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 Havisham 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.
I have always been aware of Christina Aqilera, and her great voice, but just saw her in “Burlesque” the lady runs circles around Gaga or any other female vocalist in this decade. Amazing. So Gaga just gets the costume prize.
I ca see wg=here gay people would want something freakish to represent how off track they’ve gotten.
I have to admit, I’m almost starting to like the Gaga. “…act of the vacant, empty performer-to-be-consumed” is the line that made me think twice.
Regardless, I’ll also admit that she gives me bone – and that, is a rare thing from the female camp for me.
Romance is analogue, and so very last century.
Yes! A Mae West for our times!
Mark, I’m so out of the loop that for the better part of the past year I assumed that anyone called ‘Lady GaGa’ must have a penis! She may be the first true female drag queen since Mae West.
Good God, Mark, you just put in a reply what I was about to write: unlike a certain confabulation of self-promotion gimmicks, Lady G is actually a classically trained musician who writes her own stuff.
And to think that she did it all without being on American Idol.
Mark S: Coming from you that’s an incredible compliment! Since I got turned on to Gaga about six months ago, I’ve spent probably far too many drunken evenings over-analyzing Gaga’s persona and the surprising complexity of her music and imagery (if not her lyrics) with my boyfriend, who incidentally is the bi guy who introduced me to your site with regards to your awesome articles about male bisexuality and visibility.
Supermarky: Gaga is classically trained, and unlike Mistress M writes all her own music (and sings live). You may not be able to make out the words, but it sounds like you’re hearing the real language and architecture of the song.
I liked that too!
Have to say I quite liked the simple architecture of the main part of the song, melodically speaking (I’m hearing impaired and couldn’t get the words at all): the rising 5th against the falling 3 motive down to the top note of the 5th, the nice forward propulsion of this. And it’ll have to be driven out of my head if I’m not to continue to hear it all day long.
Sarah: Glad to share something with you. And I wish that sentence ‘There’s such an immense thoughtfulness behind Gaga’s stage act of the vacant, empty performer-to-be-consumed’ was one of mine.
It’s important to ask the right question.
Is Lady gaga perfect for pop,
If what you truly admire is beethoven, I am your brother. But who can be your keeper if you demand beethoven in pop, when beethoven isn’t even in high art, anymore?
I love your writing, Mark, so I am delighted to find that you share my Gaga appreciation. I’m generally not interested in pop culture these days, but a friend showed me the paparazzi video and I was hooked. There’s such an immense thoughtfulness behind Gaga’s stage act of the vacant, empty performer-to-be-consumed. And she’s only 23! Looking forward to seeing how she matures as an artist.
Oh yeah, and her music is just the gayest, most danceable shit around. How can it not be love?
The fact that people can get this excited about Lady Gaga is just a sign of how dire pop music is in general. It’s the gay version of straight men trying to convince themselves that the Arctic Monkeys are as exciting and important as the Beatles/the Jam/any other epoch-making guitar band you care to name.
To all the Gaga Nada’s out there, take a look at your spiritual leader:
Uroskin: As for poppers: I prefer to save them for my victims. Along with chloroform.
Supermarky: I’ll try to take your advice about happiness, but can’t promise too much.
Diana: Please don’t tell anyone that I’m a gentlemen. I’ll get no work at all.
Suddenly I remember a little bit of “gay” history’s coattails I managed to witness going around the corner in the hollywood hills, putting me in mind of a prospective Mr and Mrs Mark and Alexander Simpson-McQueen pairing. I went to a party or two at the house of a man named Orestes – I never knew his last name – a UCLA professor, Proust the specialty, who was the longtime comp of Rudi Gernreich! They were both founding members of the Mattachine Society. Unfortunately there’s not too much to remember. The house was very sparsely appointed and there weren’t any pictures on display I do recall that someone asked him whether Rudi enjoyed dressing him and he explained that for him to do that would have been disrespectful. I disagree, naturally. I think it’s quite a compliment for someone to say, “I envision you [thus]…” I suppose though that Orestes held his own! I asked him if he thought Proust really liked anybody besides his mother and grandmother. He thought awhile then offered, “Saint Loup?” without appearing to have much hope.
Anyway Mark you have to stop shrinking from happiness! One day you and the mozzer will meet… why put it off? And the next proposal of marriage from a visionary angel you ought perhaps to turn over to an agent or manager or something for consideration, a personal coach?
