A heated debate on Out.com about Lady Gaga’s new single ‘Born This Way’. I’m the one making omelette out of it.
This is an atrocious, disastrous mistake on Gaga’s part. It’s so bad it’s mind-reeling. It could very well mark the beginning of the end her career. After all that gigantic build-up and anticipation about her first new material in over a year she’s gone and laid a… giant egg. Never mind ‘the gayest song ever’ it’s just Too Gay To Play. I suspect it’s too gay even for the gays. Too patronising and crass and feeble. They’ll pretend to love it for a few weeks and then quietly forget all about it. It will be the shortest-lived ‘anthem’ ever.
It’s a catchy single, of course, and will make a lot of money, but everything about this song is backwards. The music, the lyrics, the mentality, the politics. For all the self-righteous posturing it’s completely free of any content. But brimming over with bullshit. Not only are we ‘born this way’, and ‘God makes no mistakes’, and being gay is apparently an ethnic trait, sexuality is also now some kind of smug fucking railway – ‘I’m on the right track baby’. Well, stop the choo-choo, I wanna get off.
It’s as if someone decided to remake The Rocky Horror Picture Show as a GLAAD public service announcement, with Harvey Fierstein or Dan Savage in the role of Frank-N-Furter. And cut all the songs.
In my humble opinion, Gaga should never write head-on about sexuality again. Ever. That’s her only hope of recovering the post-sexual charge that made her seem so interesting and relevant just a few months ago. She embodies post-sexuality, and the notion that you might want to choose who you love or shag – or who you are – better than anyone. But she clearly can’t articulate it self-consciously in a lyric. It might be impossible for anyone to do that – but almost anyone could make a better fist of it than Gaga in ‘Born That Way’.
Musically, the homages to Madge were much better done on The Fame Monster (though it was the Boney M salutes such as ‘Bad Romance’ and ‘Poker Face’ that were her best tracks). In 2011, especially after being dubbed ‘the Diva of Déjà Vu’ by Camille Paglia (you were so right, Ms P!) she really, really needed to escape the gravitational attraction of Planet Madge.
But she wanted this song to be GAY!!! so she returned yet again to the nipple of the original gay Borg queen at her gayest. And as I say, she may have poisoned herself fatally with this tragic pastiche, that is a HiNRG cover of Express Yourself in a Vogue stylee, but with less 21st Century lyrics than either of those 20th Century songs.
Maybe I’m completely and utterly wrong. Maybe this is a genius masterstroke. Maybe Gaga’s deliberately parodying old-skool American gayness here with her rainbow vomit lyrics, God-bothering, gagging mixture of self-pity and pride, apologia and anger – and slavish Maddy/Diva idolatry – to show it up in its worst possible light. To inoculate The Gays against… themselves.
I mean, after the global-scale, towering cackness of ‘Born this Way’ can there ever be a ‘gay anthem’ again?
(Out Magazine, Sept 24 2010)
My bitch is better than your bitch! And she wore that dress before yours did! My bitch would kick your bitch’s ass!
This is the kind of thing the older generation — my generation — has begun to say ever more loudly about the younger generation’s first bona fide superstar, Lady Gaga. David Bowie, Freddie Mercury, Elton John, Grace Jones, and—crossing ourselves and throwing salt over our shoulders—Madonna all did it years before Gaga, and so much better.
The world’s most famous gay Madonna fan, Camille Paglia, was recently given four pages in the U.K.’s The Sunday Times Magazine to say this, “demolishing” Lady Gaga, aka Stefani Germanotta, as an “asexual, confected copycat who has seduced the Internet generation.” Paglia is a worthy critic indeed, and her mocking epithet “the diva of déjà vu” is bound to stick like chewing gum rubbed in a hated schoolgirl’s hair. But after reading her impassioned assault — which, for all its fascinating history of female Hollywood stars, seemed to boil down to “she’s not Madonna, and I don’t fancy holding her meat purse” — I found myself liking Lady Gaga more rather than less.
Paglia’s essay was further proof of Gaga’s importance. As I like to say to gay friends of a certain age who rail almost daily against Gaga on Facebook, for someone so shallow, so talentless, and so derivative she certainly seems to hold your attention. The passionate hatred Gaga provokes is all part of her remarkable potency. When was the last time pop music mattered? When was the last time you cared? Until Lady Gaga came along, just a couple years ago, pop seemed thoroughly pooped. Some nice tunes and haircuts here and there and some really excellent financial institution ad soundtracks, but really, who thought pop could ever trouble us again as a total art form?
