Since a major theme of this blog is commentary on culture, it would be an injudicious oversight of me to not talk about the hottest cultural icon at the moment: Lady Gaga, aka Stefani Germanotta. In talking with people about her, the most comment remark I hear is, “Yeah, she’s cool, but weird. Really weird.” This is true, as she approaches stardom from, what some would say, far left field. Others would say she’s not even in a ballpark, that she’s off on her own planet. Regardless, her pop image, dance-oriented music, and rise to fame are worth examining, as is her worldview.
Since exploding onto the world pop scene in late 2008, Lady Gaga has fast become a household name. Her songs incessantly catchy and her music videos decidedly brilliant yet weird/creepy, she has garnered enough fame to work with numerous other artists, including Beyonce and Brittney Spears. She’s on pop radio twice an hour, TV loves her, and eight million of her records have found a place in households worldwide. But is she a legitimate artist, or just another flash-in-the-pan pop phenomenon?
It’s easy to draw parallels from Gaga to other pop stars such as David Bowie, Madonna, and the late King of Pop. Indeed, Lady herself connects those dots. Some could even claim that she a a gothic Christina Aguilera of the era when she was singing songs like “Fighter” and making music videos of boys’ kissing. Despite Lady’s professions of raw originality, however, her image is merely a glossy amalgam of her own pop idols. Outrageous fashions and the quirky appeal to the marginalized of early Ziggy-era Bowie, unabashed bad-girl sexuality and proto-feminism of Madonna, and the slick production, coordinated dance moves, and seamless choreography of MJ, are all fused together in a girl who can actually sing, produced by people who are thoroughly schooled in pop psychology, and dispensed to the masses radio single after radio single. A grueling tour of live shows, in themselves grandiose productions not un-derserving of a Tony Award, support her recent album, The Fame Monster. She proudly proclaims that she lives for the show, that she revels in the glitter and drama and sound of it.
For Lady Gaga, fashion and music are one and the same. She has said that she writes songs based on an image of an outfit she has in her head; her songs are an excuse to wear something outrageous on stage. Each of her music videos feature her in no less than five outfits, and her taste in dress ranges from avant-garde pop diva to back alley prostitute to haute couture fashion model. Nothing is off limits, from a faux-nostalgic 1950’s dress to her monster ball outfit evoking the image on anime princess, or even a bra that spits sparks, if it fits her vision for art, she wears it. Makeup, outfit, props; the whole shebang is planned and executed in style.
While this is all grand and exciting, I can’t help but wonder what the overarching goal is. Especially in light of her newest single, “Bad Romance,” I have an uneasy feeling about where her career is headed. There is an inherent danger in living just for the show and soaking up the pleasures of a hedonic lifestyle; if you go and paint the town red, you will eventually run out of paint. As much as Gaga admires Bowie and his artistry, Bowie now is a far cry from the Bowie of the Ziggy, Thin White Duke, or “Let’s Dance” fame. He ran out of steam by the eighties and nearly crashed, resulting in him toning down his pop star image. If Lady Gaga thinks she can have all of the fun and none of the consequences, she needs to think again, because as it stands now, I see three possible directions that her career could go.
First, and least interesting, is that, despite her claims, that she is merely a cultivated pop icon whose script is written by record labels, no different from Ms. Spears. This would be incredibly disappointing for her fanbase, and detract a great deal from her ‘raw’ image.
Much more interesting and, in my opinion, necessary for the survival of her music career, is if Ms. Germanotta played Lady Gaga like Bowie played Ziggy; a pop act, no doubt, but an act that arrived, gained fame, and then left. Ziggy was a monstrous success - one that would probably have destroyed Bowie’s career should he have continued to play him. Bowie no doubt lost some fans because of the move, as would Ms. Stefani, but considering the alternative, I think it would be a wise move.
Equally interesting but decidedly hopeless is the possibility that Lady Gaga is all there is. I say ‘hopeless’ because, as I see it, her current persona - exemplified by the lyrics of (celebrating an emotionally parasitical and mentally unstable relationships) and accompanying video to “Bad Romance” - as unsustainable. That video (and other videos like it) is not the work of someone who is opening up new creative avenues; it is the aestheticization of a pop star’s destruction. Lady Gaga got the fame she wanted - the question is how long can she hold onto it? And if she does hold onto it, in which new, exciting direction will she take it?