Compare & Contrast: Megastar Guest Voices

Stark Raving Dad11

“We want Michael!  We want Michael!  We want Michael!” – Crowd
“Here he is, here’s the guy want to see!” – Homer Simpson
“He’s three hundred pounds!” – Apu Nahasapeemapetilon
“He’s white!” – Woman in Crowd
“He’s dressed without flair!” – Moe
“Boooo!  Boo!” – Crowd

It would take an awful lot of words just to catalog, to say nothing of exploring or explaining, the myriad of mistakes that comprise “Lisa Goes Gaga”.  The episode had it all: bizarre and comedy free flights of fancy, unvarnished celebrity marketing, excruciatingly bad exposition, magic powers, characters acting bizarrely out of type (Lisa, Skinner, there were a lot), pointless and unrelated scenes, and, to top it all off, the entire thing may or may not have been the dream of some anonymous backup dancer.  But all of those problems cascaded from one central failing, the inability of Zombie Simpsons to handle the very famous.

Whether or not you are a fan of her songs or of the outsize public persona to which her music is only tangentially connected, Lady Gaga is undeniably one of the most famous and discussed people on planet Earth here in 2012.  She’s enormously popular with her fans, of course, but she’s also reached that rare level of fame where literally anything she does is news to the celebrity press, and her statements and actions frequently push beyond the paparazzi ghetto and into regular news.  Even a passing familiarity with popular culture requires you to at least know who she is.

This is Wikipedia’s list of Season 23’s guest stars:

Aron Ralston, Jane Lynch, Mario Batali, Anthony Bourdain, Tim Heidecker, Gordon Ramsay, Eric Wareheim, Neil Gaiman, Andy García, Kevin Michael Richardson, John Slattery, Matthew Weiner, Kevin Dillon, Janeane Garofalo, Jackie Mason, Joan Rivers, Dana Gould, Ted Nugent, Armie Hammer, David Letterman, The Tiger Lillies, Jeremy Irons, Michael Cera, Jamie Hyneman, Adam Savage, Julian Assange, Kelsey Grammer, Alison Krauss and Union Station, Jackie Mason, Robbie Conal, Ron English, Shepard Fairey, Nicholas McKaig, Kenny Scharf, David Byrne, Glenn Close, Brent Spiner, Kevin Michael Richardson, Steve Coogan, Treat Williams, Bryan Cranston, Eric Idle

There are a lot of recognizable names on that list, but in terms of raw fame, none of them are even in the same league with the one time Stefani Germanotta.  Parts assigned to a bunch of television chefs, or a talk show host, or even some well known movie star are basically interchangeable.  There are, after all, quite a few television chefs, and if Jeremy Irons doesn’t want to be the talking bar rag, there are plenty of other respectable British actors with great voices out there.  There is only one Lady Gaga.

That yawning fame gap means that you have to do something special for her.  Just having her show up as somebody’s girlfriend or rival won’t fly.  Even more importantly, it’s a fantastic opportunity.  Someone who draws that much attention from that many places opens up a nearly unlimited array of potential subjects and stories.  Zombie Simpsons wasted all that by having Lady Gaga not just play herself, but play herself as Lady Gaga the Megastar.

Identical Gagas

We’ll do what she did, and that’ll make people like us, right?
(Second image shamelessly yoinked from

Twenty seasons ago, The Simpsons took a similar opportunity with Michael Jackson – who was, relative to the time, probably even more famous than Gaga is now – and turned it into one of their most memorable episodes.  Crucially, they did it by stripping Michael Jackson of everything that made him Michael Jackson the Megastar: his looks, his fame, his fashion, his sex appeal, everything.  All they left him with was his talent and his voice, which, if you’re having him play a fictional cartoon character, are the only truly important parts.

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Creative, recognizable and funny will always be better than mindless repetition.

They understood that exaggerating the already exaggerated – and that kind of globe spanning fame is nothing if not the exaggeration of one person into something more than a person – was pointless.  Once someone has actually taken a chimpanzee with him on tour or gone out in public wearing a dress made of meat, there isn’t anything you can do to make the situation meaningfully stranger.  Trying to compete with things like that by making them even bigger or weirder isn’t the least bit creative, it’s just an animated imitation of something someone else is already doing.  If news broke tomorrow that Lady Gaga was touring in a pink and purple train with giant shoes on its drive wheels and a built in concert stage, you might be impressed, but you wouldn’t be the least bit surprised.

