If Lady Gaga didn’t exist, The Simpsons would have had to create her. Had The Simpsons been on its game in the early/mid-2000s, taking a look at female pop stars like X-Tina, Pink, and Zombie Britney Spears, it might have said “Hey, let’s subvert this over-the-top sexuality with a veneer of feminist and queer theory!” and created a pop star who sang about getting wasted, then claimed it was special and uplifting. Lady Gaga already feels like she has both the similar love of media and the willingness to subvert that love as The Simpsons does, but she does that on her own, in her own way. It doesn’t seem like the sort of thing that could translate to The Simpsons.
But I’ll give The Simpsons this: It didn’t half-ass shoehorning Lady Gaga into Springfield. So many Simpsons celebrity voices show up for a few minutes at most, with Extras-style “Wow, Chris Martin of Coldplay, what are you doing here?” Or they voice one-off characters without enough flair to be memorable. Instead, Gaga was the focus of the entire episode, to the point where if you wanted to call it a half-hour commercial for Lady Gaga, you probably wouldn’t be wrong. Fortunately for “Lisa Goes Gaga,” the celebrity at its heart is entertaining enough that it being her commercial isn’t a complete waste of time.
The closest comparison I can think of for this episode is “Stark Raving Dad,” the episode where Homer meets a man he assumes is Michael Jackson in an insane asylum. While that episode is, in many ways, a love letter to Michael Jackson, there was also a wall between the show and the celebrity. The character wasn’t Michael Jackson; it was a person pretending to be Michael Jackson. And yes, he uses music to heal Lisa’s depression, just like Lady Gaga, but there’s a bittersweet element to it. He’s willing to be seen as insane just to maybe make people happy for a little while.
None of those barriers between celebrity and PR exist in “Lisa Goes Gaga.” This is a straight shot of Gaga as she wants to be seen. She travels from town to town, improving self-esteem and building tolerance. She comes to Springfield—“The little town that can’t, and won’t.”—and makes everyone feel better, except a depressed, outcast Lisa Simpson. So Lady Gaga dedicates the next few days of her life to making sure Lisa feels better.
Gaga is treated as a saint here, which is awkward enough. What makes it worse is that she’s treated as LADY GAGA the saint, not Stefani Germanotta the good person. The show uses her music without irony, even including new songs. She goes through constant costume changes, including direct references to many of her most famous outfits. She’s even compared to Jesus, explicitly, in an embarrassing scene in which Flanders attempts to denounce her oversexualization.
The Simpsons briefly remembers that it was once a satire for a scene in which the pseudo-religious aspects of Gaga’s public persona are skewered by Lisa. “I denounce thee!” shouts Lisa, over and over and over, saying that Gaga’s in it for herself, not for making Lisa feel good. Given that Lady Gaga’s attempts to cheer Lisa up are quite incompetent, this seems entirely fair. But The Simpsons can’t hold it—an ending where Lisa says she just needed to let off some steam neither supports nor contradicts her behavior. So it ends with a song, where Lisa and Lady Gaga perform together, making everything okay again, most importantly Lady Gaga’s feelings and public image.
And yet, as annoying as this episode was in concept and generally in execution, it wasn’t that painful to actually watch. Cartoon Lady Gaga’s costumes and theatricality were still entertaining. And even some of the Gaga-specific portions made me laugh, like Homer cooking Gaga’s meat dress and eating it, or Bart dressing Maggie up as “Baby Goo-goo.”Against my better judgment, I was moderately entertained.
- “Wanna honk your jazz-tube?” Saxaphone players everywhere have a new catchphrase.
- “So long, Springfield. You are my Waterloo.” “Yaaayyy!” A perfect representation of Springfield, and something I wish the show had done more of tonight.