Max's Blog

How Pop Culture Leads and Misleads

Tag: Lady Gaga

Sunday Reflections: The New York Times

The New York Times today has an article in which Jon Caramancia compares the theatrics of Lady Gaga with the sincerity of 1990’s-era Lilith fair songstresses. A few quotes reminded me of another writer’s recent post on Gaga.

“The thing that most separates Lady Gaga from the bubblegum sirens of a decade ago is that her capacity for seduction has been neutered, recontextualized.”

and

“If Lady Gaga has had direct impact on anyone, it’s been, most surprisingly, Beyoncé, who has spent the majority of her career impervious to influence from her peers…It’s as if Lady Gaga swooped in and infected Beyoncé with a bug, a vampiric chain of events.”

Just wanted to humbly share this with you loyal readers.

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Going Gaga (or not)

Not that I want to suggest in any way that I saw her before she was cool, but I did see Lady Gaga perform last summer when she didn’t feel as huge as she does now. It was at Oxegen music fest in Ireland, and I went primarily to see her and Katy Perry. I wasn’t fans of either particularly, but I liked their songs and was glad that fun dance-pop had staged a comeback after the last couple of bleak years. Katy Perry was energetic and connected with the crowd, even coming out from under her enclosed stage to get soaked in the rain with the audience.

Gaga, on the other hand, from the odd intro video to her singing voice to her kept-at-a-distance attitude, was pretty darn awkward. It felt like the audience had wandered into a gallery and now were forced to watch performance art. A guy walked around with a poster that said ‘Lady Gaga has a camel toe!’ and, when asked by the next performer “how’d you like Lady Gaga?” one of the boisterous Irish girls I was with screamed “She was CRAAAAAAAAP!”

Some time later, my friend Eduardo sat me down to watch the ‘Bad Romance’ video. “Isn’t it so good?” While I liked the song, the video’s nightmarish mix of murder, vodka and glaring white light kind of terrified me.

And I still feel disconnected from her. The fact that I enjoy her songs like ‘Poker Face’ and ‘Love Game’ (we had a lot of fun singing ‘Paparazzi’ at karaoke the other night) leads me to believe it must be something about her image. It’s funny that Ben Brantley wrote in the New York Times, in an article about how today’s celebrities reveal too much, that Lady Gaga would be wise to keep quiet like the legendary Garbo, because I want her to say more. Despite the fact that she’s been great about gay rights and has talked openly about her life and career, I still do not associate her with any idea or personality.

And all the costumes are exhausting. I read her profile on Wikipedia and learned, along with the alarming discovery that she is a year younger than me, that the blonde wigs came from her not wanting to be confused with Amy Winehouse (presumably, being confused with Christina Aguilera was better) and that the name supposedly derived from a cell phone autocorrecting Queen song ‘Radio Ga Ga’. Lady Gaga reportedly said “don’t ever call me Stefani again” and one wonders what happened to Stefani Germanotta.

The process of putting on an alternative identity, especially a musical, sexually aggressive one incorporating wigs and outlandish fashions, ties Gaga to drag queen culture far more than her support of gay rights and her androgynous look.

Which leads me to my last point, which is in her support, although it won’t sound like it.

I think that Lady Gaga is the first music superstar who uses sexuality without being sexy herself. Don’t misunderstand me, I am not calling her ugly or suggesting there is not a place for non-conventionally attractive women. I am the first to defend actresses and singers when people declare flatly that they are not pretty, as though that was a valid conversational contribution in of itself. I’m not  saying anything about my feelings on her looks.

All I’m saying is, almost every other pop star who has a sexualized image, from Madonna to the Spice Girls to Britney Spears, has been helped by being appealing to the straight male population. While taking agency over their images (especially Madonna), which endeared them to straight women and gay male fans, their conventional attractiveness allowed them to simultaneously be the object of, to use the academic term, the heterosexual gaze.

And I don’t think that’s the case with Lady Gaga. She dresses provocatively (hell, she never wears pants, not even to a baseball game) but, despite her inarguably great body, I can’t really picture a group of straight men standing around a bar lusting after her. I could be forever biased because of the Video on Trial episode in which the entire panel of comedians (male, female, straight, gay) mocked her for being a “but her face” (“Bu-bu-bu-bu-bu-bu-butter face!”), but I think she may have succeeded in titillating the public’s interest without becoming a sexualized object.

