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…I wholly agree. In fact I wrote this about Gaga last year:
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'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.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.
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.
(Mirrored on Cultural Minefield.)