June 16th, 2011 | Published in Feature
A Vivoscene Feature Series by Marin Nelson
The privilege of the rock star has been this: no one gives a damn what they look like. As long as the music’s good, they’ll sell records, get laid, and the world can continue its pirouette. So what happens when the natural order is inverted? The performer is blown into demigod-like proportions (to the point where – admit it – men would dissolve into a trembling puddle of insecurity at the prospect of sex) and the music is…just there, an afterthought, completely secondary to the spectacle. Welcome to the twilight zone of the 21st century, presided over by none other than Lady Gaga.
Normally this whole spectacle clutch would only be a problem if said artist had no talent to speak of (see Ke$ha) – this isn’t the case with Gaga. It would be nearsighted not to give Gaga her due: she’s intelligent, well-spoken and innovative; she’s a fashion icon; she writes her own music, she sings powerfully and she sings live! But most of all, she’s a self-perpetuating marketing mastermind.
Here are some Lady Gaga fun facts: Her favourite colour is lavender, she’s 25 years old and was the first artist to reach 1 billion views on YouTube; she has over 38 million Facebook fans, and hers was the first Twitter account to hustle the coveted 10 million followers. How does she do it? She engages her fans, posting personal photos backstage or tousle-haired in bed on her iPhone – she interacts with her “little monsters” (read her “best-marketing-assets”) like they were her friends, and she insists that they are. And they insist that they are.
Leading up to the release of Born This Way, she launched campaigns and initiatives, most notably, with Google Chrome, iTunes, VEVO, Starbucks, HBO, and FarmVille – yes, on your virtual farm, you could grow diamond-crusted crops and glam-out your sheep in rhinestones and studs.“You’re on the right tractor, baby, you can farm this way!”
Lady Gaga reflects our need for consumption and interaction, just as Perez Hilton has made an (inhumane, devoid-of-substance) empire on the consumption of celebrities. We seem to have a need to be possessed, and affirmed, by something (seemingly) greater than ourselves. Oddly enough, this seems to contradict the message that Gaga is trying to send. We should look within ourselves for inspiration – be our own “superstar” – but everyone seems to be occupied with looking at her.
The following video is an example of that excess. Watch as Gaga enters, straddles an alabaster mannequin of herself, sticks her fingers down her throat, and vomits what appears to be sparkle-spiked Gatorade onto said self-mannequin. It’s not a music video, a promo or an ad per se – it’s an interlude that plays during her Monster Ball tour. Interpret it as Gaga as a piece of art, being constructed and manipulated – dressed, undressed, puked on. Is this entertaining? Maybe, if you’re into that kind of thing. But, more importantly, is it absolutely mystifying? Yes.
Oh yeah, the music. In a recent interview, Gaga explains that when she was young, she would spend hours writing poetry. Clearly her time as a prodigious youth was well spent, considering the amount of time it took her to compose her title song, Born This Way.
I wrote Born This Way in 10 fucking minutes, and it is a completely magical message song. And after I wrote it, the gates just opened, and the songs kept coming. It was like an immaculate conception.
Hell, she has Deepak Chopra wrapped around her little finger, or paw, or whatever. He has called her music “exquisite” and her song-writing “reminiscent of The Beatles”. If you listen closely, you can hear a resounding “Errr…?” to that interpretation. Deepak Chopra: Spiritual guide extraordinaire, astute music listener? Is he referring to the same Beatles who wrote The White Album? Perhaps Gaga chooses to expound her metaphors visually (see the Grammy’s egg-stunt, meant to signify “rebirth”) rather than in her lyrics, which are easily digestible and in-your-face. Here’s a selection from “Electric Chapel” from Born This Way:
My body is sanctuary
My blood is pure
You want me bad
I think you’re cool
But I’m not sure
Don’t be such a holy fool
I need something more from you
It’s not about sex or champagne
You hardly fool
If you want me
Meet me at Electric Chapel
If you want me
Meet me at Electric Chapel
If you wanna steal my heart away
Meet me, meet me baby in a safe place
Come on meet me
In Electric Chapel
Watch: Electric Chapel
As dance music, it meets every criterion; it’s catchy as hell, and has an addictive, stabbing bass – but has she really fooled us into believing that she’s god’s gift to music? Gaga is self-made, but not self-preserved. Her Haus of Gaga (behind-the-scenes creative team) directs and assembles her ornate, gruesome, ethereal self – never re-creating the same look. This is not to be confused with her marketing team, a well-oiled machine.
She does have something to offer – her voice. Although she has limited range in her commanding voice, what she lacks as a vocalist, she makes up for by vocalizing values close to her heart. She’s created a mantra of empowerment for the LGBT community via her influence. If Lady Gaga didn’t have a heartfelt message, she might as well just be Courtney Love parading around in, well, everything. Even if you have to stare at the ground to refrain from rolling your eyes to the lyrics of Born This Way, you can’t argue the message. It’s recycled and repackaged, but clearly not exhausted. And if it inspires her fans, then what the hell – give’r, Gaga.
One of my greatest art works is the art of fame. I’m a master of fame…I art direct every moment of my life.
There’s just no denying that Lady Gaga is a performance artist. She has her hand in fashion, art, social media and music. But it might be possible that she’s flooded her own market with herself. When there’s so much spectacle, it becomes nearly impossible to focus on why she, assumably, entered the industry: the music.
“Gaga is a lie.”, “Music is a lie.”, “I profusely lie.” and most recently to Anderson Cooper: “What artists do wrong is they lie, and I don’t lie. I’m not a liar…People take me both too seriously, and not seriously enough”. We get it – she’s a complex paradox. Lady Gaga is many things. Stefani Germanotta, a 25 year old New York native, a self-proclaimed freak, and a hot topic – one that can be argued endlessly, to her satisfaction and gain. So, in the immortal words of David Bowie:
Fame makes a man take things over
Fame lets him loose, hard to swallow
Fame puts you there where things are hollow
Next week : Our Women in Music series continues with The Unsung Heroines of New Music here.
Check out our other articles in this series:
Women In Music: Part Three ‘The Soul Songstress’ here