I think we all know when the Gaga began to take hold.

It was a little more than a year and a half ago, in the summer of 2008, when “Just Dance” began to creep into radio play and echoed synth blew through our speakers and earbuds. That would be how we met the woman who we would all come to know and love — Lady Gaga.

Since that summer, the music scene has transformed into a glamorous but gritty playland with hair bows and disco sticks, and the world to most people has become a beautiful place. Her songs became anthems for a night of going out or a night of going at it — whatever your preference.

Regardless of who you are or how pretentious your taste in music may be (you know, if you’re still hanging on Conor Oberst’s every word, or if you’re “that friend” whose music collection ends with Dylan), you can’t deny the force that is Gaga. And with five consecutive No. 1 hits under her belt, you might as well go suck on a disco stick if you really want to argue with it.

Here’s the problem. For someone like Lady Gaga, armed with catchy tunes and pyrotechnic breasts, taking on the competition was like an act of guerrilla warfare: out of the blue and explosive. And rapid, too! Right when we were finally learning how many “po-po-po’s” were in the chorus of “Poker Face,” Gaga threw another grenade, entitled “Lovegame.”

And so on and so forth. But when you’ve reduced your competition to musical shrapnel and topped the charts time after time, what do you do? When you’re the talk of the town, be that talk in praise or in the hushed hermaphroditic rumors, what do you do next?

Well, if you’re in the frame of mind to be the next legend (read: slightly-to-totally insane) — the next Marilyn Monroe or Michael Jackson — then there’s only one thing you can do to ensure your legacy after a career peak: die.

Yes. If Lady Gaga is really serious about fame, if she really wants to make this thing long-term, then she’s best off by impaling herself with a disco stick and ending it. And if she had any kind of decent management team, they’d be telling her the exact same thing.

A totally insane assessment? It’s not like it hasn’t happened before.

First things first: why is Lady Gaga famous? Like Michael Jackson, Buddy Holly or Elvis before her, the music is a priority. Seeing a Lady Gaga on the street doesn’t mean much without “Bad Romance” on full blast behind her. But unlike the pop-tarts that have come and gone, Gaga has legitimate talent with music. Seeing her live proves her voice is not just a manipulated sound in a studio — but a full set of pipes that kick ass best when paired with nothing more than a piano.

But that’s just one facet to the bubble-clad creature that is Lady Gaga. Although music is the priority, it’s the freak factor that comes secondhand to Gaga: the peroxide blonde hair, fixed into bows or giant sunbursts that double as sunhats; the music videos, where she’s killed her boyfriend, bluffed mankind with her muffin and was sold to a member of the Russian mafia in a bidding war before sexing him into oblivion; and, for the love of God, the clothes.

From her persistent war on pants to the iconic disco ball bra to that unforgettable red lace getup she wore to the 2009 VMA’s that covered everything and nothing at once, Lady Gaga knows how to raise eyebrows. And how to stun your grandmother into a perpetual loop of gasps and “Why I never!”

The freak factor is a dangerously potent thing. Once you’ve gone to the next level, there is no going back.

Which is why she should just say “to hell with it” and leap off the nearest building, or go out with a highly stylized, choreographed bang.

And if such a thing happened? Well, aside from mass hysteria and a nationwide mob of Gaga costumes on the following Halloween, Lady Gaga would become iconic. Forever young. You get it.

But there’s a catch to all of this — it’s not just the act of dying itself that catapults a star-in-training to the big leagues; it’s the timing in which it happens that counts. Think of it as an expiration date. The sooner it happens after that big break, the better you are. For Lady Gaga, now is the prime time.

Of course, not every music icon bit the dust before their time. Madonna is 11 albums in and still going strong. And her window to expire has expired ? actually, she may have had a few, her most recent one being after Music — and instead of going out, Madonna is trying to go up. But in a world when you’re only as good as your last record, a slight slump turns you from the pinnacle into a punch line. (Remember American Life?)

In other words, the pressure is even greater. It’s not only the fight against the competition, but also the fight against yourself. Madonna is still proving herself, but as more time passes and she ages, it’s a matter of if she has the momentum to keep going.

Since Madonna is still going strong, let’s talk Michael Jackson. Even after a career tainted with legal issues, plastic surgery mishaps and jokes about Neverland (the magical place where never doesn’t necessarily mean “no”), Michael Jackson’s status as a legend remains intact after his sudden passing this summer.

In his case, timing has everything to do with it. With 50 sold-out shows lined up in London this summer, the fate of Michael Jackson’s reputation as a performer was hanging by a thread. And given his oddball behavior throughout the years and the general aura of weirdness that hung around him ever since he admitted to sharing a bed with little boys, he had quite a tough hill to climb. Dying just before the concerts were to begin may have been the best career move for Michael Jackson. As shocking and unfortunate as his passing was, it salvaged his status as a legend.

Now back to Gaga. With five No. 1 hits in a row under her belt, Lady Gaga has proved she’s more than a fad. But now is the time to figure out where she will go from here, and how she’ll handle the fame she so adores. It’s either up or out, but knowing Lady Gaga, she’ll probably find her own way to prove she’s too weird to live, and too rare to die.

Cailley Hammel is a junior majoring in journalism and communication arts. Pissed off she didn’t talk more about disco sticks? E-mail her at [email protected]