By contrast, making Michael Jackson an ordinary person is a real feat.  Unexceptional and unremarkable are two things Michael Jackson never was.  From the time he became famous as a child right up until his death, Jackson was always larger than life.  But on The Simpsons (and really only on The Simpsons), he was just a guy, a bricklayer from New Jersey who liked it when people were nice to him.

That humanity is why the story in “Stark Raving Dad” has such heart to it and why the episode is unique among all the things Michael Jackson was famous for.  Bart and the rest of the town love Michael the Megastar.  For them, it’s about the album sales and the dance moves and the one white glove covered in rhinestones.  For Leon Kompowsky, however, those things are incidental to Michael Jackson, the talented boy who loves his sisters and writes songs for them.

The only time “Lisa Goes Gaga” even hinted at that kind of depth and creativity was when Lisa went off on Gaga for giving people false hope and unrealistic expectations.  All the positive attitude and self confidence in the world can’t change the fact that sometimes people fail, that sometimes life gives you lemons that cannot be turned into lemonade.  But the episode dropped that idea almost as soon as it considered it, and ended with Lisa doing things that the overwhelming majority of Lady Gaga’s Little Monsters will never get to do: meet her and sing with her and experience even a little bit of what it’s like to look upon the world from that tremendous height.  After all, there’s a parallel universe somewhere in which Germanotta stubbed her toe before an audition or didn’t meet the right people and today she’s wearing regular clothes and working at a temp agency for slightly more than minimum wage.

The Simpsons openly contemplated that idea by showing that what made Michael Jackson special would’ve still made him special even if he’d been a fat mental patient who dressed without flair and never sold a single record.  After all, his music could reach deep and bring people together even when it was played on an overturned waste basket.  Massive fame and all the glitzy trappings that come with it may be nice, but they are too impersonal to define a person or their talent.  Zombie Simpsons was too distracted by the shiny objects to notice that, so they mistook Lady Gaga’s fame and the pizzazz that comes with it as an end in itself rather than as a side effect of something more important.  Once that mistake was made, the episode never had a chance.

25 Responses to “Compare & Contrast: Megastar Guest Voices”

  1. 22 May 2012 at 4:24 pm

    An obvious compare & contrast, but very telling of the mentality of the two shows. Both Jackson and Gaga are such over-the-top, larger than life performers that you have to make the whole episode about them, but how do you do it in an interesting way? Classic Simpsons took the challenging, and ultimately rewarding route in bringing Jackson down to the level of the common man. Zombie Simpsons kept Gaga as her flamboyant self and went the easy route. She’s got a dress made of hummingbirds, wow. Except that’s not really a joke when I can see her doing that in real life. I’m glad her presence ultimately did nothing for the ratings, so all that pandering and gimmicking was for nothing.

  2. 2 Stan
    22 May 2012 at 4:41 pm

    When the episode took that turn with Lisa blaming on Gaga’s self-centeredness for making stars out of regular people, I thought to myself that the episode was finally going somewhere with it. It seemed like Lisa Simpson alone against Gaga, such a nice attempt at revelation. And then it seemed like they just didn’t have the guts to take on Gaga, as if they were afraid of their theme or something, and so in a sudden turn Lisa realizes she’s like everyone else now, so it ends on the fact that people indeed should try to reach for the stars.

  3. 3 Anonymous
    22 May 2012 at 6:58 pm

    Even Glee did a better job with their Gaga episode. Glee! All it really takes to do better than “Lisa Goes Gaga” is understand that nerdy kids are not Lady Gaga and can’t do what she does and get the same results. It’s a pretty simple concept.

    The comparison I kept thinking of was Stacey Lovell. It was a bit of a fantastical liberty to think she’d spend so much time and effort on Lisa, but Lisa earned it with real observations and Stacey was still disillusioning enough that it wasn’t pointless fantasy.

