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
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.
Is the husband of the world’s most famous ‘gay man trapped in a woman’s body’ a homophobe? Or a conflicted homophile? Or both?
Promoting his new book, Madonna’s brother Christopher Ciccone has been claiming that absurdly straight acting Guy Ritchie’s homophobia is one of the reasons why he and his slightly more famous sister are no longer on speaking terms.
You don’t have to buy Ciccone’s memoirs though to unearth evidence that Guy has some ‘issues’. Just watch his homoerotic, homosocial and homophobic gangbanger movies — all the ‘homos’ are here. As luck would have it, there’s another due out shortly, called RocknRolla. I’ve yet to see it, but reportedly, it’s even more ‘homo’ than his previous films — and no less confused.
In the meantime, here’s a diagnosis I penned for the Independent on Sunday eight years ago when Ritchie’s second film Snatch was released. Like Eminem, another gangster/gangsta groupie who came to prominence around the same time as Ritchie in the early Noughties, the homophobia in his work seems like a kind of highly conflicted and highly erotic homophilia.
Actually, it’s more like homomania — literally being unable to stop thinking and talking about bumming and practically drawing pictures for us. Which is probably what I have in common with him — though I’d like to think I’m slightly more self-aware.
In Ritchie’s world — as in Em’s — buggery is the only kind of sex there is. The only ‘snatch’ in Snatch belongs to men.
what sort of a guy’s guy is Guy Ritchie?
Mark Simpson wonders whether Madonna’s husband is a gay man trapped in a straight man’s body
(Independent on Sunday, August 27, 2000)
‘Do you have big brave balls,” asks human Rottweiler Vinnie Jones in a stand-off moment in Guy Ritchie’s new movie Snatch, “or mincey faggot balls?”
We don’t entertain any doubts about the circumference of Vinnie’s testicles — and not just because he flashes a gun big enough to make Linda Lovelace gasp. What’s more, with the birth of Guy Ritchie’s son Rocco, the whole world knows that the 31-year-old writer-director of the spectacularly successful Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels has balls big and brave enough to impregnate Madonna.
But is this middle-class gangster-groupie so sure about what kind of balls he himself dangles? On the basis of his curiously sexually ambivalent output, it seems Ritchie — like his vast, appreciative young male audience — is more than a little worried about the possibility that he might have “mincey faggot balls” after all.
Let’s not beat around the bush here: the Lock, Stock and Snatch genre — and the lad magazine culture from which it seems to have sprung — is a kind of gay porn for straight men (or, rather, straight boys). As with his first film, Snatch is obsessed with buggery. Its “mockney geezer” dialogue is thick with references to “‘aving me pants pulled down”, being “bent over”, “full penetration”, and being “f–ked”. This isn’t very surprising since, as in Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and the spin-off TV series he executive-produced, women are conspicuous by their absence — the only snatch in Snatch belongs to other men. Hence the obsession with “hard men” and “pussies”; those who take and those who are taken. The erotics of Ritchie’s cinematic universe seem to be that of the prison showers (or the public school dormitory).
Ritchie is a hot ticket at the moment because, in an age of masculine confusion, he is the pre-eminent example of a rising phenomenon: the homohetero. Exclusively and adamantly heterosexual in the bedroom, the homohetero is nevertheless entranced by masculine images, forever fantasising about a world of homosociality that is just a dropped bar of soap away from homosexuality. Could it be that Guy Ritchie — who lives with the woman famously described as a gay man trapped in a woman’s body — is a gay man trapped in a straight man’s body?
Perhaps this is why Snatch begins with a jokey disavowal of homosexuality. “Turkish”, the central character and narrator (played by the very handsome “man’s man” Jason Statham), introduces himself and “me partner, Tommy”, adding quickly, “I don’t mean ‘partner’ in the sense of ‘olding ‘ands.” And there’s certainly a lot to disavow. The nearest thing to a sex scene in Lock, Stock was the lovingly shot, soft-focus, all-male pub party where the lads get very drunk, wrestle and light each other’s farts, before falling into a blissful, exhausted post-orgasmic sleep. In the first episode of the TV series, they try to flog some dodgy porn to a fence. “It’s not gay, is it?” he asks, worriedly. “Do we look like a couple of rear-gunners?” the pretty boys retort.
