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Grammys: Gaga tribute to Bowie falls short

Gaga pays tribute to David Bowie

Lady Gaga performs a medley of David Bowie’s biggest hits at the Grammys in tribute to the late singer.


If it was Lady Gaga’s intention to remind us how amazing David Bowie was, she succeeded – primarily by proving that on this occasion at least she was nothing like his equal.

Gaga’s tribute to Bowie, who died in January, aged 69, from liver cancer, was one of the most anticipated and hyped moments of the 2016 Grammy Awards. And it made sense – on paper at least.

Like Bowie, she is a hugely original talent whose look and sound has been subject to frequent ch-ch-ch-changes. Like Bowie, she is determinedly androgynous, with a sexual identity that resists easy categorisation. Oh, and she can sing, too.

Lady Gaga's David Bowie tribute was one of the most hotly anticipated moments of this year's Grammys.

Lady Gaga’s David Bowie tribute was one of the most hotly anticipated moments of this year’s Grammys.

It should have been a match made in heaven, but it wasn’t. Rather than bringing her own unique take on Bowie’s music, Gaga came across like a second-rate imitator, belting out the songs in a voice that lacked subtlety or variation. Her dance moves were flat, the drama in the songs obscured by the sameness of the arrangements.


It started with a tight close-up on her face, with Aladdin Sane make-up projected onto it as she sang Space Oddity. After a line or two of that we were into Changes, and the camera pulled back to reveal Gaga in a Japanese cloak.

The cloak soon came off and there she was in a white satin pantsuit with a pink feather boa slung over her shoulder as she sang a line or two from Ziggy Stardust. She moved to the piano, a massive globe-shaped ring on each hand, glowing pink then later green, as she segued from Ziggy to Suffragette City.

Then she darted away from the piano to strut the stage singing Rebel Rebel, the video feedback effect behind her a vague echo of the heady days of the 1970s and early ’80s when the music clip was in its infancy and Bowie was one of its most devoted parents.

She rattled through Fashion, Fame, touched on Under Pressure with a bassline riff only, cosied up to guitarist Nile Rodgers for Let’s Dance and gave him space to indulge his riffery on Heroes.

Her mannish red haircut was vaguely suggestive of Bowie’s Thin White Duke phase, the satin outfit hinted at his Pierrot outfit from the groundbreaking Ashes to Ashes clip. But there was little here to convince the uninitiated that either Bowie or Gaga is the sort of talent their fans know them to be.

In fairness to Gaga, it wasn’t really her fault. Bowie may have been pop’s consummate changeling, but an artistic evolution as complex and varied as his cannot be distilled into four minutes without losing the shifts and jolts that gave it its richness.

Extracted, condensed and jammed together like this, the Grammys’ tribute made heroes of neither its subject nor his interpreter. 

Karl Quinn is on Facebook and on twitter @karlkwin




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