Lady Gaga bumps Oprah down the Forbes list

During the week of Oprah's last ever TV chat show, Lady Gaga moves into the number-one position on Forbes magazine's Celebrity Power List.

Entertainment-US-Internet-music-Gaga,ADVANCER, by Michael Thurston
(FILES) US singer Lady Gaga leaves the set of Canal Plus TV show  "Le grand journal" during the 64th Cannes Film Festival on May 11, 2011 in Cannes.  Pop provocateur Lady Gaga unveils her second full-length album this week, three years after taking the music world by storm -- but while sales will likely be huge, early reviews are mixed  AFP PHOTO / MARTIN BUREAU
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The Fame Monster shows no sign of losing her powers. In a showbiz week that was supposed to be full of celebrations marking Oprah Winfrey's last ever TV chat show, she was overwhelmed by sound of the Lady Gaga machine effortlessly shifting through the gears. In advance of the release on Monday of her second album, Born This Way, the star arrived at one gig in a gold coffin, sporting a fake pregnant belly. She tweeted a picture of herself cosying up to Justin Timberlake, setting the gossip magazine machine ablaze. And on Wednesday, Winfrey received the final kick in the teeth. Forbes magazine placed Lady Gaga in the number-one position in its Celebrity Power List, knocking the US host off the top spot for only the third time in seven years.

Judging by the rather convoluted way in which Forbes audits celebrities for their top 100, one suspects the Power List is more concerned with grabbing headlines than specifically pinpointing who is and isn't a powerful celebrity - or what such power means. After all, according to this list, the golfer Tiger Woods is still the eighth most powerful celebrity in the world - despite not winning a tournament since 2009, being dumped by some of his sponsors after his well-publicised misdemeanours and generally looking a bit grumpy about his swing.

Still, the Celebrity Power List is an interesting exercise in that it isn't purely concerned with income, like most of Forbes's other lists designed to track the rich and famous. It also takes into consideration media visibility - a star's exposure in print, television, radio, online and social media - and feeds the data through complex computer programs to come up with the results.

The fact Lady Gaga came out on top isn't so much a confirmation of her star power (although the shockingly obvious product placement in her videos tells its own story) as it is a signal of how modern celebrity is changing. As Dorothy Pomerantz says in the Forbes article announcing this year's winners and losers, garnering influence now means that having a grasp of social media's benefits and reach is a must.

So Gaga is top not just because her Monster Ball tour was the most financially successful undertaking by a debut artist ever, but because she has cajoled her army of online fans into believing in what she does and stands for. She has 32 million Facebook "friends" who love the way this mainstream pop star appears to speak to confused, alienated teenagers and cool kids alike. Her 10 million Twitter followers even have a name - Little Monsters - and it's these people who powered the recent single Born This Way into the record books, downloading it one million times in just five days.

It's not all bad news for the old-school entertainers, though - Oprah Winfrey is still at number two and Elton John at number five. But perhaps their time is coming to a gentle end, replaced by teenage juggernauts such as Justin Bieber. The 17-year-old is number three in the Forbes chart and, as Pomerantz says, "if this were 10 years ago, Bieber would still be paying his dues in small clubs and schools, but thanks to the internet, he's a sensation."

It's an interesting assertion because the internet certainly did exist 10 years ago. But in 2001, Britney Spears might have been the most searched-for person on the web, but she still relied on releasing music, touring and the odd Pepsi commercial to keep her currency high. Essentially, she existed before Facebook, Twitter or, indeed, iTunes and YouTube - and these days, celebrity is achieved by being constantly accessible and meticulously interacting with a fan base. Bieber wasn't discovered at a talent show: his family were canny enough to upload a video of him singing as a 12-year-old to YouTube, and they continued to feed his burgeoning fan base with new material that could be commented on. His third single, Baby, now holds the YouTube record of a frankly incredible 500 million views.

Such direct celebrity-to-fan interaction is a powerful asset, not least because it can be exploited again and again. So it's interesting to see Simon Cowell at number nine on this list. He might not be the most enthusiastic tweeter himself, but he certainly knows how to ensure his shows and artists maximise their potential online.

And what did he say on the eve of the US The X Factor (in an interview conducted entirely on Twitter)?

"Would love to find the new Lady Gaga".

Bet he would.