PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Culture

Lady Gaga Critique

Lady Gaga is a phenomenon I was hoping I could get away with opting out of, sort of like Twitter.

I've read here that people would rather be reading about Lady Gaga than Goldman Sachs. I will do my part. Lady Gaga is a phenomenon I was hoping I could get away with opting out of, sort of like Twitter. It comes up often enough, but never in a way that makes me feel I'm truly missing out.

But PopMatters recently ran a feature about Lady Gaga that inspired me to try to listen to her album The Fame Monster. It doesn't seem like the sort of album you are supposed to listen to by such a deliberate process -- as a recording complete unto itself that you play from start to finish, as though it were a symphony or something. It's not Sgt. Pepper. It's purposely vapid dance music that succeeds by getting you to forget yourself and blend with a crowd. It certainly felt odd to be listening to it by myself in my apartment.

It took some perseverance, but I made it all the way through. (It seems like it is several hours long.) For something that is supposed to be sort of outrageous, it was fairly easy to ignore. Two of the songs sounded like "Strangelove" by Depeche Mode. Another sounded like an amped-up "La Isla Bonita." One song mentions "riding a disco stick," which I assume is sex- or drug-related innuendo? There are lots of dopey chants that seemed especially engineered to be catchy, as though they had neuroscientists doing brain scans to see which stuttering syllables lit up the greatest proportion of the temporal lobe.

Much of the rest of the album was already familiar -- from cars driving by, from going to Phillies games and hearing it between innings, from being in restaurants and stores that play the radio. For me, much of the album was the sound of being in public places. It made me feel sort of exposed while it was playing, as if just having it on meant I was seeking publicity or was simply visible. I felt like Lower Merion School District might have activated the webcam in my laptop.

Lady Gaga seems good at what she does, but I have no interest in listening to her album again. Still, I don't really get what Mark Dery is complaining about in this essay (which is nonetheless an highly enjoyable read, despite his theory baiting). He seems surprised that Lady Gaga is not as legitimately strange as her handlers, apologists, and devotees sometimes make her out to be, as if something genuinely weird could ever achieve repeatable commercial success. He's right; she is not an outsider artist. She is not Gary Wilson (though arguably their music is vaguely similar). Lady Gaga, as Dery demonstrates without really explicitly arguing, sells the promise of outré weirdness without ever being genuinely transgressive or even semiotically coherent. Instead of presenting a series of interlocking propositions of a grand artistic vision, Lady Gaga serves up flat signifiers of superficial ideas -- the frisson of the peculiar, disassociated fragments of subcultures (S&M porn, haute performance art, etc.) that would be entirely unpalatable for mainstream Americans if presented more thoroughly. Her shtick is not meant to add up, because then that would actually scare the people she's trying to woo.

I was confused, though, to learn that Lady Gaga compares herself to glam rock performers from the 1970s, like T.Rex and Bowie. As Dery points out, she doesn't make make rock music, and she is not doing anything unusual for the genre she is working in. (I'd be hard-pressed to differentiate her songs from the other stuff on top 40 radio, or Disney radio for that matter.) Maybe she will move to Berlin and start making tranquilizing mood music.

I suspect most of the media people who praise her are mainly glad that any musician can still become megafamous, which seems to prove the continuing survival of the whole superstar system that justifies the existence of professional pop-music pundits. If there are a few relevant artists that everyone is supposed to care about, big media can assign someone the job of covering that beat. But if the pop music market splits into so many niches that each demands its own microexpert, then big media won't bother trying to cover it all.

That's about all I have on this subject. Of course, the most important commentary on Lady Gaga can be found here.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.

Books

Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.

Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Music

Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."

Music

50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.

Film

Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.

Film

The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.

Music

Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.