I tried avoiding writing about Lady Gaga for a really long time. Wasn't interested. She's just a disposable pop singer with no observable talent, like most disposable pop singers.
But I can't avoid her anymore, because she's everywhere. Wherever I turn, there's Gaga. On TV, in magazines, at all of those Lady Gaga concerts I attend, even on the Internet. Earlier this week, every social networking site was buzzing because of the controversy stirred up by her latest outfit:
Representatives of PETA were furious at her attempt to sexualize the murder of animals, parents with young children were outraged at her risky behavior and diehard fans of both meat and naked chicks were heartbroken at her flagrant disregard for both appetites and erections.
And that's when I realized that I needed to say something. She's still all over the news even though she's well beyond the Sell By date of a typical pop star, and it has nothing to do with her singing abilities. Everyone's talking about what a "brilliant artist" she is, like a Warhol-esque genius. And either I'm a crazy person, or someone has to stop this nonsense. Someone needs to go and fly out to whatever space brothel she operates out of and say, "That's enough, Lady Gaga." But my rocket doesn't reach psychedelic tramp-funk levels, so I can't personally talk to Gaga. Instead, I'll just write about how she's not any of the things every magazine, critic and entertainment show tries to convince me she is.
She's Not Some Free-Spirited Performance Artist
While most rationally-thinking people rarely celebrate Gaga's skills as a musician, plenty of music critics and other socially awkward white people who are bad at having opinions will agree on one thing: Lady Gaga is an artist who isn't afraid to be a freak. She went on Oprah and said "the message of Gaga is 'be yourself.'" She doesn't fit into any mold. She's a crazy free spirit. She won't conform to any existing pop standards. Additional meaningless originality platitude. That certainly sounds like it's referring to some kind of genre-bending, authentic artist.
The problem is none of it applies to Lady Gaga.
She looked like this. And she played piano, not some kind of electricity-shooting stage volcano.
Former roommates have said that there was "nothing that would tip you off that she had this Warhol-esque, 'new art' extremism," she was just a regular chick. Watch the video, if for no other reason than to see the Talent Show host's odd reaction.
"Wow" is right, Worst Emcee on the Planet, wow indeed. She's not awful and, even more surprisingly, not at all annoying. She's just like a less refined, less smoky Norah Jones mixed with, like, if Christina Aguiliera had a little sister that was never given voice lessons. If Stefani had continued performing as a person and not a spiky, pale freakstronaut, in an alternate universe, I could really see myself passively tolerating her music for the sake of appeasing a girlfriend.
But, Stefani realized that the "Soulful Chick Songwriter Market" was tapped, so she decided to go an alternate route (the "Shrieking Shemale Star-Goblin Market"). When it was clear that she wasn't going to be selling out any tours as a songstress, she very carefully crafted a persona that was deliberately designed to drive as much attention towards herself as possible. There was a moment where she decided "This act won't sell. Let's come up with one that does." Her whole authentic, artistic character was decided by committee in a marketing meeting. Maybe she's smarter than everyone else who is struggling to break into the music industry. She saw how completely retarded pop culture was and decided to embrace it. She found out what was going to attract attention and exploited it to turn into a star, in a celebrity-by-numbers sort of way. As a businesswoman, she is incredibly shrewd--the amount of magazine covers, awards and nominations she's gotten in the past year alone is staggering. But she's not an artist, she's a product.
She's Not a Fashion Icon
Lady Gaga's look varies from day to day, concert to concert, magazine cover to magazine cover; so it's tough to pinpoint what, exactly, her place in the fashion world is. Her costumes, always surprising and Avant Garde, range in style from the bizarre and controversial Bladerunner Nightmare Chic...
... to this slightly more conservative Transvestite Clown Hooker affair.
Regardless of which interplanetary spirit frog she channels when she dresses herself, we can be assured that whatever pop-steampunk-Bowie assortment of top hats and lasers she pulls from her closet menagerie of horrors will be uniquely awful in frightening new ways. Her insane looks are inspiring actual fashion designers in real life who are creating outfits meant to mirror her style. Expect to see hundreds of thousands of little girls wearing bejeweled-monocles and scorpion launching bras roaming the streets this Halloween, and my night terrors every other evening or so.
