Not exactly a stranger to the concept of the celebrity feud, Madonna’s lengthy reign as the Queen of Pop never really came under any genuine threat from those who dared to challenge for her crown. That was of course until Lady Gaga arrived all guns blazing at the tail end of the 00s. Displaying a similar blend of controversy, self-empowerment and brain-lodging pop hooks, the young pretender quickly became a credible contender to dethrone the Material Girl in the space of twelve months. But inevitably, Madonna wasn’t going to give up without a fight.
The pair’s relationship initially began rather amicably, with both appearing in the same Saturday Night Live skit together in 2009 to stage a mock catfight which would later become a little too prescient. Gaga even admitted ‘that there is really no one that is a more adoring and loving Madonna fan than me’ in an interview with talk show host Jay Leno. However, it took just one song for them to turn from allies into passive-aggressive enemies.
Released in 2011, Gaga’s mission statement and title track from her second album, Born This Way, may have instantly struck a chord with her younger Little Monsters. But for anyone born before the mid-80s, it immediately conjured up a sense of déjà vu thanks to its undeniable similarity to Madonna’s 1989 hit, “Express Yourself.” So much so that the 22-year-old single even re-charted in several countries in the week of Born This Way’s premiere.
At first, both parties remained fairly quiet on the matter. However, almost a year later it seems Madonna couldn’t bite her tongue any longer, brazenly telling Newsweek magazine that she thought it was ‘a wonderful way to redo my song’ and that she ‘recognized the chord changes.’ Gaga acknowledged the latter in an interview with the NME but otherwise angrily described the comparisons as ‘completely ridiculous.’
But as to be expected, the increasingly warring rivals saved their best pot-shots for the public arena. Madonna kicked off the tit-for-tat battle when she began performing a mash-up of the two tracks during her MDNA tour, also informing fans that she was a huge fan of “Born This Way” because she ‘helped to write it’ before mischievously leading into a number entitled “She’s Not Me.”
Rather surprisingly, Gaga originally didn’t rise to the provocation. Without referencing Madonna specifically, she appeared quite content to play the victim, telling crowds in Israel that ‘it sometimes makes people feel better about themselves to put other people down or make mockery of their work,’ while adding that ‘we don’t have to all slice and hate each other anymore.’
However, Madonna didn’t seem to take any notice of her rival’s more mature stance or call for a truce. During a gig in Atlantic City, she dedicated recent single, “Masterpiece,” to Gaga, before delivering the back-handed compliment, ‘I love her – imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,’ and promising fans that the pair would one day share a stage together.
Gaga certainly didn’t share the latter sentiment, declining an offer by Madge to appear at her Yankee stadium gig because she was too busy with her own Born This Way Ball tour, and perhaps fed up with the constant sniping, finally went on the offensive herself. Following the furor over Madonna’s use of a machine gun prop at her Murrayfield Stadium show just two days after the Denver cinema massacre, Gaga then appeared to mock the stunt by brandishing the same prop during a concert in Milan.
Proving that she too also has friends in high places, Elton John then leapt to the defense of his son Zachary’s godmother, telling the press that Madonna had been horrible to Gaga while in a typically bitchy outburst, described her as a ‘fairground stripper’ whose career is over.
While Gaga’s denials of plagiarism on Born This Way don’t hold too much water, it seems fair to conclude that Madonna hasn’t handled the whole affair with much grace. With the flop of her most recent MDNA album failing to halt her steady decline into irrelevance, her catty remarks suggest that perhaps for the first time in her career, she’s worried about her pop status. But one thing seems certain, she won’t back down easily.