Wednesday, 10 November 2010
The World’s Gone GaGa
In 2008, less than 2 years ago, the British pop music landscape was familiarising itself with the arrivals of Katy Perry, Alexandra Burke, Diana Vickers, JLS and some others. What most people had no idea about was an artist calling herself LADY GAGA. It's hard to believe that until January 2009 Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta (Lady GaGa to the rest of us) was not even a blip on the radio waves and it was only last year that she acquired a degree of prominence with the introduction of her debut single Just Dance ― a track produced and co-written by hip Muslim dance producer ― and the key developer of GaGa's sound ― Nadir Khayat (aka: RedOne). Accompanied by a generically hipster music video directed by Melina Matsoukas, Just Dance stormed the global pop charts selling over 7.7 million units to date. Intellectually, Just Dance may have been interpreted as a two-fingered rebuke to the deepening credit crisis and rampant unemployment of the time: a statement of not getting bogged down by the hardships and dancing out of adversity; but in all honesty the single was a calling card signalling GaGa as the latest addition to the sorority of 20-something manufactured pop starlets who are as much about image and stylisation as they are about slick music production. In a time of music industries crashing and burning, GaGa is arguably the music industry's last stab at making itself important.
A surface admiration of all things GaGa is fine, but news came last week that the University of South Carolina has developed a sociology course dedicated to the life, work and rise to fame of Lady GaGa. The course aims to analyse the sociological framework of popular culture and music, specifically focusing on socially relevant elements in the rise of GaGa's popularity to her current status as a 21st Century pop music icon. The course will be taught by Belgian born sociologist, Professor Mathieu Deflem, whose research interests include counter-terrorism, international policing, crime control and internet technology: topics that seem far worthier than the analysis of a pop star who hasn't been around long enough to deserve this type of intellectual veneration. It seems far too premature to read so deeply into GaGa's 10 million followers on Facebook and Twitter as something more than a simple by-product of an incipient cyber fanbase that decrees its adoration through totemistic membership. When we distil the phenomena of Lady GaGa there's not much to praise other than masterful marketing and genius global positioning.
More disappointing is the amount of press coverage Lady GaGa has received from broadsheet newspapers that seem to think of her as a bigger cultural icon than what she actually is. GaGa has gone on record outlining her myriad of musically eccentric influences, citing everyone from Grace Jones, Freddie Mercury and David Bowie; though it seems she garnered the wrath of M.I.A.'s Maya Arulpragasam when she described the Sri Lankan as her "fellow hard working female art student," in turn comparing and identifying with her groundbreaking work ethic. M.I.A. was understandably none too pleased, stating, "People say we're similar, that we both mix all these things in the pot and spit them out differently, but [GaGa] spits it out exactly the same. None of her music's reflective of how weird she wants to be or thinks she is." M.I.A. added, "She models herself on Grace Jones and Madonna but the music sounds like 20 year-old Ibiza disco. She's not progressive, but she's a good mimic. She sounds more like me than I fucking do! That's a talent."
M.I.A.'s vitriol is now being echoed by others, with Grace Jones saying she was irritated by GaGa's imitation of her style, proclaiming, "I've seen some things she's worn that I've worn, and that does kind of piss me off." Camille Paglia in The Sunday Times, a newspaper that was originally appreciative of GaGa's style, now asserts that she "is more an identity thief than an erotic taboo breaker, a mainstream manufactured product who claims to be singing for the freaks, the rebellious and the dispossessed when she is none of those." Kitty Empire wrote in The Guardian that "[GaGa's music] allows the viewer to have a 'transgressive' experience without being required to think."
What Lady GaGa is isn't something to be scoffed at. She is an icon to millions of international audiences who at once want a safe sound to buy into, but also the artifice of it being something unique and special. Her 8 awards for Bad Romance at this year's MTV Music Video Awards was the most since a-ha's Take on Me in 1986, though not as much as Peter Gabriel's 9 wins for Sledgehammer in 1987. It was at this year's MTV awards ceremony that GaGa dedicated her historic win to her legions of fans, addressing them as her 'Little Monsters' ― a term she and they adorn with relish. By calling themselves 'Little Monsters' hints that both GaGa and her fans are a part of some counter-cultural movement, but that seems total nonsense when one engages in a critical assessment of her standardised sound and image. Lady GaGa has been crafted into a serviceable interpretation of what the current music scene is all about with acts like Christina Aguilera effortlessly aping the former's beats and aesthetics in her last album Bionic. Likewise, it can be argued that GaGa's breakout hit Just Dance was merely an imitation of Aguilera's promiscuous image and sound developed in her 2002 album Stripped. This really is the self-cannibalisation of modern pop music.
There isn't an issue in Lady GaGa being an internationally fashion and style icon. There is not even an issue about her music being designed to appeal to the masses without forcing them to demand more in terms of originality and scope. The problem is that of smart people who should know better ballooning GaGa's cultural importance into something it most certainly isn't. GaGa is not the panacea to homogenised manufactured music as her very own music conforms to those exact principals, demanding little exertion on the part of the listener. Her current fanbase comprises mainly of teenage school girls and middle-aged gay men, both of whom share bizarrely simpatico music tastes. Despite this, it's hard to think that Lady GaGa's music and celebrity status will carry the same resonance in 10 years time.