attempt to see what stuck.
A loosely defined “storyline” about sex slavery?
Some vague alien/monster imagery?
You got it.
Giant anime eyes?
I see you, bitch.
Casual manslaughter by arson?
He had it comin’.
But a bathhouse that somehow didn’t involve gay sex?
Now that is a bridge too far.
It shouldn’t work. And yet it does because Gaga clearly believes in it. She believes in every line she sings, every piece of lavish couture she wears, every awkward gesture and outrageous expression on the remarkable canvas of her face.
As Beyoncé had done before her (see: 2008’s “Single Ladies”), Gaga was beginning to blossom into a full-fledged multimedia artist whose videos not only enhanced, but became inextricably linked to the song source.
“Bad Romance” felt more like a mission statement than a single, with Gaga daring you to write her off as a flash in the pan, or just another pop star in a long line of pop stars trading on style over substance. It was a huge gamble that ultimately paid off—the video has been viewed more than a billion times. It cleaned up at the MTV Video Music Awards the following summer, winning seven trophies—including Video of the Year—out of a record-tying 10 nominations. Then, in February 2011, “Bad Romance” nabbed Gaga two Grammys, one for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and the other for Best Short-Form Music Video.
The song and video also kicked off Gaga’s most fruitful period of creativity, The Fame Monster era. Though only an EP, it improved upon its predecessor in every way—in scope, execution, and cohesion. It also gave us “Telephone,” which is clearly a future “Can We Talk About…?” column because Beyoncé will never do a duet like that again and we need to commemorate the batshit craziness/awesomeness of it.
The video also served as a premature tribute to Alexander McQueen, who took his life just three months after “Bad Romance” dropped. Gaga debuted the video at McQueen’s final runway show, Plato’s Atlantis, and it, in turn, features several pieces from that collection.
Ten years on, the video and song still perfectly encapsulate the essence of Lady Gaga: part art-school dropout, part punk-rock hedonist, total pop diva. No matter how far she goes, how low she sinks, or how many celestial births she experiences, we’ll always have that soothing, unforgettable mantra: “Rah-rah—ah-ah-ah, Roma-roma-ma, Gaga-ooh-la-la.”
“Bad Romance” is messy, it’s fabulous, it’s fashion. It’s everything we love about Ms. Germanotta.