Why Is Everyone Gaga For Gaga?

No really, why does everyone care so much? I’ll cop to having a healthy amount of Gaga on my ipod. “Just Dance” is catching, “Poker Face” is a great song, I could go on but we get the picture.

Judy McGrath, chairman and CEO of MTV Networks, said this of Gaga:

“She reminds me of all the great pop women who have preceded her and, at the same time, none of them. Pop tends to mow through people quickly, but Gaga is still at the beginning of where she is going.”

I get the reasons to love her: catchy songs, great showmanship, amazingly complex videos, fashion muse and trend-setter. Her influences cast a wide-enough net to capture nearly all contemporary music and art fans: Grace Jones, Madonna, Isabella Blow, Leigh Bowery, Freddie Mercury, Daphne Guinness, Klaus Nomi, Led Zeppelin, Patti Smith, Boy George, Carol King, the New York Dolls, Prince, John Lennon, Andy Warhol, and David Bowie. It doesn’t matter who is doing the editorializing, pretty soon Gaga’s name is listed amongst Yoko Ono, Matthew Barney and Marina Abramović. Her close relationships with the late, great Alexander McQueen equally defined her early years and his final years. Now her working relationship with Giorgio Armani’s Armani Privé is blazing the trail for her next phase. Then there’s her tireless devotion to her fans and the LGBT movement.

So, yes, I get it. I get the appeal. I understand how she become as Vanity Fair put it: “a hero of the gay community – an audience always appreciative of outrage, flamboyance, and fashion-obsessed stars.”

I even agree with most of what she had to say about herself to Vogue recently: “Speaking purely from a musical standpoint, I think I am a great performer. I am a talented entertainer. I consider myself to have one of the greatest voices in the industry. I consider myself to be one of the greatest songwriters. I wouldn’t say that I am one of the greatest dancers, but I am really quite good at what I do.”

She is right, she is a talented singer. She easily out sings most of the women clogging up pop music today, she even out sings Madonna. She is right, she is a terrible dancer. But she is wrong about her songwriting. Of course, she is a smart songwriter, she knows how to craft good pop music, but what makes them great isn’t their substance, it’s their lack thereof. Lyrics so thin and malleable as to be easy donned by her fans. Gaga, the machine, only works on the fuel of her fans embodying her and vice versa. The ease at which her lyrics can mean anything and everything is precisely what makes them popular and good. If Katy Perry wrote “Bad Romance” it probably wouldn’t even be released as a single. Gaga’s songs work for her only because her persona works for the fans.

Her greatest gift is her shape-shifting – musically and physically. She is every fantasy her fans want her to be; equal parts hard-edged club kid, etherial virgin, harajuku girl, fashion trend-setter, monster, drag queen, gay icon, outlandish, etc. She is simultaneously a sage woman and wide-eyed child. A product of those who came before her and their more talented offspring. She’s hardly attractive. Petite, like most performers (she’s perhaps 5’1″ or 5’2″), capable of being a canvas for each reincarnation required to stay current. But she is not a beauty. She has a face like a Jan van Eyk portrait, a figure like a prepubescent child. Her androgyny is purposeful, I think, her gender purposefully neutered. There is nothing sexy about Gaga. No matter the ensemble, she is not a doyenne of sexuality. But is this not her schtick exactly?

Her influence on women in music today is noticeable. Beyoncé has performed in two provocative videos with Gaga and is now a beaming Gaga fan. Christina Aguilera professed to knowing nothing of Gaga two years ago, but is now showing striking influences in her music and look (the ill-advised and poorly received Bionic). Katy Perry criticized a Gaga video only to back-peddle and profess her like for Gaga (as well as her influence in the oddly asexual “California Gurls” video). But what are we all getting out of it? Is pop music better because of Gaga? Or is she merely another layer of self-satisfying hype for a machine that already takes itself too seriously?

