Concurring opinions, added weight

I caught a lot of flak for that Lady Gaga joint last week, and for good reason. It was hastily written and poorly assembled. But I still stand by my argument, and it seems I'm not alone. Today in Pitchfork (via an interview with MTV), one Miss M.I.A. had a few choice words for Ms. Gaga herself:

"People say we're similar, that we both mix all these things in the pot and spit them out differently, but she spits it out exactly the same. None of her music's reflective of how weird she wants to be or thinks she is. She models herself on Grace Jones and Madonna, but the music sounds like 20-year-old Ibiza disco, you know? She's not progressive, but she's a good mimic. She sounds more like me than I fucking do!"

That sounds more or less like my exact argument. Gaga builds herself up to be some pop behemoth, an idol for all seasons breaking down borders with her charisma and flair. But in fact she's a shell of an artist who makes a spectacle of an honest artform.

The line of argument that normally stems from this is that of super irony. Gaga ironizes the concept of "pop star" itself and turns our own perceptions on their heads. Essentially, she's mocking the very MTV culture she's endorsing. It's the millennial update to Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music. But if that were to be the case, then shouldn't we expect her to speak out? Doesn't she have to expose the charade at some point to validate any suspicions that she is anything but a product of the very machine she's fueling? If she really is poking fun at her own fans, how far does she go before her effect is counterproductive, dragging more well-intentioned fans into her doldrums before creating an enlightenment?

But there is one side of the argument I've left out thus far, and it's the only side of the argument I can even partially get behind—that of Gaga as a gay rights activist.

The idea is that Harvey Milk couldn't have enacted the paradigm shift necessary for appropriate change—he was too much like us, too normal. We (that is, the royal We, meaning public opinion writ large) could relate to him, and therefore were less willing to forgive his differences. He was so much like us, so why wasn't he like us?

Likewise, Elton John became too much of an accommodationist. He spoke for gay rights, sure, but he still sang songs to/for straight people.

The same thing happened in the Civil Rights movement. W. E. B. DuBois and the NAACP made waves in legislative circles through victories in the courts, but public opinion wasn't as ready to accept a full-on movement because these—the free-born northerners—weren't the African Americans they knew. The full paradigmatic upheaval needed to come from the roots, from the dirtiest, poorest counties of the South. The Civil Rights movement needed a leader who represented not the privileged, free and northern class of African Americans, but one directly from the downtrodden, recently enslaved and so-called "rotten" class.

So in that way Harvey Milk is our Abraham Lincoln (or possibly DuBois), Lady Gaga our MLK.

In that same vein, Elton John is the Booker T. Washington, too much of an accommodationist to actually enact change. He speaks for gay rights, sure, but he still sings songs to/for straight people, just hoping he can appease the rest of the world with his version of Tuskegee University. And that's just how Gaga's isolating garishness can be the ram that bucks public ignorance.

The part of this that still unsettles me is that Gaga makes such a spectacle of what we associate with "queer." When people see her extravagant outfits and outlandish stage antics, they don't remark, "What an awesome display of expression," or, "How creative!" Instead, they say, "Oh Gaga, she so cray cray;" and that's how we (or, rather, they, I suppose) label it. But that might be an unavoidable side effect. MLK didn't need to normalize his status because he was already established as a southern Baptist. Gaga, however, needs to separate herself from just another pop star by making some of the most ostracized expressionists fit into the same mold as the idolized icons (pop stars). In other words, this fruitless "art" is merely her moral re-alignment, affirming that what we are about to hear are not just the words of some pop star, but the words of a gay pop star. And, empirically, that should make a difference. But assuming this is simply an awkward gestation period, at the end of it we should expect Gaga to speak out and actually live up to her MLK billing.

Because otherwise she's back to exactly what M.I.A. and myself have called her: A no-talent hack who thrives on overdeveloped aesthetics and underdeveloped opinions.

1 comment:

  1. When you least expect it, I'm going to 'borrow' your computer and post Insane Clown Posse on here.