Tag Archives: Lady Gaga

Continuing the conversation about Lady Gaga

I’d like to start this by saying that I actually do like Lady Gaga.  While she doesn’t necessarily deserve to call herself one of the best songwriters in the industry–“I’m up in the club and I’m sippin’ that bub and you’re not gonna reach my telephone” doesn’t exactly bring anything new to the table–she possesses an exceptional vocal talent.  “Bad Romance” is nothing short of a triumph of pop music.  In an environment where pop singers are typically seen as force-fed puppets, Lady Gaga has made concerted efforts to assert her own sense of style.  This is good, because it’s made her a compelling figure whose attention to detail makes her stand out, but you have to wonder if it’s also given her an overwhelming sense of self-importance.

I speak, of course, of new song “Born This Way,” in which Lady Gaga professes support for a full gamut of oppressed peoples.  If you have been on the internet at all recently, you know that the song contains the line “You’re black, white, beige, chola descent / You’re Lebanese, you’re Orient.”  This is pretty obviously offensive!  “You’re Orient” may be minor compared to the crasser racial sins of Robyn, Nicki Minaj, and Gwen Stefani, but it’s still evidence of a striking ignorance.  Italians are historically on a different level on the scale of whiteness used in America, but that’s obviously not a concern here.  What we have is someone who will never experience being black/mixed-race/Latin@/Lebanese/Asian trying to speak for those who are.

There’s also the issue of “The Great Gay Pander-Off.” Though Lady Gaga may not have also had a song called “Ur So Gay,” it remains debatable as to how genuine she is.  While she has spoken out extensively about Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, it’s easy to be skeptical as to whether or not she’s just doing to further her image.  Lady Gaga is one of the biggest pop stars in the world, but she also loves making herself out to be a champion of the outcast, generating a false sense of subversion from listening to music that’s realistically not very challenging.

In spite of the self-congratulatory tone, at least Lady Gaga stays consistent with her message, misguided as she may be.  I don’t think I need to say anything about Katy Perry going from “Ur So Gay” to “Firework,” or Ke$ha claiming that “We R Who We R” was inspired by gay suicides, but also singing things like, “I don’t want to date a dude with a vag.”  Considering that music is ultimately a product associated with a personal brand, that particular move of Katy Perry’s is akin to American Apparel trying to go classy–consumers will never forget the metallic gold booty shorts.  Lady Gaga has built her own image, but it’s not as carefully-crafted as it appears if its foundation is sheer mindless egoism.


A little about Avi Buffalo and a lot about why I’m a journalism major

I have been reading quite a bit of Pitchfork Reviews Reviews lately, so I apologize in advance if this sounds sort of like that. I don’t want to jack his style, which is arguably embarrassing for a journalism major, but I do like how honest he is.

Last night, I went to see Avi Buffalo at Exit/In. Before they went on, I went up to the merch stand to see what was on offer, and I started talking to George, their merch guy, and a girl whose name I can’t remember. Avi Buffalo are doing a special tour EP where all of the cases are plain cardboard so that people can draw on them, and the girl was killing time by doodling on some of those covers. George offered me one, and because I’m not very good at drawing, I just indecorously scrawled “CALIFORNIA” with “screw Katy Perry” in smaller letters. George told me he actually likes Katy Perry, and I wanted to talk about it, but it didn’t feel right at that moment.

One of them asked me what I did, and I said that I was a journalism student, that I decided to switch after a year of being a music business major. They wanted to know why, and I said it was because I was more interested in the cultural aspects of music and the entertainment industry. The girl asked me to explain. I launched into this ramble about how Vampire Weekend are one of my favorite bands because, in addition to making good songs and really caring about what they do, they also bring up all of these questions about class that you normally see more in the British music scene, like in the mid-90s with Blur and Oasis. She asked me if Vampire Weekend were British, and I said, “No, they’re American.” She said, “We don’t like to talk about class here,” and I agreed. George said something about how Avi Buffalo had opened for Vampire Weekend one time, and I sort of haphazardly plowed on and started talking about how Das Racist are really interesting because they metabolize a combination of highbrow and lowbrow cultural references into much more blatant statements about class and race in America. Then Avi Buffalo started to play and the girl and I left to go watch them.

The band were pretty good, but I could definitely tell that it was the first night of the tour. Their keyboardist just left, so Avi had to juggle playing guitar and putting on the loops of the parts that they didn’t have a fourth person to play. They still sounded tight as a three-piece, and I wish them the best of luck on this tour. While they played, I started thinking about how young they are, fresh out of high school, and how young Arctic Monkeys were when they first signed to Domino and broke the UK record for fastest-selling debut album. I was younger than Arctic Monkeys were then, and I’m older than Avi Buffalo are now, and I had to stop myself from having a mini-crisis over the impermanent nature of youth.

