A Star is Born – Celebrating Poker Face, the Song That Made The Fame Monster

Lady Gaga burst onto the music scene back in 2009 with the re-issue of her debut album ‘The Fame Monster’. The album quickly peaked at number five on the Billboard 200 charts and topped the Dance/Electronic charts – an early indicator of Gaga’s rapid rise to fame.

Mother Monster’s journey to the top wasn’t easy. In fact, before ‘The Fame Monster’ came out, Gaga was dropped by Def Jam Records. But that speed bump in Gaga’s career was nothing new to the singer, as she made her rounds as an independent musician playing small gigs on the Lower East Side club scene. From those gigs, she built a small but loyal following.

Her big break came with her signing with rapper Akon’s KonLive Distribution label back in 2007, which led to the release of the now-iconic ‘The Fame Monster’ album. But there would be no ‘The Fame Monster’ if not for ‘The Fame’, and while all the songs on Gaga’s debut album have undoubtedly achieved iconic status, one song stands above the rest: ‘Poker Face’.

Poker Face

By Stephen Carlile - originally posted to Flickr as Lady Gaga, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7578659
Photo credit Stephen Carlile

While ‘Just Dance’ ended up being the lead single off of Gaga’s debut album, you’d be hard-pressed to look for a more iconic song in Gaga’s repertoire than ‘Poker Face’. The song was both a critical and commercial success, as it topped the charts in over 20 countries, including the United States, Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Business Insider reports that ‘Poker Face’ is also one of the world’s best-selling singles of all time, with a staggering 10 million units sold as of early 2019. Aside from the memorable tune, part of what made the song so popular is its cryptic lyrics. ‘Poker Face’ used symbols and references from the game of poker, which led both fans and critics on a wild goose chase to try and decode the metaphors.

So, what’s ‘Poker Face’ really about? Gaga shed some light on the meaning of the song in an interview with Barbara Walters, saying that the lyrics and references to Texas Hold’em were allusions to her bisexuality. It makes sense that she would pick this version of the game to create a best-selling song. A list of the most popular poker variations on partypoker puts Texas Hold’em at the number one spot, as it is the version that most players are familiar with. What’s more, this variation is also exciting and dramatic, which is why it is often the format used in TV and movie scenes. It’s similarly useful in the music industry, as Texas Hold’em and Gaga’s bisexuality are clearly referenced in the lyrics: “Love game intuition, play the cards with spades to start. And after he’s been hooked, I’ll play the one that’s on his heart.” Those lines imply that Gaga is putting up a facade for the lover that she references in the song.

Paved The Way For Stardom

By https://www.flickr.com/photos/andrea-wilson/ - https://www.flickr.com/photos/andrea-wilson/7979613909/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22805586
Photo Credit Andrea Wilson

Ten years on and the song’s popularity hasn’t waned. Many would go so far as to say that Gaga’s success can in large part be attributed to this song. Since its release, Gaga has been on several world tours and has starred in the remake of ‘A Star is Born’, establishing herself as one of the biggest names in show business. Gaga even had one of the most memorable performances in years at the Super Bowl LI halftime show, one of America’s biggest sporting events. She opened with ‘Poker Face’ and had the entire stadium singing and dancing along.

Riveting performances have truly become the norm for this superstar. And the attention she’s received is well-deserved, considering how she’s been going at breakneck speed since day one. Fans have been lucky enough to keep up from ‘Poker Face’ to ‘A Star Is Born’, and Gaga’s followers can take comfort in the fact that Mother Monster isn’t slowing down anytime soon.

About the author

There’s a lot of music out there - good music. At Essentially Pop our remit is that we cover music that deserves to be heard, with a particular focus on independent artists. That doesn't mean we won't cover your old favourites - rather we hope to give you some new favourites as well.

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