  4. 4 Monty Python Forever
    22 May 2012 at 7:47 pm

    I thought of how this episode could have worked:

    A plot: Lady Gaga starts off as a normal woman who uses the ridiculous character as an advertising tool. She gets stuck in Springfield, and all the insanity, evil and stupidity in town drive her crazy. Her stage persona manifests itself as a repressed personality and says things like, “you should have read the warnings on those hairsprays,” “I may be crazy, but at least I know Poker Face is our only good song,” and “even the Id says those Greeks are crazy,” with the Id being presented as some weird creature that combines demonic, animalistic and trippy imagery. This combines the grim examination of the human condition from the cruise ship episode and imaginary personality from the Bond parody episode.

    Gaga grows more and more crazy, acting out and creating weird shit until she ends up riding a shoe-themed sex train. Everyone in Springfield, being retarded mistakes this lunacy for art and grows obsessed with Gaga, leading to the flash mobs and train station sequence.

    She finally regains some of her sanity, realizes that she is turning into a monster, and tries to kill herself by jumping in the tire fire–but all the things she wears shield her from the flames. She gives up, jumps in the river to stifle the flames, and dies because of everything Burns has dumped in the water. She goes to the afterlife, and this first appears to support her alternate personality–we see that the pearly gates are as gaudy as her wardrobe–but then she gets swarmed by fanatical Christians–sorry for being redundant–who complain about everything. Whether this is supposed to be her Heaven or Hell is left for the viewer to decide.

    B plot: Lisa’s realization early in the episode that Lady Gaga is a normal woman with a stage persona causes her to become extremely meek and quiet while playing very violent online games, as they provide an escapist fantasy. This leads to a parody of Call of Duty clones, as all the First Person Shooters she plays are identical and have no characters beyond generic space marine bullshit. Eventually, Marge takes away the games, and Lisa becomes distraught, and acts out in rage. This is not resolved, and in a show with continuity it could be later explored.

    This may not be brilliant comedy, but I am not a professional comedy writer. Maybe someone could dub the episode with something like this, in the style of the Abridged Yugioh?

    • 5 Stan
      22 May 2012 at 9:24 pm

      It could’ve actually worked out even simpler: Jenny drags Lisa to a Lady Gaga concert in Springfield and Lisa starts going crazy over her music. This has an impact on her to the point that she starts acting and dressing weird and suddenly becomes very popular at school. So poplar that in fact it upsets Marge who loses a bonding she previously had with Lisa. In order to win Lisa back Marge decides to enroll the help of Gaga herself, and when Gaga shows up at the Simpsons house, Lisa finds out that all those model roles are only her persona, as behind saying “you can achieve everything” Gaga actually stands by “just be yourself”. As a turn of events, Lisa gets back on Gaga by accusing her of giving people false ideals etc. etc. and makes her cry. At the next day at school, however, Lisa is not popular anymore and Bart explains to her that “you gotta change your attitude often, sis, or they’ll think you’re done for it”. In her locker, Lisa discovers a CD with a song that Gaga wrote to her before leaving the town, and listens to it.

      • 6 mmmfreegoo
        22 May 2012 at 10:57 pm

        “Now I’m going to haul ass to Lollapalooza” (cue Fox graphics and theme)

        but seriously, what you came up with is still better.

      • 23 May 2012 at 1:50 am

        That sounds like the skeleton of a pretty good episode!

      • 9 ThatChick
        23 May 2012 at 2:19 pm

        Just be yourself… by not being yourself? Gaga is a frickn’ contradiction.

        • 10 Stan
          23 May 2012 at 5:18 pm

          No, the point is that on the stage she acts like a superstar and emits a message of high self-esteem, but it real life Lisa would find out that Gaga’s just like everyone else and acts casual (even if this is not true, making an episode about it would’ve been actually interesting).

  5. 11 Guy Incognito
    23 May 2012 at 3:00 am

    Just remembered Paul McCartney’s brilliant guest star which was done much, much better.

    Paul: Before you go, would you like to hear a song?
    Lisa: Wow, that be great.
    Paul: Okay, take it Apu.