Madonna beats back the criticism of her chilly, hyper-choreographed career all the time. But at least when Madonna set a crucifix on fire in a music video she was using the iconography of her pop music to get at larger issues. Gaga flashes a crucifix in her (clearly Madonna redux) “Alejandro” video just to flash a crucifix. At a recent performance at MOCA saw her performing with a Damien Hirst designed piano. The irony is not lost on me and it shouldn’t be lost on her “little monsters.”

Had Gaga come out and declared herself the female, musical Jeff Koons I would be trumpeting her name from my rooftop, for that is truly what she is: she is the epitome of the ready-made. She is kitsch, schtick, ready-made. All fluff, little substance. Her success depends on her constantly re-shaping the Jet-Puff that is her sound and appearance. That’s not to say that Jet-Puff isn’t a great thing, or that Gaga isn’t playing the game with the most finely crafted skills out there. But is but one cog in a much larger machine. She is just another pop act. Granted, she’s a pop act in hundreds of thousands of dollars of custom-made couture, but she is just an act. If Gaga has accomplished nothing else, she’s beat pop music at their own game: she transitions before it makes her. And for that, I guess, she deserves a round of applause.


Gaga refused to give approval to Weird Al for this parody. Go figure, huh?



Filed under Culture, Music

10 responses to “Why Is Everyone Gaga For Gaga?

  1. Menzies

    “Had Gaga come out and declared herself the female, musical Jeff Koons I would be trumpeting her name from my rooftop, for that is truly what she is: she is the epitome of the ready-made. She is kitsch, schtick, ready-made.”

    I think this nails it – Gaga uses the tropes of the pop world against it, and she’s gotten really successful with it. She’s the essence of a full-persona act, as you say, having no substance but sacrificing it for obsessive attention to style.

    On a total side note, I had to look up who the hell Jeff Koons was. You teach me a lot of things, m’dear.

    • Thank you for the comment. I appreciate it!

    • Here’s one of my tweets from a discussion on Twitter with people about Gaga, I think it speaks to precisely what you bring up in your much-appreciated comment:

      “Her success is dependent on very hazy facts. She plastered her fan’s art on her Birkin so they weren’t upset that she owns a bag they could never afford. But what about every custom-made couture costume? No fan can fully be her. This idea that she’s her fans is a double edged sword: it keeps them aspiring to be her and embody her while also keeping her persona just enough out of their reach so that she never loses her marketability. It is actually fairly genius in it’s construction.”

      Thanks again.

      • Menzies

        Agreed, I think that’s exactly what Gaga does – it’s entirely a full-court press on her fans. Even something like “Born This Way” seems calculated less to be an actual sort of “anthem” and more to inspire them to be as “liberated” or “real” or whatever-the-hell they think she is. She can’t break loose of that persona, though, or the jig is up and her entire act falls to pieces.

        That said, this is a bit awkward, but you actually tweeted that at me in the first place. Hi! *waves*

  2. Elizabeth

    While I can appreciate Lady Gaga’s artistry I don’t think she’s entirely original. In my women’s studies class we discussed how she takes aspects of sub-cultures and uses them as her own (think drag culture).

    A lot of her work seems cliche, and repetitive. Her new song “Born this way” was probably meant to sound like an anthem for individuality and acceptance but I just felt like it was contrived. Then again I’m always highly critical of pop songs and their meanings – or lack of meaning, most are shallow at best.

    There’s also the fact that Lady Gaga herself is a persona. It’s a part that Stefani Germanotta plays. I just don’t think you can truly be genuine when you’re not actually being yourself. Then again I could be wrong.

