By Keisha Allisse
As of right now, Lady GaGa is the most talked about artist on the planet. She’s been on the cover of numerous magazines in various states of undress and has been called one of the most influential and fascinating people on the planet (by TIME magazine and Barbara Walters, respectively).
Since her debut in 2008, the praise has been effusive and nonstop, but is it deserved? She has been called the heir apparent to uber-popstar, Madonna, and counts her, as well as, Elton John, David Bowie and Andy Warhol as influences. While she is arguably the most exciting music personality to come along in quite some time, it remains to be seen if her name should be uttered in the same breath as her idols. Much of her music, outrageous performances and costumes are eye-catching and eyebrow raising, yet full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
A year ago, I fell hook, line and sinker for her vague descriptions that the disturbing imagery in her videos and concerts were a response to some greater civil issue; when asked about some of her getups, she has said, ‘it’s a rejection of people’s views about women’; her Kermit the Frog coat? A statement against the fur industry; and the meat dress from last year’s VMAs? Something, something…fight for our rights. Blah, blah, blah. Can someone explain to me how you don’t wear animal skins, but are perfectly content wearing their flesh? I’m all for being yourself and uniqueness, but I think it’s cheap to try and explain exhibitionism with some highfalutin, morally conscious answer.
True outsiders who love themselves, despite rejection from the mainstream, don’t waste their time on explanations because they don’t need (or want) others to get what they are doing. Besides, true outcasts wouldn’t be listened to anyway.
Lady GaGa has made her fan base swell on the concept that she wants her fans to feel free to be themselves; her Monster’s Ball tour is an opportunity, as she described to Larry King, ‘to put everything on the table and reject it.’ But why? Is nothing worth keeping? Do we, for the sake of being contrary, throw the baby out with the bathwater? In GaGa’s world, within the culture, tradition and society there are no concepts worth preserving, which is maybe why her art strikes me as pointless. If everything means nothing, what could your art possible say? This is why her shock operas stun more than inspire. When you have nothing to say, but want people to listen (or watch), you’ll likely resort to making them feel (grungy, weirded out, sick, all of the above) rather than think. Her idea of art is the merging of the popular (her music) and the fringe (her style and supposed ‘outsiders’ ideology), two concepts which go together like oil and water, but for her, seem to mix.
The lack of substance in her work (both musically and visually) makes me wonder what the fascination with her is all about. First, her near symbiotic relationship with her fans, whom she affectionately calls ‘little monsters’; it can’t be said that GaGa doesn’t adore her fans. Her desire to help relieve them of their feelings of insecurity and doubt are of messianic proportions. She wants very badly to foster a strong relationship with them because she knows how lucky she is to have them and that ultimately, she needs them more than they need her.
She has remarked that many of her costumes are designed in manner that would allow her fans to easily copy her look - I wonder what suitable material could they use to duplicate that meat dress – She says the process bonds them, strange sentiment for someone who waves the banner of nonconformity.
The blatant duality of her logic is what confounds me and the fact that she isn’t called on it. In her interview with Larry King, she says that she ‘doesn’t like violence,’ but what else could describe her 2009 VMA performance? She has stated that she’s not interested in being ‘ a perfect, placid pop singer that looks great in a bikini and is on the cover of every magazine,’ but that is exactly what she is and she’s so good at being a cover girl that her face sold more magazines that anyone else’s last year.
She pretends to be uninterested in celebrity, that she can’t help being who she is and getting attention for it, but don’t be fooled. No one goes dressed to their sister’s graduation in a partially see through, lace bodysuit in an effort to blend in and nobody names their album The Fame unless they’ve given the idea some thought.
When I first heard the title of her debut album, I thought it bit presumptuous, but now, seeing her meteoric rise last into 2011, I’d have to call it prescient. And perhaps her pre-knowledge of her impending success comes not solely from the hard work of writing and singing a full length album, but by the creation of a fully staffed image machine she calls the Haus of GaGa. If you look at early pictures of the former Ms. Germanotta, you won’t see the awkward beginnings of what is now before us because her look is completely manufactured, created by others to sell a product – a flashy, utterly unique product, but a product nevertheless.
In a decade of music defined by the power to create a star (American Idol, Making the Band, Nashville Star, Popstars, etc), Lady GaGa is the poster girl for just how well the machine works and sadly, how easily the public can be duped into believing they’re seeing something fresh and organic. To her credit, GaGa has a strong vocal ability which her theatrics can obscure, but she, at the end of the day, is a mirage that has a powerhouse creative team behind it, but most especially, a young woman hungry enough for success that she’d re-imagine her image for commercial purposes, so delusional in her thinking that she believes her creation to be her own and so bold that she would tell people about it. At a concert in 2009, she told attendees, ‘Have you ever loved something so much, you told a tiny, little lie? A negative truth? And you believe and love your new invention so deeply, you would kill to make it true? Your visualization, your futurization is all you have, so honor it. Some say Lady Gaga is a lie…and they are right; I am a lie.’ Truer words have never been spoken.