Saturday, February 27, 2010

I want your horror, I want your design

People have been asking my opinion on Lady Gaga for quite some time now, so I figured that I should probably formulate one. Honestly, what intrigues me most about her is the simple fact that people keep asking my opinion, implying that her persona directly relates to mine. My cousin (a nineteen year old gay boy, for what that's worth) actually said that she reminded him of me. But all I really knew of her were the songs and videos that got overplayed in San Francisco gay clubs while I lived there, and my initial reaction was something along the lines of "overrated, but I appreciate that she presents herself as a faux queen." I stand by that statement, but there is much more that I can add to it now.

As far as her music goes...well, it doesn't go very far at all. I find it a little less annoying than a lot of other super-pop, but nothing about it actually appeals to me. What I find interesting, though, is that when I say that her music is secondary to her performance, appearance, or persona, it's not a negative statement. While it's not necessarily of better quality or depth than other pop music, it has an entirely different meaning. Which is to say, I guess, that it has a meaning at all. I read an interview with her in Rolling Stone in which she referred to her own music as "soulless." I honestly respect that. She is open about its emptiness in an obviously intentional Andy Warhol-esque way. That said, the bulk of my criticism and intrigue really has nothing to do with her music. So, on to the good stuff.

After talking to people and doing internet research, I want to address three comments that seem to recur in multiple conversations and forums.
1) "She is the female David Bowie."
2) "She is unattractive."
3) "She is a hermaphrodite/tranny."

I'm not so much concerned with agreeing or disagreeing with these statements, but rather with thinking about what they mean and why they keep coming up.

1) The specific phrasing of this statement has everything to do with its meaning. For instance, "Lady Gaga is the female David Bowie" is a world apart from "Lady Gaga is a new David Bowie." I have heard and read both, but I will have more fun addressing the former because it seems so thoroughly, utterly wrong to me. Saying that she is the female David Bowie implies that the main difference between them is their genders. And because playing with gender expression and performance is one of the most prominent things that they have in common, differentiating them using only their physical sexes disregards both artists. It disregards his androgyny and her faux queen persona, and when these aspects of their careers are cast aside, they actually have very little in common. I would only agree that she is a new David Bowie to the extent that Marilyn Manson could have also been considered a new David Bowie. And neither of them really are, except to the extent that they both incorporate persona, performance, and gender play into their careers, such that they are not just musicians but performance artists. So, I think it would be more appropriate to say that she is a mainstream Marilyn Manson. But somehow, that just doesn't have the same ring.

Also, I may be biased. There has not been a new David Bowie, and there probably never will be. He is one of a kind, and will always continue to be the new David Bowie, ever evolving, even after death. That is, if death can touch him.

2) While appearance is clearly integral to her music career, appearance and prettiness need not be intertwined. Whether she is or is not attractive isn't really relevant. That isn't to say that people are not allowed to establish whether or not they find her attractive, but many people seem to place too much worth on their conclusion. As if by finding her unattractive, she has failed as an artist, or does not deserve her fame. (Whether or not she deserves her fame is certainly a good question, but its answer doesn't rest on prettiness.) I would agree that she is not particularly "pretty," but unlike other vapid pop stars, she does not "need" to be. She is fabulous, in the draggiest sense of the word, and fabulousness can go a lot farther than prettiness. If she was merely pretty, then she would just be another Christina Aguilara, and I would never have given this much thought to her existence. That said, her face does unfortunately remind me of Paris Hilton. However, the only reason that I consider Paris Hilton ugly is her desperation to not only be mainstream pretty, but to be the pinnacle of mainstream pretty, and the public is supposed to pretend that she succeeds without irony. Lady Gaga, on the other hand, piles on the camp and theatrics in a way that distracts from her actual face and body while simultaneously displaying them prominently.

3) When I begin to type "Lady Gaga" into a google search, the first suggestion that comes up is "Lady Gaga hermaphrodite." This in itself is pretty fascinating. And since google kept suggesting it, I had to investigate. Each article seems to conflict with the last, and nothing appears all that credible in the first place. However, the most important conclusion that I've reached is that it does not matter what her physical or chromosomal sex or whatever is, in the first place. Its relevant, yes, but all that really matters is the questions and so-called scandal around it. If I had to make a guess, which I'll admit isn't based on very much at all, I would guess that she is a "normal" XX woman and she started the rumor intentionally. And I do not mean this in a dismissive way at all, but rather that I suspect this rumor to be a deliberate part of her persona.
But, I have no actual, sound reason to believe this; it's just a theory. No matter how the rumor started, people seem very caught up in it, and I think that the reason for this is bound up in question #2. I know that the majority of the public does not think about these things critically or with great depth; sorry, The Public, but you guys kind of suck most of the time. I think that when people jump to the conclusion that she is intersexed or transgendered (not that they use such proper words), what they're really reacting to is a woman behaving like a drag queen, a female impersonator, and they don't quite know how to process what they are seeing. In my opinion, when she looks her best (that is to say, the most impressive and intriguing, not traditionally pretty), she really reminds me of a blonde Marilyn Manson or John Cameron Mitchell as Hedwig. And yes, they are both men, but she doesn't actually appear masculine; but then, neither do they. She is hyperfeminine and hypersexual, in a way that actually parodies feminine sexuality. Especially the way that feminine sexuality is marketed. I suspect that they are thinking, if she is an "actual" woman, why would she want to parody what it means to be a woman in the public eye, unless, of course, she's not one in the first place? I think that consumers of pop music are not used to thinking about these things, and it hurts a little. Yes, I am being judgmental and condescending, and I know that there are many exceptions to these statements. But I sincerely think that because her career is riding on faux queen fabulousness rather than typical feminine prettiness, people are confused. And you know, I think it's good for them. While I may not be a big huge fan of hers, I really do think that she can change the face of gender play in pop culture.

After reading all that, I give you the Bad Romance video. Of the bit of research I've done, I find this song the most catchy and least annoying, and actually do like the video. She seems to be directly parodying Britney Spears, Etc. in the second half. It actually reminds me a bit of the video for Marilyn Manson's cover of Tainted Love, which blatantly mocks lots of genres, including the ones he is actively a part of. Also like Lady Gaga's, Manson's is nothing too deeply insightful, but noteworthy in its own cheeky right.

...I just wish she wasn't so tan.