SOUND OFF: GLEE's Fabulous Feud Featuring Katy Perry & Lady Gaga
Pitting two of the most influential and instrumental pop culture icons of modern music against one another, GLEE's "A Katy Or A Gaga" episode last night, written by Russel Friend and Garrett Lerner, directed by Ian Brennan, was a welcome return for the series for all of us gleeks following the short hiatus following the third episode of the season, which was the last time we ventured through the halls of McKinley High with the gentle and tasteful Cory Monteith tribute episode. So, with which pop superstar do your affections actually reside at the end of the day - Katy Perry or Lady Gaga? After all, that's what this week's ep was all about! Well, that and the debut of guest star Adam Lambert!
Mirroring the murmuring of members of the audience themselves, no doubt, Rachel (Lea Michele) worried that it may be "too soon," following the real-life and series departure of recently deceased Glee headliner Cory Monteith to let go and indulge in frivolity and fabulousness just for the fun of it - that is, kick loose and just enjoy performing, which is ostensibly what the series really is about showcasing, exploiting and explicating each week, more or less. But, life goes on and so does GLEE, with last night's highly entertaining hour of indulgence both fulfilling and fabulous, if thin on plot development.
First and foremost, Adam Lambert made his long-awaited debut as aptly named far-out figure Starchild and the American Idol standout and theatre star imbued Lady Gaga's epic rock/dance anthem "Marry The Night" with exactly the brio and spine-tingling theatrics fans of Lambert's have come to expect. A vocal knock-out. Honestly, who else can wail like that and still work a gold bow-tie with as much polish, panache and precision, I ask you? Nobody. So very delicious - the worst part is waiting until we see (and hear) what he sings next. So, too, does Demi Lovato continue to make an impression in her NYC-set guest starring portion of the new season and the highly appetizing prospect of further songs performed by the ragtag band being assembled all the while is an impossibly rich one, for sure. Starchild, Dani, Rachel, Kurt (Chris Colfer) and Santana (Naya Rivera) make a fierce quintet that doesn't quit. And, what about that awesome moniker - Pamela Lansbury?! The original Mame, Nellie Lovett and Mrs. Potts herself would be tickled at the winking reference, I BET - especially if they continue to sound this great making music together!
Relatively conservative with a well-used wild side or full-out uninhibited artiste? Such is the central question at hand in comparing Katy Perry with Lady Gaga and which path to choose. Who are you? Who wins the war? Well... who really cares?! Just as Barbra Streisand and Aretha Franklin can co-exist as diva supremes or Al Pacino and Robert De Niro can be secure with their positions as acting gods and share mutual affection for one another, so, too, is the true, albeit much-hyped match-up of Perry and Gaga all things considered. There is no beef - this is not Biggie and Tupac or Chris Brown and Frank Ocean. Sure, they go head-to-head on the charts often - like next week, for instance; PRISM Versus ARTPOP - and their fan-bases may be very vocal and more than occasionally virulent, yet the two pop superstars possess significantly different appreciable attributes as well as exhibit markedly disparate aims with their artistic ambitions, to boot. Bottom line: Perry presents pop fluff with positive messages whereas Gaga delves deeper into the darker side of her musical muse. Yet, there are exceptions to every rule and one could make many arguments for one artist's predominance over another, but the real test of any pop star in any era is the durability and pop culture divinity present within their individual songs, especially singles. Oh, yes, it's all about the music - as always is the case on GLEE.
While the musical selections may have been somewhat sparse when compared to music-packed previous episodes up until this point with upwards of eight or nine numbers shoe-horned in, the handful of song sequences that cropped up in "A Katy Or A Gaga" made major headway with some of the snazziest, most eye-grabbing sets and costumes seen so far this season. On that note, Glee Season Five so far has had its fair share of spectacular songs, yet an unmistakable sheen has seemed to be missing for much of the proceedings - due in part to the pallor cast by Monteith's death, unquestionably; but, also, apparent cost-cutting efforts by the network, too - and some extra due diligence was clear to see in the more elaborate designs of the big show-stoppers last night.
Namely: "Applause". Though Lady Gaga's characteristically idiosyncratic and one-of-a-kind music video for her first single from the forthcoming ARTPOP is impossible to replicate, the cast of characters comprising the new edition of New Directions certainly went the extra mile in making it all their own in sending it up. Sam (Chord Overstreet), Artie (Kevin McHale), Blaine (Darren Criss), Ryder (Blake Jenner) and company gave the propulsive pop jam appropriate punch while donning some simply outrageous outfits that Lady Gaga herself would have adored and introduced herself once upon a time in many cases - Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch)'s solid gold face-cage included. Those boys worked that runway for all it was worth and earned every single letter of their a-p-p-l-a-u-s-e - with a clear-cut emphasis on the "musical dark side" of pop, which Gaga so expertly evokes and revels in regularly in her music.
As for the Katy Perry musical extravaganzas, current chart-topper "Roar" was given a jungle set-piece complete with lush greenery, vines to swing on and loincloths - lots and lots of loincloths; plus, Pamela Landsbury lending some back-up from back east in NYC, too. Surely Rum Tum Tugger from CATS wasn't the only animal referenced in these deep, dark and scary woods of Glee last night, either - as perfect for the part as Jake (Jacob Artist) might turn out to be. "Fun and kind and real and girl-next-door," are a few of the many reasons why Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz) avowed her love for Katy Perry and those sweet traits were examined extensively via the many visual and verbal shout-outs to the pop diva throughout the ep - especially Marley (Melissa Benoist)'s nefarious pink-coiffed lollipop-licker homage meant to thwart the boys' "Applause" - but some deeper depths were plunged, as well. Perry's "Wide Awake" was presented in a subtle, enthusiastic and emotional airing, as well, via Jake, Tina, Kitty (Becca Tobin) and Unique (Alex Newell)'s worthwhile paired-down take on the lovely ballad. To add to that, the two songs in juxtaposition certainly exhibit the equally enjoyed balladic and bombastic sides of the spectrum in Perry's pop oeuvre, and showcased it to strong effect.
The dramatic quotient of the generally quite plot-light episode, relationship-wise, mainly involved Jake and Marley approaching the next step and experiencing some significant bumps along the way, while Santana and Dani continued to warm to each other back in NYC. So, too, does the mildly inappropriate courtship of Sam and Penny Owen (Phoebe Strole) seem to be gaining traction by the week, despite the "dill-weed" ex-boyfriend still being in the picture for the daffy and odd school nurse. Less likable was S5 addition Bree (Erinn Westbrook), with her bitchiness and brainlessness working in favor of Jake's relationship with Marley surviving these current hurdles, thankfully, for now. Or, maybe not.
"Other people's greatness makes our greatness even greater," Mr. Schuster (Matthew Morrison) reminded the New Directions near the episode's conclusion, and, essentially, that is the lesson to be learned from the rivalry between Katy Perry and Lady Gaga and all that it represents to their legions of fans around the world - and the pop culture sphere itself. No greater example of two songs that say what Glee says better than any other institution in the entertainment landscape, showing brazen nonconformity and dedication to performative excellence and emotional truth above all else, better than "Roar" and "Applause".
So, Katy Perry or Lady Gaga? Neither - both. That's the eye of the tiger - and the tail.
From This Author Pat Cerasaro