Bored This Way: Gaga Lays A Giant Egg

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?

That Lady Gaga backlash is so tired already

The Gaga back­lash, which recently found itself a leader in Camille Paglia, was inev­it­able. It’s also mis­guided, argues Mark Simpson

(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

The Legendary Test

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

Johnny Does Gaga

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.

Long Live Lady Gaga and The McQueen

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.