Gaga has single-handedly resurrected pop. Or at least she’s made it seem like it’s alive. Maybe it’s a kind of galvanic motion — those pop promos sometimes look like Helmut Newton zombie flicks — but boy, this is shocking fun. And yes, her persona is something of a pint-size Bride of Frankenstein, assembled out of Photoshopped dead star body parts. But isn’t everyone nowadays?
Of course she’s not David Bowie or Madonna. It’s not 1972 or 1984. Instead, we’re a decade into a new, blank, digital century when creativity is curation. The pop past weighs heavily on our shoulders — but Gaga wears it so lightly and sprightly on her tiny frame it’s inspiring. In the flickering, shape-shifting shape of Lady Gaga, tired old postmodernism never looked so frisky. And it turns out to be really good on the dance floor. The 21st century didn’t really get going, or have a decent soundtrack, until Ms. Germanotta came along with her Gagacious beats.
But the older generation’s resentful backlash against Lady Gaga — how dare the kids think they have a proper star to speak for them! — is well and truly underway. Paglia’s piece was well-timed and has already prompted a host of copycat columns around the world complaining about Gaga the tiresome copycat. It had to happen, of course. She is now so huge as to be completely unrivaled in pop cultural terms — the most famous woman on the planet: too big and tasty a target for the press not to chew up.
That mesmerizing meat dress she wore to the MTV Video Music Awards — where she picked up eight trophies, including Video of the Year for “Bad Romance” — displayed a spooky kind of prescience. The inevitable lip-smacking Gaga backlash seems almost to be a predetermined part of the Gaga plot. And to those who like to tut and roll their eyes over the meat dress and intone “It’s been done before, dear,” please remind me again which year it was that a female artist, let alone the biggest artist in the world, accepted an MTV award, or any music award, dressed as a rib-eye?
Gaga “wants to have it both ways,” complained Paglia in The Sunday Times, “to be hip and avant-garde and yet popular and universal.” But isn’t that what really great pop — pop as a total art form — tries to do? Put images and concepts into contexts they’re not supposed to inhabit? Like the pop charts? Isn’t that what Madonna at her best was doing? Yes, it’s probably ultimately a doomed project, but if there’s anything that approaches avant-garde for the masses, it’s that meat dress at the MTV awards, or that jaw-dropping video for “Bad Romance,” complete with smoking skeleton and sparking bra.
In the indignant roll call of the artists Gaga has “ripped off,” one who is rarely mentioned is the Australian-born performance artist Leigh Bowery, who died in 1994 of AIDS-related illnesses. Bowery defied gender, and pretty much any category you care to mention, with his stunning, hilarious, and terrifying body-morphing outfits, sometimes fashioned out of his own (ample) flesh. Like Gaga, he had a very keen sense of humor about what it means to be human and set out to sabotage conceptions of “sexiness.” Famously, he once lay on a divan in a shop window in a London art gallery preening himself for a week.
Gaga, however, is reclining in the shop window of the world. Paglia’s accusation that Gaga is “asexual” spectacularly miss the point that Gaga is postsexual. She’s post–the now boringly compulsorily “sexy” world that Madonna helped usher in, bullwhip in hand, which is now as burned-out as that “Bad Romance” skeleton. Gaga isn’t asexual or even particularly androgynous — she’s transexy. She’s deliberately overexposing “sexiness,” making it as transparent as her skin sometimes seems to be. Instead of just rubbing herself up, she’s showing gender and sexuality up by taking them to grotesque extremes. Even if she sometimes looks like Dali doodling his ideal inflatable doll.
But I doubt any of this will persuade those of my generation who have decided to spoil the younger generation’s fun and let them know how ignorant they are. After all, that’s the only kind of fun we oldies have. Even if her detractors’ dreams came true and Lady Gaga was publicly burned at the stake in Central Park, they still wouldn’t be happy. “Oh, look at her!” they’d say, rolling their eyes. “She’s so tired! Joan of Arc did that in 1431. She had much better hips. And she did it in French!”
Copyright Mark Simpson 2010
Mark Simpson on the (fast diminishing) difference between fame and legend
(The Hospital Club magazine, Spring 2010)
A recent bloody assassination attempt on Gore Vidal, the last great American man of letters by the English journalist Christopher Hitchens in the glossy pages of Vanity Fair prompted me, and I suspect many others, to ponder the difference between fame and legend.
Both Vidal and Hitchens are famous of course, but only Vidal is a legend. Hitchens, for all his achievements, for all his impressive, furious scribbling, contrarian controversy, and admirable G&T habit, is not and never will be legendary.
Not because Vidal has written many more or better books than Hitchens. Not because his essays are wittier, his sentences more elegant. Not because he knew the Kennedys – and dished the dirt. Not even because Vidal, in a wheelchair, wizened and enfeebled by war wounds, old age and a lifetime’s boozing, is a much greater man than the much younger Hitchens.