Oh Mr. Simpson – while I can not concur with your assessment of the Ga, as a vessel for pop adulation she is most definitely a great vehicle, but unfortunately she is popular without being sublime – as in the Grace Jones bad drag impression she seems to be doing. I’m just glad Lee died before he could direct a video for her, GaGa is like a dumbed down version of Bjork, it most definitely feels like many of her performances knock-off of people like Madonna or the others, without the good dancing or a real sense of art. I agree she certainly seems to know how to be a scandal (without actually being one or even being capable of). She feels like the second coming of Marilyn Manson, albeit a lite version.
I think like McQ – the lady will soon find out that all that fame and adulation is a particularly cold and depressing place to be without copious amounts of drugs. Of course since her nasally bad voice and reliance on overproduction in the studio belie the fact that she is actually possessed of the genius – I would imagine she will take the high road of appearing on Celebrity Big Brother when all else fails her…
Ahhh I really love guys with love handles all over … like something to grab onto mmmm mmmm and of course he was soft spoken almost to the point of stuttering, but he had a nice tough looking mug on im all the same. He absolutely sent me. . . sigh…
I shouldn’t suppose he might have become fascinated with me but I can’t help wishing I’d had some chance to… give him something else to think about in his despair. . . . All I can do now is try to pick up a few pieces on ebay:
The only consolation is that at least he did those two amazing shows, Plato’s Atlantis and the ‘retrospective’ one with the umbrella hats and mad lipstick… My feelings Katherine Hammet summed up best: He was a genius, what a tragic, terrible waste.
Only I would add that I totally wanted to jump on him bigtime…
I should add, your appreciation of her does mean something, sir. At some point I’ll give gaga another go. Dance music is really not my thing though.
Oh, and I feel the same way about Madonna, I remember declaring myself “a bit of a madonnamaniac” at the time of “like a virgin” but it’s not like I ever would have bought one of her records or anything and my admiration wasn’t long lived. I also rather despise for incendiary songs like “keepin my baby” which while it brought her oodles of publicity I don’t doubt has led a lot of young women into make some pretty miserable choices for themselves and their offspring. And any respect it’s possible to feel for her goes down like a house of cards at the thought that her money goes to the kabalah – what a good little catholic she’s turned out after all just like Janet Fay in “the honeymoon killers”
Oh god, he was my type; I had a huge crush on him. Gaga is not so much, musically speaking. I have enjoyed the imagery that’s come across my computer screen; there is a lot that’s appealing about her in my cursory examination. But I only recently took the trouble to listen and was disappointed at her nasal voice and didn’t get very far. Maybe I will open up with more familiarity but was also struck by a declaration on her site site, “Hating pop culture is not cool.” I’m definitely more the JK Huysmans junior type whose last concern is being cool and for better or for worse am pretty content pretty much hating pop culture.
You don’t like poppers? Maybe try a different brand or a bottle that’s not 3 months old. Even Guy Ritchie looks good after a deep sniff.
You should have stopped after “pop as a total art form was pooped. Along with pop culture.”
Pop culture is stone cold dead. All that’s left is the zombie version. Everything – art, music, fashion, movies – it’s the same old thing done over and over again with better technology. God only knows what will replace it though.
Lady Gaga is so freaking clumsy with it – she just sticks on a very lazy ‘eccentric’ outfit and talks ditzy/dirty. There’s no soul, no youthful excitement, no humanity – just stupid clothes without the novelty factor.
I’m not a fan of GaGa or all the ‘highly calculated’ pop music out today and it sounds like some one might’ve had way too many energy drinks this morning, but I do have a small Ga Ga story. I was working in a hotel, cleaning toilets. I went on my lunch break and walked past a trashy newly opened club on the Gold Coast (Aus) and sitting at a small table was Lady Ga Ga, signing autographs – unfortunately there was no one there to take her autograph, she was just sitting at this desk by herself.
It was such a sad moment… I almost cried real tears.
I had lunch – and went back to cleaning shitty toilets. As I walked past again, the managers of the club were comforting her.
Of course, she’s big in Oz now – that’ll probably never happen to her again.
I’m still working shitty jobs though
I have always suspected you were a gentleman.
Many others would have advanced immediately to Printing House Square with a copy of that fax saying “I picked out Lee McQueen’s bridal veil. Two fousand quid, right?”
By saying that you ” could have done much, much worse. And of course, I did.” does this mean your single? if so, carry on following your instincts. everyone gets lonely.
As for Lady Gaga, I really can’t said her music and the marketing campaign is making her incredibly overrated. It just too much….air play, hype, glossy videos, hype. Do the songs really have a meaning? Do they touch you or will you remember her lyrics with affection?
The one and only postive thing a can say about her is at least she’s not James Blunt.
I feel Madonna has become a sad, desperate whore, holding on to lost youth by selling her soul, just like Dorian Gray, although her portrait of her soul will even more hideous especially when you look into her masonic/devil worshipping kabbalah crap.