  3. Jim

    I disagree with you entirely about gaga having no substance. Your example of the alejandro video was not just for ‘shock’ it was to be interpreted- as per all art- in the way the viewer wants to. It was mostly a statement of the catholic churches anti-gay stance, AND if you had wrote this article twenty odd years ago- I’m sure you’d of seen no symbolism in what madonna was doing burning the cross (which is what? metaphorically depicting her conflict in faith- an idea and concept that has plagued men and women alike for centuries- and no one person can patent REGARDLESS of pop culture status?). I also disagree that she is the ‘ready made’- you said it it yourself, gaga is no sex symbol, yet tell me- then how is she a sequel or repetition of the ready made ala madonna- when such a performer WAS marketed as such? Gaga takes elements from pop culture and takes it a step further. She knows what she wants to do, she knows how she will stay relevant and interesting and she does it- learning from her predecessors. The other pop acts today? They are all but a face. A face to a record label that just needed a pretty voice. That is not what gaga is- I again dispute that you say she has no song writing capability, I pray you listen to her ballads- ‘You and I’, ‘Speechless’ and ‘Brown eyes’ –marvels in the way of songwriting [particularly from a pop singer]. But that isn’t to say she doesn’t just create simplistic pop melodies that are catchy, she does that, and she does it for a reason- to get people listening. She knows what her audience wants, and she plays to that desire. Not everybody is going to like it, But she knows that it will be successful, and keep allowing her to do what she loves doing- Making music, making art, making a stage show- and making a god damn fucking amazing performance. And all the more beneficial? With that success comes a voice, a voice that she god damn uses to advocate gay rights, civil causes and the support of charities and people in need. She is the defining popstar of our generation- we just don’t realise it yet. In ten years time- the name Lady gaga will forever be cemented into musical history.

    • I think you might want to brush up on what a ready-made is and what kitsch is. You’re in luck, I’ve written a post on the topic: A Commercialized Modern Life. You can find it under the art tab at the top of the page.

  4. Ari

    Your post, while well thought out and well written, says nothing about GaGa and everything about your perceptions of her.

    GaGa is a true performance artist – her life is the experience she creates for herself.

    How we who observe and interpret that artistic statement says far more about ourselves than it does GaGa.

    If its not to your taste thats a fair statement. But to project your own psyche onto someone elses art and claim that your interpretation of that art is Truth is unclear thinking

    It also says much that your idea of a petite slim woman is unsexy and prepubescent. Not that its your opinion as much as your assumption of your personal tastes being the same as every other observers personal taste.

  5. I am actually sort of offended that Lady Gaga is refusing the Weird Al parody.

    Frankly, the Lady Gaga I love(d) would have done a duet of it with him dressed as a human Jellybean and made a matching costume for him that would let him do the high-kicks he loves so much.

    But yeah, you summed it up. As a pop-o-matic, she’s brilliant. When she gets all melodramatic and super-serious pretentious and ‘this anthem is too important to parody’, it ruins it all for me.

  6. RoseLizenberg

    This was a great read! Your reference to Jeff Koons was spot-on. Im asking myself why I hadn’t made that connection myself. Leigh Bowery is really the only thing that pops in my head whenever I see Gaga in one of her more outrageous get ups.

    At the risk of pissing off your more gaga-friendly readers, I have to say: as much as I enjoy listening to Gaga’s music, I can’t help but think “2nd rate madonna wannabe” when I see her on the teevee. She just tries too hard and it’s ANNOYING. She wants so badly to be a gay icon, what she doesn’t realize is that a status like that happens organically, over time. Speaking of gay icons – i think that term is bandied about WAY too often making it lose some of its meaning. Gaga is not going to be a gay icon 2 years into her career. We can discuss this in another 10 years. Yes, the gays may adore Gaga, they may even love her. But love and adoration does not an Icon make. The gays also loved Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam for a time, but I wouldn’t exactly call that band iconic.

    Gaga has A LOT of work to do before she can be a true gay icon. She has to prove herself. Until then, she’s just another pop star who sticks out among her peers because she looks weird.
    Madonna, on the other hand, has had every single studio album she has ever released, debut and #1 on the charts in just about every country in the free world. For three decades now, she has churned out hit single after hit single, with accompanying videos equally enthralling (for the most part). She has donated millions of dollars over the years to the LGBT community in various ways, lent her name to countless AIDS benefits, and has employed god knows how many back up dancers of the homo-variety. SHE is a true gay icon. Lady Gaga has alot of work to do.

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