Monday, September 13, 2010

A Lady Gaga Takedown

The Sunday Times (UK) published a devastating piece on Lady Gaga by the always wonderful Camille Paglia. Paglia, an iconoclastic cultural critic, is well known for her analyses of Madonna through the years, and for her controversial views on feminism and sexuality. Here's an excerpt from Paglia's criticism of Gaga:
Gaga has borrowed so heavily from Madonna (as in her latest video-Alejandro) that it must be asked, at what point does homage become theft? However, the main point is that the young Madonna was on fire. She was indeed the imperious Marlene Dietrich’s true heir. For Gaga, sex is mainly decor and surface; she’s like a laminated piece of ersatz rococo furniture. Alarmingly, Generation Gaga can’t tell the difference. Is it the death of sex? Perhaps the symbolic status that sex had for a century has gone kaput; that blazing trajectory is over…

Gaga seems comet-like, a stimulating burst of novelty, even though she is a ruthless recycler of other people’s work. She is the diva of déjà vu. Gaga has glibly appropriated from performers like Cher, Jane Fonda as Barbarella, Gwen Stefani and Pink, as well as from fashion muses like Isabella Blow and Daphne Guinness. Drag queens, whom Gaga professes to admire, are usually far sexier in many of her over-the-top outfits than she is.

Peeping dourly through all that tat is Gaga’s limited range of facial expressions. Her videos repeatedly thrust that blank, lugubrious face at the camera and us; it’s creepy and coercive. Marlene and Madonna gave the impression, true or false, of being pansexual. Gaga, for all her writhing and posturing, is asexual. Going off to the gym in broad daylight, as Gaga recently did, dressed in a black bustier, fishnet stockings and stiletto heels isn’t sexy – it’s sexually dysfunctional.

Compare Gaga’s insipid songs, with their nursery-rhyme nonsense syllables, to the title and hypnotic refrain of the first Madonna song and video to bring her attention on MTV, Burning Up, with its elemental fire imagery and its then-shocking offer of fellatio. In place of Madonna’s valiant life force, what we find in Gaga is a disturbing trend towards mutilation and death…
I wholly agree. In fact I wrote this about Gaga last year:
I've been listening to the deluxe edition of her Grammy-nominated The Fame, and I just can't understand why Lady Gaga has broken out of the club scene to become a genuine pop phenom. Yes, her singles are decent, and she knows how to market herself (and endear herself to the gay community). In that latter sense, she invites comparisons to a young Madonna. But the comparison ends there. Go back and listen to Madonna's first few records. Those songs were some of the best pop of the eighties. Other than the incredible, aforementioned "Bad Romance" (which is as close as she gets to Madge's early brilliance), her material is pretty middling.

So what explains it? Perhaps it's because she's an amalgamation of what people like about other pop stars. She embraces style and fashion (like Gwen Stefani), she's a little outre (like Bjork and Kelis), and she flirts with prurience (like a lite version of Peaches). But is she really greater than the sum of her parts?

I don't think so. I'm reminded of Gertrude Stein's description of Oakland, California: When you listen to Lady Gaga, you find there is no there there.
Apparently many find plenty of there there: she won eight VMAs last night, including the top prize for video of the year. So it goes.

(Mirrored on Cultural Minefield.)


Admiral X said...

Twenty years ago, the very same things were being written about Madonna. Twenty years from now, Gaga will be remembered as a trailblazer. Why? Because of these sorts of "controversies." What was widely regarded as trash then is now nostalgically called "some of the best pop of the eighties," which we will be saying about Gaga as The Artist of the Teens (decade, not kids) practically everyone remembers (and still listens to) when we're cruising into the 40s.

She wouldn't be compared to the throne if she weren't already worthy of it. And I'm no particular Gaga fan. Bad press is the easiest way to tell who's gonna last. As you so aptly put it, "so it goes."

Peter Tabakis said...

I'm not making any predictions about Gaga 20 years out. Madonna is unique as an artist who has managed to stay relevant, and sell records, after 30 years. Gaga has released 1 1/2 LPs. Is it possible that Gaga will be seen as a trailblazer 20 years hence? Sure. I don't think so, but all we're doing is making predictions that follow from our biases anyway.

Admiral X said...

I hear you, but if back when Madonna meant the mother of Jesus, if she hadn't Gagaed her way to infamy with that Like a Virgin performance at the VMAs, Madonna would still mean the mother of Jesus.

I compare Gaga to Britney Spears. Gaga actually has talent and she's produced stuff that seems treacly now, but will be viewed as classics in a few years a la Madonna's Immaculate Collection (I think Telephone is already there). As I recall, those songs didn't have the best of receptions when they hit the airwaves. Britney is a side show -- is she even still alive? Gaga will be around for a while, I think. Jury was out for me on Beyoncé as well until Single Ladies, now I'm convinced.

If you're critiquing Gaga as an artist NOW, then I think you're totally off. She's doing everything an artist should do now to remain on top of her game, plus she has talent. This aint no glorified, sexed-up Mouseketeer werqing couture.

Peter Tabakis said...

I think we both pretty much agree. Gaga is definitely a step above Britney, and I agree that she's talented. For me it's a matter of taste -- I just don't think the music holds up to her overblown image.

Peter Tabakis said...

I missed your point about Beyonce on my first reading. I would argue "Crazy In Love" proved she was the real deal. "Single Ladies" only further bolstered the notion.