Pantsless provocateur or poseur?

It’s been a big couple of weeks for Lady Gaga. The platinum-haired pop singer just nabbed her fourth top-10 single with “Paparazzi,” becoming only the fifth female to score such an achievement with a debut album. Billboard also just named her its Rising Star award recipient, and two weeks ago, she popped up on episode of Saturday Night Live, where, in addition to performing, she appeared in a skit with Madonna—during which the two, naturally, ended up almost sucking face.

The point is this: She’s huge. Still, I typically encounter one of two reactions when I utter the term “Lady Gaga” in polite company: an exaggerated roll of the eyes or, conversely, the person asks with curiosity, “What’s a Lady Gaga?”

A Lady Gaga, for the uninitiated, is a top-40 pop singer best known for hit songs such as “Poker Face” and “Just Dance” and, also, for appearing at high-profile events in various states of pantslessness, often while sporting unconventional face accouterments. We’ll get to that in a moment, but here’s what you need to know: Lady Gaga wants you to think that she is edgy, provocative and futuristic.

Exhibit A: The artist, born Stefani Germanotta, who appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine this past May clad in nothing but giant plastic bubbles, sings about rough sex and counterstalking the paparazzi.

Exhibit B: She dishes to the press about her bisexuality.

Exhibit C: She likes appearing before the cameras in micro-minidresses and space-age leotards. (Apparently the future doesn’t include pants.)

The judgment: In reality, Lady Gaga is as edgy as Kelly Clarkson.

Even with that affinity for metallic onesies and those bushy facial wreaths (it only sounds naughty; it looks ridiculous), she’s little more than a pimped out amalgamation of Kelly, Madonna, Britney and, yes, even Miley. Her music is a slick mix of mainstream pop and danceable house music; it’s catchy and fun.

Yes, Lady Gaga is talented. She can sing, she plays piano and writes her own songs. Still, I think I’d like her music more if it wasn’t sung by Lady Gaga—if it wasn’t wrapped up in all those artificial trappings of edge, that ersatz gloss of provocative.

Her songs are dance-floor-worthy, but her lyrics barely scratch at the surface of emotions, complicated relationships and self-identity.

You want edge? Listen to Peaches, whose 2003 “Fatherfucker” single did more to rip apart gender myths and clichés than 10 million Lady Gaga albums ever could.

Hell, check out Sacramento’s own Mom. If this tiny, crotch-grabbing banshee, adorned in a red mask and Mickey Mouse ears, doesn’t make you squirm as she aurally assaults the room with the threat of actions that likely involve bodily fluids, then congratulations: You’ve got aesthetic (and moral) nerves of steel.

Then again, perhaps I should cut Lady Gaga a break.

On Saturday, she appeared at an annual dinner for the Human Rights Campaign, one of the nation’s largest gay and lesbian advocacy organizations. The HRC event also featured a keynote address by President Barack Obama, but attendees clearly weren’t that impressed, as many of them sported “Lady Gaga for President” buttons.

I suppose if Obama can be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize merely for the idea of inspiring hope, then Gaga can be awarded something simply based on the conceit that she is interesting.