Lady Gaga has already made a name for herself in the popular culture, drawing the commentary of nearly everyone including academics and other smart people, particularly with her recently released video collaboration with Beyonce, “Telephone”. What does it all mean? they’ve asked. “Deconstructions” and analysis have ran rampant on the interwebs to the benefit of Gaga, who has encouraged her fans to find the secret messages as she kisses a butch lesbian and mass poisons a diner’s clientele while she and Beyonce dance in US flag themed costumes and escape in Tarantino’s Pussy Wagon. See my previous post for some good commentary on the imagery.
I love Lady Gaga. I think she’s brilliant, and the way she’s crafted her persona and her image is something new and even daring. She’s an obviously attractive woman, but no more remarkable in “good looks” than a lot of women. A lot of her “looks” have her face completely hidden, and whether she’s wearing a giant diamond lobster on her forehead or covered in muppets, it’s clear she’s heavily invested in fashion yet not tied down by having to be “sexy”, even though at another turn she might be in a bathing suit writhing on the bars of a prison cell. She has taken the theme of woman as monster and ran with it. I love anyone who’s a little bit futuristic monster, and a whole lot subversive. I also love anyone who, when receiving a reward, plays into the cliché of award-winners thanking a higher power for their success, and mocks it, by thanking “God and the gays”.
There is another pop star that embraced the gays from day one, and among all the commentary on Gaga, there’s frequent mention of that icon, her music and music video imagery – Madonna. What has disturbed me is the refrain that Gaga is doing something that requires examination and analysis, and Madonna is not. Now, I’m a little bit older (JUST A LITTLE) than the average YouTube viewer or Gaga mega fan, and I’m here to attest that when Madonna started out and within a few years became arguable the most famous woman in the world, the anticipation of her fanbase and the buzz surrounding her next moves felt exactly like it feels surrounding Gaga.
I have to shout out to the internet that in fact Madonna started putting out a product that invited discussion and critique 30 years ago. From her days of Like A Virgin, though the amazing Like A Prayer, into her self-admittedly darker period of Erotica and the infamous Sex book, into the low-sales point of American Life and it’s original banned video about war and fashion, into her current leotard-wearing period and worldwide sold out stadium tour for Hard Candy, Madonna has been “pushing the envelope” (at one time her favorite interview phrase) . When a feminist who’s blogged opinions I deeply respect suggests that the video for “Love Game” is a representation of unapologetic female sexuality the likes of which she has never seen, I have to wonder how old she is. Because I have seen it before when it was called Burning Up, Open Your Heart, Express Yourself, and Justify My Love, to name a few.
Let us not forget that Gaga has been around for a few years and Madonna is going on three decades as a performer and much more than a provocateur. At age 50, and now a mother, Madonna has maintained legions of fans but, sadly, she’s never going to get the radio or tv time that a newer, younger act like Gaga is going to get. Nonetheless, there were “Madonna studies” at major universities before Gaga was even in high school. To say that any kind of ground work or even inspiration for something like a Lady Gaga in 2010 was not laid in the 80’s and 90’s by a few people, most notably The Queen of Pop, is the result of a failure to look at the history of pop culture and how Madonna affected it.
Gaga and Madonna have a lot in common, and no doubt are fans of each others work, as demonstrated by Madonna’s attendance at Gaga’s concerts and they’re skit together on SNL (even though it wasn’t that funny, it’s a show on which Madonna has appeared numerous times, and despite her flaws and lack of success as an actress, she has often demonstrated her knack for comedy, even if she does take herself a little seriously lately with the Kaballah nonsense). They’re both Italian, dubious blondes, women who challenge social norms and womanly roles, and achieved great fetes with their music videos. And though Madonna is not known for powerhouse vocals, they’re both first and foremost pop singer-songwriters at the end of the day. And they both want encourage their fans to live under the delusion that they, too, can be a fabulous superstar at the height of fame.
Anyway, Gaga, like Madonna, gets the joke. When rumors start in the press they play into it. Were Madonna and Sandra Bernhard sleeping together? Does Gaga have a penis? Neither confirmed or denied, which is great. As for their message in music video, they share something else in common -- they put a lot to digest out there. Some of it is the intentional representation of an idea. But I can't help but think, especially in the case of Gaga, she's putting some stuff out there that is just kind of wild and over the top, and when someone comes up with an explanation for it, she eats it up. It's inter-textual. Let the viewer derive a meaning when no meaning was there before they thought it up.
There’s a lot more to say about this, and I will do so but duty calls!
A lot has been going on in my life. I’ve reached new levels of poverty. I have mixed feelings about the health care reform bill. I feel insecure and have a million things to do not the least of which involves hardcore physical labor around the house. My yard looks like a scene from The Road. I haven’t been blogging much but I had to speak out for ole Madge Cicconne in these trying times. I’m going to start making videos for YouTube since I am not at all too old for that scene. Leave me comments and love me, dammit.