Whenever I hear about Lady Gaga or one or her songs, I think of a line from the Broadway musical, "Jelly's Last Jam" about the life of Jelly roll Morton.
"There was one messenger, who came to believe that the message was him..."
Lady Gaga is, in my opinion, a living contradiction. Her in your face, no apologies, no retreat, reverberating rainbow persona has the appeal of a highway accident. Millions of people, whether they be fans or haters, are enthralled by the endless variations of fashion, performance, Pop-musical genre, and neo-futuristic sex appeal that Lady Gaga offers. Her outlandish public appearances can be likened to that of a Circus concession stand that sells nothing, but cotton candy in any color you choose. Her art becomes visual white noise that demands a higher ante with each ensuing performance. The inherent problem to Lady Gaga's vita d'arte is that her innovative product is lacking in originality. The Haus of Gaga is nothing more than a collage of pop-culture references and influence put together like 2 songs that have been "mashed" by the use of combining tracks and overdubbing vocals. When it comes to the end product of Lady Gaga's imagination, it is at best derivative of her interests and at worst, Pop-culture plagiarism on a grand scale.
A few nights ago Lady Gaga took on a alter ego called, Joey Calderone who looks like a conglomerate of Elvis, Danny Zucko, and Ralph Macchio with a fair attempt at a blue collar New York accent. She was totally committed to the part and from what I have seen and read, did not break character. Unfortunately, it all fell a bit flat and to quote the Bare naked ladies, "it's all be done before". Annie Lennox dressed up as an Elvis-like performer at an awards show back in 1984. Andy Kaufman, who could be considered one of the finest performance art comedians, invented Tony Clifton and obviously David Bowie became Ziggy Stardust in the early 70's.
Lady Gaga has been a staunch supporter and outspoken advocate for the gay community, especially around the subject of equal/civil rights with same sex marriage as one of the key issues. Her dressing up as someone else, let alone a person of the opposite gender may have been an attempt at bringing to light the fact that we are all people despite our sexual orientation which is an admirable message that I personally agree with, but if it was also performance art, then it was an inarticulate attempt that comes across as attention seeking. You don't convert the non-believers by slapping them in the face and you don't preach to the choir if you want to make headway in your cause célèbre.
Annie lennox in 1984
Tony Clifton/Andy Kaufman
Ziggy Stardust/David Bowie
Back when the Gaga/Beyonce song "Telephone" was released, all I heard about was how shockingly wonderful the video was. At first I refused to see it, but soon relented. Once again the entire video was packed with pop-culture cliches ranging from hardcore prison sexploitation to the obvious "Kill Bill" references complete with Pulp Fiction-esque dialogue and finished off with the glossy color pallate of a comic book graphic novel. Well, that was 10 minutes I won't get back. Who was this for other than her fans? Where is the innovation? Where is the originality?
All that I got from the video was that Lady Gaga is an ok dancer and isn't shy about showing off her...assets. That's not completely true. I understood the underlying messages that there are sub-cultures out there who are filled with people like the rest of us even if their interests differ from that of the the average Joe and Lady Gaga attempts to convey this message while also pushing the limits of what the main stream will accept . The problem is that she may be doing a disservice to the groups that she supports. Once again, those who are not cut from the Gaga cloth will in all likelihood, shun her performance, in whatever medium that may be, and blame the sub-culture that she is drawing attention to. Perhaps Lady Gaga is following in the footsteps of "John Doe" in the movie S3VEN by hitting them over the head with a hammer rather than tapping them on the shoulder.
Video for "Telephone
A few months ago I was driving back from the grocery store and had the radio on (no I don't have an ipod dock in my Highlander) and heard the song, "Born this way" during the chorus. I didn't know at the time it was Lady Gaga, but with in seconds of listening I found myself humming the chorus to Madonna's, "Express yourself". Now before you say,
"Duhhhh. Barber!! That was in the news along time ago, you're not telling us anything we don't already know (unless of course, you don't know the song or any of the other references above, then I am so just shut the fuck up)."
Once I found out that this was the new Lady Gaga song, I chuckled to myself and said,
Once again, she was appropriating not only musical themes from Madonna, but the core of Madonna's style as well. There is the spoken word section much like in the song "Vogue" (Dietrich and DiMaggio...) as well as the aspect of both Madonna and Lady Gaga being in charge. You may have also noticed the obvious commentary on stereotypical gender roles in that Madonna is the CEO/slave driver of a pseudo factory, while Lady Gaga gives birth to a gun resembling a phallus that is evil. Men=Evil in the world.
On a side note the beginning of the video reminds me of the fake commercial that Grace Jones' character stars in during the movie, "Boomerang"
I read quite a few articles on Lady Gaga in writing this blog entry. A few quotes of hers that stood out to me were from an interview that she gave to Rolling Stone back in 2009. She was describing her tour at the time:
The tour, which has been billed as the "first ever" pop-electro opera, is "very, very forward, very, very innovative," the singer insists. And that aesthetic, she explains, has been captured in the very design of the show.