Now, full disclosure: I wear one of three pairs of torn jeans and a probably-stained white T-shirt to work every single day and have since I was hired. I know as much about fashion as I do about getting mustard stains out of white T-shirts which, as you can probably guess, is very little. I showed up to the office with shoes that didn't match. For 11 straight days. One of them was a flip flop and the other was a woman's hat. I know nothing about fashion, is my point, which is why I'm uniquely qualified to talk about Lady Gaga's wardrobe choices, because she doesn't either.
I'd call Lady Gaga a monster for ruining a treasured childhood icon if I didn't secretly think that the above picture might actually be of John Denver.
The secret of Lady Gaga's fashion isn't difficult to understand: Take something that is traditionally accepted as erotic (leather, nudity, piles of uncooked meat), re-contextualize it by stripping it of anything that reminds anyone of sex (what is known in the fashion world as a "Boner Jihad"), and then top it all off with a hairstyle that says "I'd appreciate it if you didn't look at my face." So, take something that you would normally find agreeable, like a short sundress, remove anything remotely sexual about it by loading it with wires, or balloons, or Lady Gaga's torso, and then wear a hat that, if used properly, could blind anyone unlucky enough to be within a five-foot radius.
Or, take a silk nightgown, de-eroticize it by covering your exposed skin in gobs of glitter-sweat, and top it off with two mini helicopter pads designed to attract tiny mouse brides.
If you have enough eye shadow to give off the impression that you're an adventurous prostitute who only caters to raccoons, well that's just gravy.
She's Not Original
Lady Gaga's originality seems to be her only selling point among even people who hate everything about her. They look at her and say, "Well, at least there's no one else out there just like her," like a parent struggling to find a compliment for their least favorite child. Whenever some entertainment news show covers her, they invariably say something along the lines of: "Love her or hate her, you have to admit that she's a totally unique icon! Coming up after the break, we check in with superstar Lou Bega! Here's hoping he gives us a high (mambo number) five!"
But, of course, she isn't unique in any way. She is exactly one part Madonna and one part Marilyn Manson. She looked at two people who received massive amounts of attention--Madonna for being hyper sexualized and scandalous, and Manson for being aggressively controversial--and instead of saying, "Let me come up with something new in that same family of publicity," said, "I'll just do both of those things, all the time."
Madonna's whole kick was being ultra sexual, talking openly about her multiple sexual partners of varying genders. Not when anyone asked, or anything like that, she just did it all the time. Especially in her early career, she would link every conversation back to something insanely sexual and forward. "Well the interesting thing about my new album is I WILL FUCK YOU RIGHT NOW, DAVID LETTERMAN. LOOK AT ME!"
Manson, on the other end of the spectrum, would just try to be as theatrically scary and controversial as possible. He'd use blood in his act, he'd cut himself, he'd talk about what an outcast he was. "Society doesn't accept me because I'm too IN YOUR FACE. LOOK AT ME!" Madonna took teenage girls who wanted to piss off their dads and Manson took teenage boys who wanted to piss off the football team and they built little armies. Armies that would go on to buy millions of records.
So, you take this:
And throw in a dash of this:
And it's really no surprise that you get this:
I think this is Lady Gaga. Man, who the fuck knows anymore, that could be the dude from The Strokes.
It's that same publicity-machine mentality that informs everything that Gaga does. "Here are two things that people got famous for. If I do both of those things louder, faster and with more frequency than anyone else, the world will look at me under the assumption that what I'm doing must be interesting."
But she's not. She's the kid who ate worms at lunch because, "Hey, at least people are looking at me." And now the whole world watches what she does. People who actively avoid pop music have heard of her. She was one of Time Magazine's Most Influential People. She's tricked everyone into believing she's some creative genius, and she's just going to keep doing weird, pointless, nonsense bullshit until she's dethroned by the next incarnation of Lady Gaga, some little boy or girl who is at this moment quietly learning all of Gaga's lessons for their own cartoonish version of pop stardom. She's doing it all while A) making loads of money and B) dressed like a cracked-out Wookiee-poacher at a Rod Stewart lookalike contest.
Yep, that is exactly what that is.
I weep for the future.
Daniel O'Brien is a time-traveling funk-flautist who performs under the stage name Archbishop Fartnoise.