  6. 12 Robert
    23 May 2012 at 3:58 am

    “guy you want to see”

  7. 23 May 2012 at 6:22 am

    Never noticed Sideshow Bob appears to be there for Michael Jackson (bottom right corner). Shouldn’t he be in jail?

    • 14 Stan
      23 May 2012 at 11:35 am

      My guess is that this episode was written (and animated) before Krusty Gets Kancelled, hence he’s still in his Sideshow trousers Mel wears today.

      • 15 Charlie Sweatpants
        23 May 2012 at 12:04 pm

        I never noticed him there either, but I’m guessing it was just something overlooked in the animation. This was well after “Krusty Gets Busted”, so he should be in jail.

        • 16 Charlie Sweatpants
          23 May 2012 at 12:11 pm

          Adding that, Sideshow Bob aside, that is a pretty good looking crowd shot. There are lots of regular characters, of course, but there are a lot of just random people, and none of them look generic or under-drawn (i.e. they all have distinct clothes, hair, etc).

        • 17 Zigler
          23 May 2012 at 3:59 pm

          Akom is pretty infamous for this sort of thing. I remember the Transformers episodes they did. There’s a scene in one episode where the ‘Cons announce that they’re going to rescue Galvatron, who’s trapped on another planet. This makes the soldiers start cheering – only one of the cheering solders is Galvatron.

    • 18 Stan
      23 May 2012 at 12:48 pm

      While we’re at it: Marge looks like holding the car’s door open, however it’s drawn shut (as if there was two doors). Talk about forgetting to colorize objects =)

  8. 19 Josh
    23 May 2012 at 7:12 am

    Lisas turnaround point was completely out of nowhere. The two lines of expository dialogue they offered to explain this still had me confused as to what happened. May as well have gone like so:
    Homer: Why the sudden change of heart?
    Lisa: It’s getting near the 17 minute mark, we need to start wrapping this up. We still have to squeeze in some awful song an intern wrote.

    I feel kind of low for saying this about Yeardley Smith but…her singing was pretty weak. The lyrics she was given didn’t help.

  9. 20 Patrick
    23 May 2012 at 9:02 am

    Does anyone remember the mayor’s line about how Michael Jackson wouldn’t ever come to Springfield, then come season 10 BAM springfield becomes a celebrity magnet!

    • 21 Stan
      23 May 2012 at 11:38 am

      As soon as they ran out of ideas to have celebrities stop in Springfield, they just started bruteforcing the fact that Springfield is important, first as a joke, then as a reoccurring truth.

  10. 22 Anonymous
    23 May 2012 at 12:39 pm

    The show nowadays reminds me of Milhouse when he says, “my mom says I’m cool.”

  11. 23 ThatChick
    23 May 2012 at 2:15 pm

    The thing is that at least Michael Jackson really was relatable on some level and wasn’t trying to preach anything, he was just a victim of his industry and just wanted to enjoy making music.

    Gaga is an inflated caracature being thrust into this weird martyrdom dynamic in which she is not only a performer but a cult leader. Gaga is sipping the Scientology/Secret bongwater and using it as her fuel and making herself out to be a weepy “I care for you too, you’re the real superstars, I hurt for your sins” Jesus figure, something that just doesn’t jive with me. Even though she’s 1 1/2 years younger than me, I feel we have nothing in common because she’s too into selling herself to the point where she’s no longer human. There’s just something disingenuous about her I can’t put my finger on.

  12. 3 June 2012 at 12:55 pm

    This was probably the best choice for Compare and Contrast, but “Lisa the Vegetarian” comes to mind, as well. Once again, a celebrity helps Lisa deal with her social ostracism. However, in that installment, it makes sense. We see the origin of Lisa’s aversion to eating meat and it’s not difficult to understand why this would not go over well with Homer, whose desire to best Flanders in backyard BBQ is also well-rooted in his character. Aside from the fact that McCartney is actually a musician with talent, his appearance at the end is brief, funny, tongue-in-cheek, and actually makes a point, e.g. that many successful people are vegetarians, that might actually be comforting to Lisa and vegetarian viewers. Perhaps the most ironic (in restrospect) line in that episode is “Rock stars! Is there anything they can’t do?” ZS seems to actually believe that.

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