On this Cinco de Mayo, Lady GaGa releases another music video fraught with Christian/Catholic themes and imagery. “Judas” is a good song. The video is ho-hum: it’s nothing new.
Here are the things in the video we’ve seen from GaGa before:
What: GaGa dances in bikini with posse
Videos where we’ve seen it before: Telephone, Born This Way, Alejandro
What: GaGa looks longingly into camera for close-up
Videos where we’ve seen it before: Alejandro, Born This Way (to name just two)
What: Red, white, and blue with bandana outfit
Videos where we’ve seen it before: Telephone
What: GaGa in Catholic clergy clothes
Videos where we’ve seen it before: Alejandro
What: GaGa in bathtub
Videos where we’ve seen it before: Bad Romance
How many times does GaGa have to get her Madonna on before she branches out beyond the Catholic themes?
Here’s what you can expect from OH this month:
Yesterday, Technorati writer Tricia Weight posted an interview with British music journalist Paul Lester, author of a new biography on Lady GaGa called Looking for Fame – The Life of a Pop Princess. While I have absolutely no interest in his book, I do think Lester’s remarks at the end of the interview are particularly smart:
This is the point about Lady Gaga, there’s that phrase, “In the Kingdom of the Blind, the one-eyed man is King.” In this day and age, when there are simply no remotely interesting pop musicians, she seems quite interesting, but that’s because there’s nobody else.
If Lady Gaga had been around in 1982, when she would have had to have competed with Boy George and Marilyn and Adam Ant and Madonna, all these really flamboyant characters–I mean, right now, she’s the only one, but back then they were ten-a-penny.
If she’d have been around at the same time as those big, flamboyant rock stars like Mick Jagger and Rod Stewart and Donna Summer… if she’d have come in the late ’70s, the music scene was absolutely chock-full of really outrageous characters, from Johnny Rotten to Sid Vicious, to Poly Styrene, to Siouxsie Sioux–everybody was colorful and outrageous and made completely frank sexual statements and were really forthright and candid in talking about sex and drugs–Lady Gaga would just have been one of many. And she wouldn’t have made it.
But she makes it in 2010 because she’s the only one, pretty much. That’s probably a sad indictment of everybody else, but very fortunate for Lady Gaga.
Anyone following me on Twitter or Facebook may have noticed that lately I’ve been commenting to excess on Lady GaGa. This is not because I’m a super fan (or really a full-fledged fan, per se). Rather, inspired by a Houston Press blog post by Craig Hlavaty, I’ve been sort of studying GaGa–what she says about herself, how the media have latched onto her like an alien curiosity, how her little monster minions rapturously attend her shows and public appearances. I’ve inundated my waking life with GaGa info–archival YouTube footage, early performances, interviews, and music videos, this month’s Rolling Stone feature, Barbara Walters’ pre-Oscar interview, the recent interview on Larry King Live. I’ve even toyed with a couple of her songs on the piano (like Method acting: Method researching). It was while watching GaGa’s exchange with Larry King just now that I finally realized why I’ve become so fascinated by this whole GaGa trend: we’re witnessing a major cultural moment. If it’s not as significant as Beatlemania, it’s probably as significant as grunge.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and posit that Lady GaGa has spawned the most socially important development in music since Nirvana.
When I say “socially important,” I don’t mean that there’s necessarily something profound–emotionally, spiritually, politically, aesthetically, or intellectually–about the music or about the performer (although her lyrics are often so open-ended and her showmanship so bizarre that you could easily project onto it any level of depth that you wanted. In this sense, GaGa is the consummate narcissistic mirror for anyone who would identify with her). What I mean is that a sociological serendipity has occurred, and no matter where you look, you can’t avoid catching a glimpse of it. Trust me–I’ve tried.
GaGa is the least likely person since Kurt Cobain to have become an overnight international superstar. Just as a heroin-addicted, manic-depressive slacker from Aberdeen was an unlikely GenX revolutionary, so in an inverse correlation is an upper-middle-class, Upper East Side Catholic School girl usually not apt to become the idol of social outcasts–particularly not through disco/pop music that caters to mainstream audiences. Since when do “freaks” and misfits proclaim loyalty to candy-coated, digitally engineered pop? It’s as though the next generation of would-be Marilyn Manson fans have turned instead to a sensational young woman.
A primarily self-made star of GaGa’s origins is a first-time anomaly in this country. We’ve grown accustomed to rags-to-riches stories of hardship, divorce, abuse–take your pick–to the extent that, when someone from a relatively stable upbringing emerges, we doubt her authenticity. GaGa grew up comfortably, if not privileged. She attended the same school as Paris Hilton. She began waiting tables at 15 in order to supplement her relatively conservative allowance of $20 a week. She dropped out of Tisch at NYU to live in an allegedly roach-ridden apartment where she snorted coke, dated a metal drummer, and wrote music; at night she set hairspray ablaze as a stripper. Whether she sought out this lifestyle as a rebellion against her family’s economic background, as an idealized starving artist scenario, out of necessity, or out of self-expression, we can only speculate. She eventually worked her way up through East Village/Lower East Side music venues before blasting into supernova success within about three years. Had the self-professed freak always existed beneath the veneer of a completely normal-looking, reportedly studious girl, or did the girl cultivate her inner freak in downtown Manhattan nightclubs until the alter-personality took on a life of its own, and the normal girl found her true self in a long-lost, far more interesting Doppelgänger?
Have you noticed how she kind of crumples her left hand periodically during interviews, as though it’s seizing up on itself? Perhaps that’s her inner monster clawing to get out. Or perhaps it’s a bit of performance that’s meant to perpetuate the monster theme. Is it intentional? With GaGa, I find myself constantly asking that question. Really, how smart is she? Is she truly so self-aware, calculating, and brazen as to have manufactured a mini-Madonna with no shame of some of the borderline plagiarisms* that she commits? If the answer is yes, then she deserves credit for being precociously strategic at 24 years old. If the answer is no–if she is unaware of those elements of her work that seem copied, contrived–then she must be the most oblivious, self-absorbed 24-year-old in the music industry.x
Or maybe she’s a bit of both.
The fact that I’m even devoting thoughts and words to these questions means that GaGa has effectively hooked me and held my attention. If she’s selling a line of bullshit via her increasingly intellectual explanations of her work–in other words, if this is pseudo-intellectualism in eye-gauging high heels–she’s selling it very convincingly. But what if she really is as smart as she’s starting to seem? What if she really is as enigmatic as her incomprehensible outfits? She’d be like the second coming of Warhol. A genuine pop artist, if there ever was such a thing.
I believe that, 20 years from now, we will look back on 2009-2010–the GaGa Moment, if you will–in the same way that we remember the pivotal influence of 1991′s “Smells Like Teen Spirit“. That the current phenomenon came from well-to-do beginnings makes GaGa’s artistic success harder to swallow; how much slyer the music seems for going down like a spoonful of sugar.
*Watch Madonna’s music videos for “Vogue“ and “Justify My Love” and then watch Lady GaGa’s “Alejandro“. Visually there are so many similarities that I lost count. Also note the Catholic imagery in “Alejandro” and then recall that Madonna first raised eyebrows by turning religious ideas into double entendres with “Like a Virgin” and “Like a Prayer”.