No, Vidal is a legend because it is as undeniable as his own mortality that he will live forever. Or at least, as long as people care to remember anyone these days. Should Hitchens be struck down tomorrow by a dodgy canapé or spiked tonic water, after the loud, fulsome eulogies have been delivered by his media colleagues, he would be completely forgotten. Hitchens is more aware of this than anyone, hence his entirely understandable yen to liquidate his one-time mentor. But precisely because Vidal is a legend the attempt backfires as hilariously as Wile E. Coyote’s did on Road Runner.
Admittedly though, there’s less and less interest in anyone who writes. Unless of course they’ve left nice comments on your hilarious Facebook status update. Everyone is a writer now – or at least a typer.
That said, in a universe increasingly crowded with celebrities, applying the legendary test is a useful and humane way of thinning them out. Annoyed by someone’s ubiquitousness? Their success at making you see their gurning mug everywhere? The way they remind you of your own obscurity? Well, ask yourself this: will they be remembered and talked about when they are no longer around to remind us, incessantly, of their existence? At a stroke, you’ve done away with the vast majority of the bastards.
Even though most of them don’t really care about posterity — because they won’t be around to exploit the image rights – it’s a fun game to play. By this criteria, George Best is a legend, David Beckham – much more famous than Best ever was and possibly the most famous person in the world today – isn’t. Paul Newman is, Brad Pitt isn’t (though his six pack might be). Morrissey is, Robbie Williams really, really isn’t. Thatcher is, Blair isn’t. Alan Bennett is, Stephen ‘National Treasure’ Fry isn’t. Julie Burchill is, Katie Price ain’t. Princess Di is, Madonna probably isn’t. Hockney is, Damian Hirst, even pickled in formaldehyde, isn’t. And so on.
You’ll note that dead legends aren’t in the past tense – this is because legends by definition are never past tense. Probably the greatest legend is Elvis Presley. Hence all the reported sightings of him on Mars and down the chip shop. The King could never die on his khazi, obese and constipated. And in many senses Elvis really is alive – it’s just the rest of us I’m not so sure about.
Now, you might object that this is all a very subjective business, that the legendary test is really just a way of being nasty about people I happen not to like and nice about people I do. And you might not be entirely mistaken. But this isn’t really about who you like – it’s about who will last. Legends aren’t necessarily good or particularly nice people, either. Hitler and Stalin are legends, and so are Bob Geldof and Mel Gibson.
The 21st Century is not very conducive to legendary status. It’s very, very difficult to become one today – and very, very few people even bother to try. Vidal, for instance, is really a Twentieth Century legend that has survived, much against his better judgement, into the Twenty-First Century – largely as a kind of bad conscience. Princess Di on the other hand is a legend in large part because she managed to die just before the end of the Twentieth Century. If she hadn’t, we would have grown very bored with her indeed by now. Katie Price’s fate would probably seem enviable by comparison.
Today’s infrastructure of fame is designed to discourage legends. The more mediated, the more wired the world becomes, the more people can become famous, more quickly – and the more people are interested in fame. But as others have pointed out, fame has to be more disposable. More fame and more famous people requires a much higher turnover. Legends, in other words, spoil the celebrity ecosystem because they refuse to be recycled and hog fame resources forever. Put another way, legendary status is analogue, not digital.
Impatience is another factor. In a wired world, even if people wanted legends, or at least sometimes felt nostalgic about them, no one could be bothered with waiting for someone to become one. So instead the media, MSM and non-MSM, creates ‘instant legends’, which are in some ways even more disposable than common-or-garden celebs.
Barack Obama is a recent example of an instant legend. A very popular 1960s tribute act of HOPE and CHANGE during the Primaries, when he was inaugurated as President last year the media – and the Nobel Peace Prize Committee – behaved as if both JFK and MLK were being sworn in after their assassinations. Lately the same media have been talking about the epoch-making Obama as a one-term President. He may yet achieve real legendary status, but if he does it will be in spite of his instant legend.
Osama Bin Laden is one of the very few people to have already achieved true legendary status in the 21st Century – along with, I suspect, Lady Gaga. Which sort of proves the rule.
© Mark Simpson 2010
I’ll admit to being more or less criminally ignorant of Mr Weir before I saw this clip of his interpretation of ‘Poker Face’ last year.
