Commenting at length about the ephemera of popular culture isn't really what I have in mind to write about on here, but on this occasion I must make an exception, as Nathan Heller does such a superb job of explaining what it is I can't stand about Stefani Germanotta's "Lady Gaga" persona. Some choice excerpts:
Gaga herself has elaborated: "They always used to tell me, 'You will never be the main star, because you're too ethnic.' " By this, she meant growing up with an Italian name in Giuliani-era New York.
How much more marginalized can one be than that, right? I guess that "ethnic" factor explains the strangely obscure career of a certain Madonna Ciccone ... But wait, there's more!
In interviews, the singer cites Warhol and other touch points of celebrity self-knowledge. Praise for Gaga's work tends to assume that this artistic awareness runs all the way through, that Gaga's deliberate, highly controlled "performance art" exterior reflects conceptual control hard-wired into her music itself.
There's a problem with this line of thinking, though: For all of Gaga's stage-management and "academic" interest in pop music, her songcraft offers precious little evidence of creative fine-motor control. Gaga's melodies are straightforward, and her lyrics rarely turn a lot of cartwheels. Even so, her words tend to arrive awkwardly jammed—or, rather, awk-ward-ly jam-med—into their melodies like oversize packages in a mail slot ... She regularly stutters words to make them work in time; she breaks past difficult transitions with short choruses of gibberish.
All of Gaga's pseudo-intellectual posturing is just so much smoke meant to distract from the fact that all she's doing is recycling passé material, and that in a ham-handed manner. As Heller puts it,
Gaga's musical reputation demands that we assume her reliance on cliché and genre formula is what Stefani Germanotta's reliance on the same was not: deliberate, audacious, and informed by great ironic vision. Never mind the schlock and tired tropes that underlie her songs, we're told; Gaga could write more freshly (though there's little proof of this), but she is trying to fold high camp into her songcraft ... Gaga touts "my eccentricity" at every opportunity and says she aims to "revolutionize" pop. That "revolution," spectacular provocation, and the wearing of outlandish costumes have been standard pop equity since the middle 1960s is not thought to be evidence that she is anything but an original.
Indeed: off the top of my head I can name David Bowie, Sylvester, Mark Bolan, The Clash, The Sex Pistols and very many others from the 1970s alone, but here we are nearly 40 years later celebrating Lady Gaga's same-old same-old as something shocking and outrageous? I suppose I can understand teenagers with no sense of musical history believing there's something new here, but what is everyone else's excuse? Even in Gaga's blatant (and revealingly narcissistic) pandering with her self-proclaimed "gay anthem", there is not a trace of originality: again, Madonna was pushing the envelope with Robert Mapplethorpe and bringing "vogueing" into the mainstream back when there was actually some perception of risk attached to being too closely associated with gays, unlike now when faux bisexuality has even become a fashionable norm ...
When I see (and especially, when I hear) Lady Gaga, all that comes to mind is someone slavishly following Madonna's playbook (even down to ripping off her tunes), and it isn't as if Madonna was entirely dripping with originality herself. Although I find Gaga's music trite, insipid and maddeningly repetitive, I'd have no more of a problem with it than I would with the equally unoriginal dross put out by the likes of Katy Perry and Kesha* if people claimed to enjoy Gaga's for the throwaway diversion that it really is; what drives my irritation is that this rubbish is hailed loudly and repeatedly as a revelation in music and a breath of fresh air even by people who've been around long enough to know that the very opposite is true. Lady Gaga has nothing new to say, nor can she conceive of a new way of saying it.
*When has anyone ever described either of these two in the same terms routinely lavished on Gaga? And yet in essence there is really very little to separate the three: all three try to pander to "the gay community" (a phrase even more nebulous in meaning than "the black community") in search of counterculture cred, all three try (exceedingly unconvincingly) to push the same tired buttons of "outrageous" sexuality, and at heart all three are about pushing the same dumbed-down Euro-influenced pop based on the same dumb tunes written by the same small coterie of "hit-makers". They are all about corporatized, assembly-line tune making at its most cookie-cutter, whether or not it is presented in a "meat dress".