Lady Gaga Tells It All

Tonight (Sunday, January 29th), as the opening act in the Grammys, Stefani Germanotta, also known as “Lady Gaga”, will sit at the piano with Reginald Kenneth Dwight, also known as Elton John.  They will sing a duet.  Corporate communicators facing public affairs challenges could learn a thing or two from this appearance.

First a note about history.  This being the music industry, we are talking about ancient history — 2001.

Fans will recall in that year’s Grammys a moment similar to tonight’s, when Sir Elton paired up with the rising rapper, Eminem.  The ostensible reason for that year’s duet was to save Eminem’s career.  Eminem had taken heat for a recently released song that included lyrics some judged anti-gay.  John is gay.  That he was willing to appear with the young star quelled the criticism.  But it did more.

Before that night, Eminem — though highly popular — was in many respects a niche player in a niche space.  Many saw him as something of a thug, which limited his potential popularity.  “Stan” — the song that he and John performed and that Eminem had co-written — was a tremendously sensitive, evocative piece that transcended the style of its music and lyrics.  Eminem’s appearance with an artist as widely respected as Elton John led audiences that would never have looked twice at him to tune in and listen with an open musical mind, and they came away seeing Eminem as himself an artist who deserved attention and admiration.

Lady Gaga occupies in a similar place tonight, though without the homophobic baggage.  She, too, is a highly popular performer in a niche space.  Like Eminem, she, too, has the potential to reach a much larger audience.  Appearing with Elton John in such a high profile event will win her open-minded attention from a wide range of people that would otherwise dismiss her as a passing musical fad.

The public affairs lesson here?  You don’t always need people — third parties — to speak for you.  Sometimes it is enough that they simply stand with you.  That very fact opens otherwise closed ears to what you have to say.  Eminem used his opportunity brilliantly.  We will see tonight if Lady Gaga does as well.

Clark Judge As Managing Director of the White House Writers Group, Clark Judge provides strategic communications counsel to clients in industries ranging from financial services to transportation to high technology.

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