WHEN DICK CLARK asked Madonna almost three decades ago what her dreams for the rest of her career were, Madge responded without hesitation, "To rule the world."
Lady Gaga is often compared to Madonna. Even Madonna has said Gaga reminds her of herself at that age, and since releasing her debut album The Fame in 2008, Gaga has, essentially, ruled the world. Or at least her own glittery kingdom. Gaga's fans—dubbed "Little Monsters"—are near cultish, sort of like Juggalos with more fashion sense, or KISS Army soldiers with a few extra brain cells knocking around in their head. And I don't use the word "cultish" loosely. When Gaga appeared on The Howard Stern Show in July 2011, the host was inundated with threats of physical harm prior to the interview if she wasn't treated like the Big Monster she deserves.
Like Madonna, Lady Gaga (born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta) makes pretty standard pop music, with a predictable (by today's standards) penchant for religious and sexual themes. Her second full-length, Born This Way—which included a phalanx of producers, including Def Leppard and AC/DC sanitizer "Mutt" Lange—was even more bloated and Madonna-esque. But Gaga's music is secondary to her personality. She can keep making all the records she wants, and they will always be less interesting than the pomp and circumstance that comes with them.
Madonna has lasted because she's reinvented herself again and again, even when her music grew staler and staler. Some of her fans grew with her. But these days you're likely to see a strong contingent of teenage girls alongside the gay men in the audience. KISS fans grew with the band as well, even though many didn't grow up enough to move out of their parents' basement. And Juggalos... ? God help us.
It should be interesting to see the path Lady Gaga's career takes in 2013 and beyond. She's releasing a new record, called ARTPOP, later this year. She's offering therapy sessions to fans on her current tour. There's a documentary in the works with fashion photographer Terry Richardson. Whether Gaga will go on to rule the entire world, or whether she'll stick to the steadfastly devoted portion of it she's already conquered, remains to be seen. At just 26—one year older than Madonna was when she spoke those infamous words on American Bandstand—Lady Gaga still has a lot of growing up to do.