Goo-Goo for GaGa Puffs!: Her Ladyship and the Coup of Contemporary Pop.

Posted: 23 August, 2011 in Musical, Reviews
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Shuffle says: “Flora” Crooked Still, Hop High

For any kid who was watching MTV in the late 90’s one of the more landmark moments (landmark by MTV standards anyway) of its heyday was the legendary Madonna, Christina, Britney kiss(This is the whole performance, but you can just skip to 3:50ish to see the kiss). Presumably this was to serve as a kind of coronation ceremony by the then queen; a passing of the torch onto the next generation of pop royalty. However, how fare the former princesses a decade later? One mired in her own drama, unable to take ten steps without a stirring up a cascade of tabloid material; the other, lost to the land of Flops (pinnacled by her latest attempt at a comeback in the film Burlesque).

Out of the void come Lady Gaga to seize control of radios, clubs, and charts across the globe. So how is it this 25-year-old upstart has the chops to hold the Iron Throne of Pop? Let’s to a little compare and contrast (you all remember fifth grade Venn diagrams, right?).

As mouseketeers they were literally playing a part. Justin Timberlake did not play himself, Justin [middle name] Timberlake from [birthplace]. He played Justin Timberlake the Mouseketeer. The only reason HE was able to break away successfully from that image was because while N*Sync he was still part of an ensemble. As a solo artist he could be his ‘true self’ without contradicting who his character from his former roles. Britney and Christina were not so fortunate.

As they attempted to move on to solo careers, their success was dependent on the image their respective producers had spent the previous years generating. For Spears in particular, it was the image of her as the ‘innocent’ girl we saw in “Baby One More Time”. Being so firmly rooted in her youth, there was no way for her to age well. This is why there was no short supply of critics complaining that at the age of 26 she was too old to be performing.

The majority of Spears’s audience struggles to relate to such a persona. Doing so is essentially impossible because the idea of ‘Britney’ is a fiction, only existing as a construct of pop. It should’ve come to no surprise then, when she suffered her various breakdowns. Leading a lifestyle built by record executives – being forced to constantly hide your true self from sight – would be enough to cause anyone to suffer an identity crisis.

Gaga, however, was not bred for such a lifestyle. She chose it freely, worked hard and suffered for it, carefully crafting every outlandish outfit. She broke into the business like any other wannabe rock star. She practiced and performed countless gigs at any venue for any audience until she finally ‘made it’. This meant that her music writing came from a place of real world study and struggle.

I have to confess I was not always a Gaga enthusiast. My first exposure to her was Poker Face when it was circulating the bar scene in Cork City. I was unimpressed. It sounded vaguely like any other pop refrigerator noise at the time, so I tuned it out and went on with my life, thinking with a name like Gaga and a style like hers she’d be a one or two hit wonder at best, achieving possibly a Shakiera level of success.

When I read up on her on Wikipedia, I was offended to see her compare herself to the likes of Bowie and Queen, but it forced to me to remember that they, along with the likes of Led Zeppelin were once considered mainstream pop. What really turned me on to HER was an interview she did with Anderson Cooper around the time she was releasing her single ‘born this way.

In the interview, as well as several others I watched afterwards, what really struck home with me  was an attitude in her approach to fame and pop music which I read as totally punk and I commend her for it.

She’s bringing a message to the mainstream which until now had been reserved for counterculture, one of positive self-acceptance in the face of cultural norms. What is particularly striking about this is the incredibly fucking smart manner in which she came to promote it.

As a matter of style Gaga is so shamelessly pop, but with her vocal and musical abilities, she has proven that she has the talent to match the fame. Also, she has shown that while the emphasis of pop is on surface, that does not mean it is not capable of possessing substance. By approaching her message by means of poppy accessible dance music, Lady Gaga was in our clubs, on our radios, and in our heads like any other catchy top 40er before we took a closer look at what she was saying and by that time it was too late; records had gone platinum, charts were topped, and she sure as fuck wasn’t going anywhere. She has become a pop icon, as well as a rallying figure to a whole schlew of dispossessed creatures who feel marginalized by our deceptively conservative heteronormative mainstream society and she’s for real.

This move is an amazing piece of evidence that Gaga is truly a mistress of misdirection and a master of her craft. For so long, bands and genres have attempted to force their political and social agenda into the mainstream and failed. Movements such as Riot Grrrrl could never succeed because their audience was too narrow. This is no slight to them and their spiritual cousins. The whole “in your face” attitude was part of their style, but the message would immediately disallowed by mainstream audience, based on sound alone.

Much of how we define pop vs counterculture is what is acceptable by our social standards. She has inverted this argument, by making counterculture pop and thus adjusting social standards. What I personally feel this proves is that Lady Gaga’s music is a work of ZeitGeist. We as a society are finally reaching a point where things such as, tattoos, drug use, and (perhaps most importantly), alternative sexuality are at a tipping point of acceptance.

One of the ways Gaga has been able to do this is by mastering the art of fame (which is what impresses me so much about her). Her ability to misdirect, or rather redirect, public attention to her music and message, keeps the hounds, for the most part, off her personal life. This allows her to never lie to her adorning public, never have to pretend she’s something else, which often is the undoing of celebrities.

To use an already visited opposing example, there is Britney Spears. In order to really be a fan of Spears, you had to buy into this culture that pop should not be about. You have to buy into the ‘idea’ of Britney which is one of public deception, leading inevitably to self-deception. Gaga on the other hand, has never lied or withheld the truth about her origins, her sexuality, or her drug use. Instead uses the surface and glamour of her outlandish life, to take complete in control of the perception of her.

What will become of her and how the arc of her career will compare with other age’ed pop icons like Madonna, may have to wait for a few more albums, tours, and years,

To sum up, here’s Amanda Fucking Palmer with:
Gaga Palmer Madonna


  1. sweetdeeds says:

    I LOVE Gaga, because she did the time visiting small area clubs like The Roundup in Dallas (video is probably on youtube). Just her and two backup dancers on the dance floor. And now she’s made she goes back to visit whenever in town to thank the owner and see her fans. Is Christina really a failure though? She’s still got the talent and the reputation and a healthy family/adult life.

    • Christina has talent. Gods yes she does. I’m gonna talk about her in a future post. I love her voice and her album Back to Basics was phenomenal. However, she no longer the pop power house she once was.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s