Well, now that you ask, yes. After a fashion. Certainly, as shown in his films, Ritchie’s relationship to masculinity is a bit “gay”. Like Loaded and FHM — lad mags selling a commodified, aestheticised masculinity back to a generation of young men alienated from it in their own lives — it’s the supplicatory, nerdish and slightly masochistic perspective of the wannabe. Take Ritchie’s idolatrous, near-erotic camera-worship of “hard man” Vinnie Jones. The most memorable scene in Lock, Stock features Vinnie repeatedly slamming a car door on a man’s head in slow motion to uplifting music. The power of this religiously intense scene stems from the way that much of it is shot from the point of view of the victim — Ritchie and the audience are looking up admiringly at Vinnie “doing his nut”. It’s a moment which Jean Genet could have directed.
Ritchie can be touchy about his image. Asked a few worshipful questions recently about his taste in clothes by FHM, he became a tad defensive, spraying about the words “fruity”, “queeny”, “f—ing fruit-tree” and “mincey”, and declaring that he would be happiest “in a gladiator outfit” (a leather skirt?).
But then, Ritchie’s disavowal is deep-rooted. Though he now denies claiming anything of the sort, Ritchie is famously said to have reinvented and relocated his past: “I’ve lived in the East End for 30 years,” he was quoted as saying last year. “I’ve been in a load of mess-ups … I’ve been poor all of my life …” It was subsequently revealed that he spent much of his childhood at Loton Park, the 17th– century home of his baronet stepfather. Coming from this background, Ritchie understands that “street” is sexy — and that, conversely, middle-class balls are “mincey faggot balls”. “They’re poofs. Soft as shite … faggots” is the verdict of one of Ritchie’s crims in Lock, Stock on the clownish public-schoolboy ganja growers — who are humiliated and dispensed with early on in the film.
It’s not just the nice middle-class boys, though. In a post-feminist era, most men are wondering what a masculine world might look like. As Brad Pitt puts it in another homo-hetero movie, Fight Club: “We’re a generation of men raised by women. Maybe another woman isn’t what we need.” (Appropriately enough, Pitt makes an appearance in Snatch, reprising his Fight Club role as a bare-knuckle fighter.) No wonder a generation of boys is so interested in seeing “big brave balls” at the cinema.
But this fascination doesn’t come without its own anxieties. And, ironically, it’s the squeamishness of Ritchie in particular — and homoheteros in general — about actual homosexuality that gives the lie to their lowlife fantasies. In Lock, Stock, one of the lads explains the perfect scam: place an ad for “Arse Ticklers Faggot Fan Club anal-intruding dildos” in gay magazines, and wait for the cheques to roll in. Then, send out letters saying that you’re out of stock and enclose a cheque stamped “Arse Ticklers Faggot Fan Club”. “Not a single soul will cash it!” we’re told. (Obviously Ritchie didn’t know many fags when he wrote that.) It could be said that Ritchie and lad culture have been running that scam ever since the appearance of Lock, Stock — selling us a promise of something titillating that never quite arrives.
All in all, it seems both a paradox and entirely apt that big brave ball-fixated Ritchie lives with the ultimate gay icon: a woman whom many men would consider to be the biggest ball-buster in the world; an older partner whose own success and fame easily dwarfs his. But watching Lock, Stock, Snatch et al, maybe Ritchie’s interest in Madonna isn’t so surprising. As he puts it himself: “I like her, because she’s ballsy”.
Copyright Mark Simpson 2008
This essay is collected in Sex Terror: Erotic Misadventures in Pop Culture
Madonna interviewed with this month’s Elle magazine, excerpted this week in the Daily Mail under the headline ‘My amazing sex-life’. Apparently hubby Guy has encouraged her to be more feminine.
Madge said: “I think I’ve been honing and finessing my feminine side. I’ve always been very comfortable with my masculine side — the confidence, the ballsiness. I’ve learnt to be more pliant, more vulnerable — and to be comfortable with that.“‘
I know it’s rude to quote yourself, especially in public, but it does remind me of something I wrote for this month’s Out magazine about transexy celebs who are obliterating sexual difference with botox:
‘Even when a celebrity couple, like Maddy and Guy, act out a reassertion of traditional roles, it only serves as parody. When Madonna brags about her mockney gangster groupie husband bossing her about, it only serves to make it clear that Guy is the English nanny whose duties include having to pretend to dominate Madonna seven or eight times a week.’
But what, I wonder, was Guy saying when the pic (left) was snapped?
Given this story from last year about Madonna’s sex toy gift for him, perhaps it was: “The strap-on was that big I couldn’t get my hand around it!”