This is really apparent in her ‘Telephone’ video with Beyonce, who’s deliberately stilted dialogue annoys the heck out of me (and also, is she obsessed with murder?). Rather than look plain next to the gorgeous Beyonce, Gaga looks the sexiest she ever has, while her campiness rubs off on her, who suffers exaggerated eye make-up, Betty Page bangs and absurd (and frustratingly memorable) editing which turns Ms. Knowles into a gaping fish.

If Gaga’s star continues to climb, and the fact that Christina Aguilera is now stealing her look demonstrates how little competition she has, we’ll see if behind those sunglasses there’s transgressive ideas to match the persona.

And let the hate mail begin!

 

Glee?

I think I’m giving up on Glee. I know right. Like many people, I feel that I should be watching it. And it’s not even that I don’t like it. I caught up on the first half of the current season on DVD and thought that, while uneven, the show had much promise. I liked the idea of the glee club being a place for all the misfits (although I agree with the New York Times writer who said that the show betrayed its own premise by filling out the club with hot cheerleaders and jocks). I naturally fell in love with Jane Lynch’s Coach Sue Sylvester and think she’s one of the all-time great TV villains. And the fabulous image of football players getting their groove on to Beyonce’s ‘Single Ladies’ on the playing field is burned on my retinas for eternity.

But as anyone who has been following it knows, something went wrong with the second half of the first season, although there’s no agreement as to exactly what. Some critics and fans have placed the blame on cheesy celebrity cameos, on gimmicky theme episodes like the Madonna and Lady Gaga ones, or on the show’s obsession with schmaltzy 80’s power ballads. Others have criticized the writers, chiding them for ignoring formerly-important characters and storylines, continuity mistakes and, to borrow John Doyle’s word, “insane” plot twists. Even Coach Sylvester, reduced to a caricature, can’t save the day: she’s been given two musical numbers, both witless tributes to 80’s-early 90’s pop videos, but essentially no plots. If the character was real, she’d march into the writers’ room and shout, “I’m the strongest player you’ve got team, so unless you want to go back to writing cue cards for the brain-dead, cougar housewives of Minnesota, I would wipe that Cheetos dust off your fingers and get back to your keyboards!”

It wasn’t the revelation that Idina Menzel was Rachel’s Mom that sent me over the edge. I actually kind of liked that, as they look exactly alike, although, like the Mr. Shuster and Emma Pillsbury plot before it, I got frustrated at how quickly the writers nipped an interesting story line in the butt. With all the shit she’s going through, Rachel needs a parent of some kind, as her invisible gay Dads have yet to be seen.

Anyways, no, it was a seemingly small straw that broke the camel’s back. In the Lady Gaga episode (and seriously, wouldn’t it be much cooler if, instead of lamely plugging Gaga and Madge throughout the episode, they just used their  songs exclusively without mentioning then?) gothy former-stutterer Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz) is told by the school principal to stop dressing like a vampire and start looking like everyone else. Mr. Shuster, who was called into the office as well (presumably his role as Spanish teacher and Glee club supervisor is to oversee his students’ appearance) defends Tina, explaining that she’s shy and that one of the way she expresses herself is through how she dresses.

Problem is, Tina is dressed in a completely different style! Normally, her look is a kind of alternative-tomboy-skater-girl thing with a hint of goth: toques, striped shirts, shorts, clunky boots. In the scene in the principal’s office she is dressed in what we shall call High Goth: a black lacey top-hat is involved. Later, instead of maybe using some of the less-shocking items from her previous Avril Lavigne-esque wardrobe to stay out of trouble, we see her in a baggy, grey sweat suit. But after she threatens the principal by bearing her ‘fangs’, cause he apparently believes in vampires (whatever), she’s back in a High Goth long black dress.

What I think must have happened is when the costumers got the script they were worried that Tina didn’t look goth enough so they had to goth-her-up, hence noticeably change her style in an episode which was all about expressing yourself through clothing. Great guys.

It doesn’t seem like the biggest deal, but you can’t just change elements like that about a character for one episode. Maybe I’m infused by years of Sex and the City and my WORN internship, but clothing matters. As does Mr. Shuster’s divorce and Quinn’s pregnancy.

I’m sorry Jane Lynch: I think you’re amazing and that it’s adorable you just got hitched, but I’m having trouble getting myself excited for the season ender. Which is sad, because Glee was the only new show I was following. Considering my arm’s length awareness of Lady Gaga, Twilight, Mad Men and formal shorts with spandex, I worry I will be even more divorced from contemporary pop culture.

And that’s my second post about TV shows and clothing in two days. Tomorrow, I shall blog about nuclear fission.

No I won’t.