I also know very little about ice skating, but I know one thing: this isn’t ice skating. This is energetically sliding around in a kinky catsuit while shimmying and gesturing and pulling coquettish faces, and generally flickering around the ice like a low blue flambé. And I’m all for it. I don’t know about you but it brought me out in goose-pimples. Even better than the climax to Baz Luhrman’s best film Strictly Ballroom, not least because unlike the protagonist of that film Weir doesn’t have to pretend he’s dancing with anyone else but himself.
It’s like watching a humbling evolutionary leap of the human species and the vindictive triumph of an impossible seven-year-old’s desire to make everyone look at them at the wedding reception disco – all combined in one glittery package. Seldom have skater and soundtrack been better matched. In fact, it deserves a (possibly) new noun. This is… Gagacity.
I think this kind of performance shows what fearsome things today’s generation of young men are capable of. Flamboyance can be a very powerful, very liberating quality and doesn’t have to be something just for flamers. Or Lady G.
I wish I were capable of it. But I I’d probably have to have Weir’s figure, not to mention his youth, to pull it off. That and a hefty pair of cojones.
Until last year I thought pop was a completely spent force. Oh, there were some nice bands around with nice tunes and some nice haircuts, but pop as a total art form was pooped. Along with pop culture. It was just another Facebook app.
And then along came the New York songwriter-turned-singer that the press loves to dub ‘bizarre’. 2009 was indubitably The Year of Gaga, and not just because she had a string of blockbuster international hits, but because they were the instantly unmistakable product of a ‘kooky’ young woman who is actually completely in control of her work and vision. And her own aesthetic. Hence perhaps the wishful-thinking sightings of a penis. This chick doesn’t need a dick – she has a real one.
Last night at the Brits (where she performed acoustic versions of ‘Telephone’ and ‘Dance in the Dark’, styled by Miss Haversham saluting Marie Antoinette ) she won a rare three gongs. She deserved much more. And a much longer set. (It was rumoured to have been cut down by anxious Brits producers because she kept changing her plans.)
Gaga has, almost single-handedly, resurrected mainstream, High Street pop music – or at least made it seem like it’s alive again. She’s even made postmodernism seem almost… modern again. That she does it with a look and startling pop promos that play so entertainingly with the deathly, garish iconography of fashion and contemporary celebrity culture is all the more remarkable. Yes it’s a kind of galvanic motion – those promos often look like Helmut Newton zombie flicks – but boy, this is shocking fun. Besides, that’s the nature of the twitching/tweeting human subject in a mediated, hyper-consumerist age.
Sorry to go on, but Gaga manages to be truly pop, and yet is a true artist. She churns out crowd-pleasing dance-floor tracks that stomp on the competition, but there’s also a winsome melancholy and vulnerability behind the… Poker Face.
Some hasten to mention the ‘M’ word to put Gaga in her place. But aside from moments of hilarious brilliance such as ‘Like a Virgin’ and ‘Vogue’ I was never much of a Madonna fan, even before she found the Kabala and I’m-not-Gay Ritchie. Maybe it’s early-onset dementia, but I feel differently about Gaga. Rather than see her as a Madonna knock-off, I see her as a more fully-realised Madonna. She’s the Madonna Madonna wanted us to take her for (and legions of gays did).
And it’s not as if Gaga doesn’t pay homage. ‘Dance in the Dark’, which Gaga performed at the Brits, is probably my favourite track from The Fame. It’s very 1980s HiNRG – with a talky bridge that is a touching tribute to Madge’s Vogue. It’s actually gayer than Vogue, which is quite something. You can almost smell the poppers. And I don’t even like poppers.
Gaga, a dedicated follower of fashion, dedicated her Brits performance to her friend Alexander McQueen, who died last week. I don’t like eulogies, but I did rate his work. He was a genuinely free spirit, a gay bohemian of the kind that almost died out in the 1980s (and which Gaga is clearly inspired by). That he seems to have taken his own life suggests that it wasn’t easy fighting history, or fashion houses.
I never met Lee, but we did have a flirty fax correspondence in the late 1990s when I was still in my thirties. His opening gambit was ‘we met once in DTPM a couple of years ago’. DTPM was a London gay techno club where all the muscle boys went and took off their shirts and downed masses of drugs, dancing the night away, so of course I should have met him at DTPM – and forgotten about it. But I never did because I never went there. Or anywhere, really.
In the course of our thermal-paper correspondence (which I think I still have somewhere, now fading away into blankness) he asked me, in a handwritten scrawl on Givenchy headed notepaper, to marry him. I don’t know how serious he was, but I declined, pointing out I wasn’t really the marrying kind. This was true, but it was even truer that he wasn’t really my type. Which is a sad reflection on me, and perhaps on male homosexuality. I suspect Lee was often told by gay men he wasn’t ‘their type’.
Either way, I could have done much, much worse. And of course, I did.