"The theatrics and story elements are in the style of an opera. Imagine if you could take the sets of an opera, which are very grand and very beautiful, and put them through a pop-electro lens," she told Rolling Stone about the tour (Oct 22 2009)
Now, before I start ripping into this little nugget, I will have to say that it would be unfair to take these words and super impose my interpretation on them as if I know exactly what she is trying to articulate. I will have to tread lightly...
I feel as though these quotes highlight Lady Gaga's ignorance in her description of "new", "innovative", or "style", whether that be visual or musical. What the hell is a Pop-electro opera and how is that new or innovative? The Who wrote "Tommy" in 1969 which was considered a Rock Opera. Rush wrote "2112" which was a concept album in that it had a storyline of sorts with musical themes to represent characters and aspects of their personalities. For God's sake, even Styxx did something similar in the early 80's on the album "Kilroy was here", with the ever popular song, Mr. Roboto.
Now, to give you a little insight, if you haven't read any of my previous entries, I originally aspired to become an opera singer. Ultimately, I stopped as I felt that I was not good enough to pursue it, but in all my years of being involved in music, one way or another, I have come to know quite a bit about opera and what it is known for. One could say that it is very grand and beautiful, but the sets aren't really what opera is truly known for. Opera sets have only become important in that genre over the past 30 years as a result of the emphasis being placed on the visual aspect above everything else performance based. That doesn't mean that elaborate sets and costumes weren't around before that, but there was much more of a suspension of disbelief and the grand manner were byproducts of the wonderful sounds coming from the soloists, the orchestra and the large choruses which incidentally are being reduced in numbers due to financial problems (possibly because of the cost from those grand fucking sets).
I find it ironically disgusting that a pop-singer never mentions singing within the description of a Pop-opera performance. In the end, it's all about the singing when you are a singer, isn't it?
Sorry, what the hell was I thinking? A singer talking about singing, what are you insane?
One could say that Lady Gaga is an entertainer who wears many hats. One of those hats she claims to wear is that of a "Performance Artist" although I would say that she's more Shock Jock than artist. To me, performance artists can convey their point of view in strange and unorthodox manners that challenge the audience and often leave them uneasy. The artist may often use loud and confrontational avenues, as Lady Gaga does, but they have subtle and quiet techniques at their disposal as well. The audience becomes the canvas and the performance artist incorporates our senses to create a chiaroscuro of response like the painter uses a range of colors to create the illusion of depth and motion. It is this interplay of big and little variants that capture the audience's attention and hold it for the duration of the performance in order to express the artist's vision. If you only have 1 or 2 gears to shift between then the performance, no matter how grand, will be flat. Shock and awe are not, in my opinion, the end result of art in any form. Those are, but instruments in the overall design of the machine used to create a performance which apparently Lady Gaga is unaware of. As I stated earlier, most everything she does is over the top, in your face, knock you off your feet bright. The Haus of Gaga has the subtlety of a 12 inch cock sticking out of a glory hole in the men's restroom.
Now, I was taught that if you can't say anything nice then don't say anything at all. That old adage doesn't really apply to this blog entry as I haven't said anything all that mean about Lady Gaga or her fans, but just for those who may disagree...
...I think that the overall message of what Lady Gaga's music and performances convey is positive which can't be said for most. She is a strong supporter of gay rights which is a sad commentary on the part of society that doesn't view the subject of same sex marriage as a civil rights issue. Lady Gaga has a lot of balls to go out and do that voodoo that she do. I think it is a necessity that we have performers along her lines in every generation, whether they be original and innovative or derivative and a rehash of times gone by. As Hippocrates said, "Ars longa, vita brevis (translated into art lasts forever, but artists die and are forgotten). If there is one reason why I would applaud Lady Gaga it would be that she helps to fill a void in the area of confrontation in Pop-culture which is mostly devoid of critical thinking, even if she muddies the waters.
For me, Lady Gaga is like a chocolate statue. Sweet and ornate on the outside, but hollow on the inside. Her musical compositions are like that of a Beatles tribute band that writes the songs they think John, Paul, George, and Ringo would've written had they stayed together. It doesn't even offer some interesting musical twist as a band like The White Stripes' rock inspired riffs or Matthew Sweet's "Girlfriend" (which when I heard it made me think I was listening to a Beatle's remake that I had been previously unaware of.).
Lady Gaga's songs not only sound like cheap rip offs of the Glam Dance Pop 80's Bohemian Techno New Age Underground Club Kid scene, but they almost plagarize the musical composition that they admire, which can also be said of her fashions which vary between Madonna, Boy George, Cher, David Bowie, Courtney Love and so on. She consumes that which influences her and then refashions it into a dress comparable to "Buffalo Bill" from the movie Silence of the Lambs. She works tirelessly at hiding who she really is behind artistic mediums. It brings to mind the sun glass wearing Michael Jackson of 1983 who was deathly afraid to talk more than a few broken sentences. As we now know, he shunned his appearance and wished to reconstruct, literally and figuratively, himself into a new person. I wonder if Lady Gaga even knows who she is anymore or if she ever did.