After the show, I went back to the merch table to buy one of the customized tour EPs and I attempted to engage George in a conversation about why he likes Katy Perry. He said it was because she’s just fun, but she certainly doesn’t have a monopoly on fun, and there are plenty of fun artists who don’t make bothersome statements that undermine the legitimate discrimination that LGBT people face on a daily basis. People say that Lady Gaga exploits the gay audience for her own personal gain, but Katy Perry has done that on a much grander scale with her songs. Regardless of her intentions, Gaga ultimately maintains a consistently positive message. And, again, I think I’m a journalism major because we need to talk about why Katy Perry and Lady Gaga matter, even though sometimes it seems like they don’t matter.

Regarding the Lady Gaga backlash

Recently, it seems as if some people are starting to turn against Lady Gaga’s popularity. One reason cited is that she’s apparently “not as much fun anymore,” as shown in her recent video for “Alejandro.” The video is decidedly dark in tone and contains in-your-face visual references to Catholicism and totalitarian regimes, a far cry from the earlier single “Eh, Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say).” Much has happened between the releases of the two songs–not only has Lady Gaga exploded in popularity, but she has also expanded the Haus of Gaga, the large creative team behind her productions. The change in style has also marked a certain cognitive dissonance between her music and the way she presents herself.

Many were quick to jump on M.I.A. after she said that Lady Gaga isn’t as weird as she wants to be, but that was before this wave of backlash started. The interview may have taken place before the “Alejandro” video came out, but M.I.A.’s point is still valid. In-depth religious imagery and gender-bending are grand in the videos, but, lyrically, Gaga’s songs are in line with many other Top 40 pop hits. She may be a tremendous vocal talent, but “I’m up in the club and I’m sipping that bub” is not exactly an original sentiment. At this point, it seems clear that the visual element of the Gaga package is far more advanced than where her music is, and the music is ultimately more important, unless she is to be re-categorized from musician to performance artist. Pairing a highly calculated image with bog-standard content just isn’t working, and it makes her seem like she’s trying too hard.

If Lady Gaga’s next album was more experimental, the perceived image would seem more genuine. True eccentricity is not a goal to attain; it is effortless. Artists like Björk and Kate Bush have reputations for being weird, and it seems to come perfectly naturally to them. A newer example would be Florence + the Machine. While Florence’s stage costumes are nowhere near as elaborate as Lady Gaga’s, there is certainly a theatrical element to her performances, and her songs do not shy away from morbid and violent themes. It seems that Gaga has two options: tone her image down, or step her music up. It seems generally preferable for artists’ music to be perceived as weirder than their images. The Fiery Furnaces were never particularly experimental with their look, even when they were writing eight-minute songs about pirates. Between their 2008 and 2010 albums, MGMT have started to favor a more clean-cut look while simultaneously developing a more challenging sound. While Lady Gaga is on a distinctly different career trajectory, she could stand to take a few notes from these other artists.

The other main reason for the backlash I’ve seen is being “over her shtick,” which seems fairly self-explanatory. H&M sells clip-in hair bows now.

Leisure Reading: New Blur single, M.I.A. vs. Lady Gaga, MGMT, Sondre Lerche, Freelance Whales

Blur are releasing a new single for Record Store Day. Unfortunately, it’s limited to 1,000 copies in the UK, so the rest of us will have to frantically trawl the internet for vinyl-to-mp3 rips. I was too young for their 90s Britpop heyday and didn’t get into Blur until around 2005, but I am stupidly overjoyed. Get on that business, Libertines.

The M.I.A. vs. Lady Gaga feud is making me horribly conflicted. I adore both of them–I still regret missing the opportunity to see M.I.A. two years ago–but this feel vaguely reminiscent of that sort of high school drama situation when your friend starts bad-mouthing one of your other friends in front of you. Both women are extraordinarily talented, but in very different ways. Yes, maybe Gaga makes dance music for drunk people that doesn’t confront any serious political issues, but damn she can sing. As for her image, I interpreted the product placement in the Telephone video as a method of subverting the standard technique by purposely making it obvious. It also remains that huge amounts of people still automatically think of Pineapple Express when they hear M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes.” There are good and bad sides to commercial success, and as much as I like M.I.A., Lady Gaga is obviously the bigger player in the game at the moment. Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig stated it via Twitter about as well as anyone’s ever going to: “M.I.A. dissing Lady Gaga is like when a dude goes to prison and immediately shivs the baddest dude in the cafeteria…works on TV, but I could imagine it backfiring pretty badly (the shivving not the dissing).” Who’s even been comparing M.I.A. to Gaga in the first place?

On that note, MGMT turned down opening for Lady Gaga. They say you can’t miss what you’ve never had, but that’s a dream-crusher right there. Sure, maybe MGMT want to stay in their underground bunker full of acid, but if they like Gaga enough to reference her in a song title, you’d think they’d be willing to play a few shows with her.

Watch a four-song acoustic set from the always-lovely Sondre Lerche here.

Nitsuh Abebe’s editorial about musical trends and Freelance Whales brings up some interesting points. Personally, I gave the Freelance Whales album a fair few listens, acknowledging that their sound contains many elements similar to various artists I enjoy, but it’s failed to make a serious impression on me.

Top Eight Thursday: 18 March 2010

Top eight songs of the past seven days.