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?