Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Notes on Gaga

I’ve been listening to Lady Gaga recently. Not a lot because I’ve been working on my 50 Albums project, but more than I normally would. Which would mean “some.” I’ve got a lot of thoughts about her and her music, but instead of writing them in essay format, I thought I’d jot them down as notes a la Susan Sontag. Kind of appropriate, as no one overdoes it like Lady Gaga overdoes it.

  • I don’t quite know what I think of her music. Usually, I’ll know right away if I love something, hate something, or just think it’s ok. And sometimes the more I listen to something, the more it grows on me. But no matte how much I listen to Lady Gaga, I can’t decide whether or not I like her music.
  • Granted, it is awfully catchy. I don’t like much pop music, or any dance music for that matter, but I’ve got to admit that this is some of the freshest sounding stuff I’ve heard for a long time.
  • I think I’m half-afraid to like her music. Not because of anything she says or stands for, but because it might ruin my classic rock cred. I do have a fair amount of punk and folk music, but she’d look a lot weirder sitting on a shelf between Carole King and Led Zeppelin. Although, really, if anyone got a look at the collection of Andrew Lloyd Webber original cast recordings hidden under my bookshelf*, I think that would probably do much worse to my reputation.
  • Another reason why I’m hesitant to count myself among her fans: It’s a generational thing. Obviously I’m not so old that I’d look stupid dancing to her music. (I’d look stupid because I can’t dance.) I’m only about three or four years older than she is, but it seems like her core fan base skews much younger. When I was their age, we were listening to Green Day and—ugh—Britney. One summer I had this hippie boss who let me borrow her CDs while I worked. Alongside the usual suspects—Pink Floyd, the Dead, etc.—was a lot of hardcore gangsta rap. It was… weird. I don’t want to be like that.
  • Has Lady Gaga made the best music videos since Michael Jackson? Quite possibly yes. I especially love the beginning of “Born This Way.” Not only is it a nod to the spoken-word intro to Diamond Dogs, but it’s awesomely Xanadu 80s fantasy. Obviously I wasn’t the only one watching My Little Pony cartoons.
  • And speaking of the 80s, Born This Way is thoroughly seeped in it. Seriously, the only thing missing is a declaration for the desire of a music-oriented cable network of one’s own**. But the album’s references seem a little too obvious. The 80s sound isn’t at all organic (see Weep’s Worn Thin for comparison). And yet it kind of works. I mean, the only thing organic about Lady Gaga’s public persona is the meat dress, so why shouldn’t her latest album be similarly superficial?
  • Yet another reason why I’m not all that keen to join the bandwagon: I want to see where she’s going. For all that she seems to have ripped off—uh, I mean, learned from the likes of David Bowie and Madonna, has she learned the lesson from their careers that every artist should? She seems to do her “borrowing” intelligently, but has she been able to pick up that an artist must evolve to stay alive? That's something only time will tell.
  • On a related note, in a recent Rolling Stone profile/interview, she was starting to sound a little bit messianic, like she’s thinking of herself as the savior of her “little monsters.” Granted, most of the time she seems rather self-aware of her pop stardom, so it would be rather surprising if she didn’t start saying something like that at this point as part of the formula. At least, I hope so. It never bodes well when rock stars start talking like that.
  • And there’s another thing. She seems very sincere when she talks about her fans and her concern with LGBT issues, but because her persona is so, well, plastic, I don’t know whether to believe her, or if it’s all part of the performance, especially since certain other performers who have been very influential on her have used sexuality as an easy way to get attention and then recanted when it wasn’t convenient anymore. I mean, I want to believe her, but it’s hard because she’s in character all the time. Generally, though, I take her word for it because there’s no rule saying the character and real person can’t feel the same thing, right? And even if she wasn’t sincere, it wouldn’t entirely undo the positive effect she’s had, would it?
  • Generally I have a zero-tolerance policy for skanks. I will never forgive Britney Spears for turning my generation into a roving gang of sluts. However, even though her music is just as—if not more so—sexualized than Britney et al’s and she does tend to show a lot of skin, it’s different somehow. I think she’s using the art of her performance to draw attention to assumptions we make about the (female) body. Maybe? Anyway, that rumor about her having a penis shows that it’s working. I mean, if my fifteen-year-old half-brother thinks she’s a dude, then I’d say she’s successfully got people asking questions about gender identity.

*They’re there because that’s where I keep my cassettes, not because I’m ashamed of them or anything. *Pushes TV cart in front of bookcase so no one can look*
**In normal person speak, “I want my MTV!” Remember that?

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