LADY GAGA IS USHERING IN A NEW, FAR MORE REFRESHING, ERA OF POP
I am an outsider to pop. In fact, for years pop music has done nothing but frustrate me and leave me despondent and dismayed by the state of mainstream culture. “I Gotta Feeling” by the Black Eyed Peas makes me nauseous and the sound of Taylor Swift’s voice has the potential to turn me violent. From the moment I received my first Rancid tape ten years ago, I’ve always looked at pop music culture as something too stale and too safe. But then I heard “Paparazzi.”
Lady GaGa has taken the groove-sensibility of Michael Jackson, the paradigm-setting antics of Madonna and the in-your-face bravado (and vibrato) of Freddie Mercury to set a new standard for pop music. She has brought risk back into the radio waves and two smash-hit albums in one year is her proof that it paid off.
The Fame established her presence and its infectious off-shoot, The Fame Monster, took her revolution a step forward. With her musical talent and a platinum production team behind her, she could have been just another pop star following an established fill-in-the-blank formula for success. Instead, she’s made songwriting important to pop again and revitalized the beautiful simplicity of old school synth hooks. Her vocal versatility is astounding, and she’s just as comfortable inviting us to “Just Dance,” as she is soothing the soul with ballads like “Speechless.” Sonic prowess, however, is only one part of what she has already become so quickly and will become in the years to come.
GaGa understands pop and embraces not what it is, but what it should be — outrageous, exciting and catchy as hell. She’s stepped out of the warmth of a comfort zone and into the cold, where we have welcomed her with open arms. There are more reasons beyond the music to admire her. She has walked out on stage wearing nothing but bubbles and has met the Queen of England in a red vinyl dress and glittery eye mask. She’s also been a consistent and vocal advocate for LGBT rights.
So, somewhere in the intersection between avant-garde fashion, glam rock, pop and politics, Lady GaGa is dancing. She knows she’s ridiculous. She knows she seems superficial and that some will think she’s into shock-value only because it sells. But she shines the most in cultural controversy like this. She’s doing what she loves, she’s doing a damn good job at it and we should all rejoice and dance our asses off when GaGa’s playing. Pop suddenly looks, sounds and feels really, really good. We can only hope that it lasts.
LADY GAGA IS THE STATUS QUO WITH BETTER COSTUMES
Lady GaGa, who some claim transcends the pop genre she operates within, is a distraction. While undoubtedly she is an innovative force within the dizzying chamber of celebrity worship, no amount of bodice-wrapped lace or ice cream cone bras can cover up a mundane truth: Lady GaGa is little more than a self-aware Britney Spears. If that declaration doesn’t poke your face in the wrong direction, then I concede the rest of my short essay will probably come off as the overly-serious musings of a hater. But let me be clear from the outset of this polemic—my critique of Lady GaGa is broader than the neo-noir cultural artifacts that she has spawned. Just as I could not limit a critique of Fox News to its anchors’ disregard for integrity so too must I extend my grievances beyond the Haus of GaGa. If the foundations of today’s telejournalism are dubious, so too is the arena of popular culture that Lady G falsely claims to undermine.
As our secular society lost the daily celebration of patron saints and other forms of religious cultural currency, we have collectively agreed that celebrities (and their media handlers) are both worthy of our attention and our financial empowerment. This is why Lindsay Lohan has a drug problem and why a portly, flamboyant blogger became rich for drawing blotchy semen drops on famous people’s faces. It’s also why Lady GaGa is both popular and viewed as subversive to that popularity. Her fans either adore her because she’s the new Britney or adore her because she satirizes Britney. But GaGa can’t have it both ways. Is it truly empowering to “be plastic” and “still have fun,” as she demands of us in Paparazzi?
In her most recent appearance on the Ellen DeGeneres Show, Lady GaGa testified that her persona offers fans an atmosphere where they can “feel free” and “have a freak in [her] to hang out with,” which other contemporaries have failed to do. While this is a nice sentiment, it also makes me wonder why this exact same mentality garnered Marilyn Manson limited mainstream success ten years ago. Perhaps Lady GaGa recognized that Manson’s androgynous horror-mystique would be more marketable if it somehow appropriated all of the things it challenged. This would make sense, as modern popular culture has always been defined by a fusion of whatever aesthetic packaging has proven to be temporarily profitable. I salute Lady GaGa for stumbling across such a provocative and successful formula, but I’d prefer to celebrate more than a plastic veneer.