Those who know me know that I have a slight obsession with Lady Gaga. I am a bona-fide little monster who gobbles up any song she releases and manages to sniff out any magazine to which she lends her image and voice. The latest treasure is Vogue‘s March issue, “The Power Issue,” which has a picture of Gaga with pink wig intact and dark maroon lips. Despite the alien appearance (blonde eyebrows and pale skin give her the look of a futuristic she-bot), Gaga is mystifying and absolutely gorgeous. I never tire of reading articles about her. She has a very poised way of interviewing and always manages to let slip the truth of who and what she is. What I mean by that is she comes across as extremely human despite often being described as wearing these outrageous costume pieces and acting as living art. It always makes me wonder at how she expressed herself before becoming the world’s foremost performance artist.
The first time I ever heard Gaga was when I was driving home from work in December of 2008. Her single “Just Dance,” which features guest vocalist Colby O’Donis, was on the top nine at nine (or some such countdown) and I remember thinking how much I loved the track. It is by far one of her most “generic” pop songs and at the time I thought it was the latest “something” from Gwen Stefani or Christina Aguilera. When the song finished and the DJ spoke Gaga’s name, I knew I began to feel the first “tingles” of an obsession. I parked my car, went into my apartment and immediately brought up the iTunes Store and went in search for the album.
I have this rule, if I cannot find five songs that I like on an album, I just buy the singles, not the entire track listing. I gave each song the then cursory thirty-second preview and found that I enjoyed almost 100% of the album. $9.99 later and I was a proud owner of a digital copy of Lady Gaga’s “The Fame“. From then on whenever I made a playlist I would include a song or five from Gaga. When I fall for a musical act, I fall fast and hard. I began looking up Gaga online and trying to find free versions of her music videos. The petite blonde was intriguing to watch because she was the same, and yet different, from every other artist. Cashing in on pop culture and the artistic visions from other greats, she somehow revamped those visions and created something profoundly new and purely Gaga. It is no wonder that a whole enterprise rotates around the woman. Her Haus of Gaga is not only a purveyor of music, but of avant-garde fashion, art, and is transforming into a symbol for the disenfranchised.
One of the things that Gaga always reveals in her interviews is her dedication to her fans. She emphasizes the connection she feels with them. She is Mother Monster, and we are her little monsters. She is our escape and we are fuel. In Vogue’s article she states:
“I want for people in the universe, my fans and otherwise, to essentially use me as an escape. I am the jester to the kingdom. I am the route out. I am the excuse to explore your identity. To be exactly who you are and to feel unafraid. To not judge yourself, to not hate yourself. Because, as funny as it is that I am on the cover of Vogue-and no one is laughing harder than I am-I was the girl in school who was most likely to walk down the hallway and get called a slut or a bitch or ugly or big nose or nerd or dyke.”
That is what makes Gaga so enigmatic. I know there are people who do not get her, they do not appreciate her music because they feel it is nothing more than recycled pop music, something done and done again, but her music is only one facet of what makes her such a beautiful person. She lives, breathes, and eats the persona of Lady Gaga. When she feels tired (and she has every right to feel this way, she has essentially been on tour for three years straight) and when most people would want to just stop and breathe, she continues to live each day in her art, and she does so as a gift to her fans. And that is a large commitment, especially in a world consumed with social networking sites, YouTube viral media, and obsessive TMZ images. It always amazes me that people cannot see that her art is a relatively selfless act. Whenever I discuss Gaga with the non-believers, they always misinterpret her “antics” as ways to gain attention and popularity. What they cannot understand is that there will always a desire for the Lady, there will always be images and videos to those who wish to stalk a celebrity, but to present herself day in and day out as a living, breathing, walking art form, that is a commitment not only to her fans, but to art itself. And that’s the thing, Gaga is not just a musician, though that is her first mode of artistic expression. She is something wholly new and unbound, she is something more than the synth beats and lyrics. When I say she is walking art, I mean she is walking art; she is a painting, a photograph, a sculpture, a poem, a couture dress.
In the Vogue issue Gaga also mentions that the fashion world was one of the first to “get” her. The music world was so focused on trying to pigeon-hole her as the latest pop machine; a new Britney or bubble gum cut-out. When she began to express herself through “wacky” costumes people began to not only question her sanity, but also her need and greed for attention. The common belief was, and for some still is, is that she was simply another artist creating and recreating music that had been around for ages, and she began using these outrageous costumes as a way to maintain popularity and possibly create some new foothold. There is partial truth in that belief, and what I mean by that is what is art if not recreations and new visions of a time old idea? For example, the completely intangible idea of love. What does love look like? Sound like? Feel like? Taste like? Countless artists have tried to express its meaning in some subjective, tangible work. It sounds like this song or poem. It looks like this sculpture or photograph. It tastes like a chocolate truffle. It feels like a warm, embracing hug. In that construction of art, Gaga is like countless other artists. But the continued dedication to this creation and recreation is something profoundly Gaga. She literally becomes a blank canvas so that individuals can project their ideas on her. Her fans can manipulate her into any image they want: the enigmatic superstar, the witty character, the intelligent diva, the new Warhol-esque, cutting edge artist. This is why the fashion world has been so attracted to Gaga, and why she in turn is so attracted to the fashion world.
When asked if she ever feels misunderstood, Gaga replied that she did. She went on to say that “women in music and pop culture are supposed to act a certain way,” and that because she follows her own artistic vision, and does not conform to the projected image, that is where the misunderstanding occurs. And it is true. The non-believers often cite her as some divergent faction of the musical world. They are unsure that she has anything worthwhile to present to pop culture, but what is most interesting is that they say this and discuss her, and they fail to realize that in discussing her they are giving her credence, they are in fact solidifying her placement in pop culture. They may not understand her motivation, they may think it is something far out and too hard to maintain, but in recognizing her and in giving voice to opinions about her, they are the super glue that is maintaining her placement amongst greats. She says, “[p]eople just want to figure it out or explain it. The truth is, the mystery and the magic is my art. That is what I am good at. You are fascinated with precisely the thing you are trying to analyze and undo.” Dislike her music, believe she is crazy, floating about in her own universe, but do not deny that she is brilliant.
I am going to finish this entry with one final thing from the Vogue issue that I found intriguing and absolutely oozing with truth:
“What no one can deny is her uncanny ability to mine decades of avant-garde and pop-culture history and twine them together in a way that feels like the future. She is a human synthesizer, a style aggregator, the perfect Wiki-Google-YouTube-era pop star. Elton John calls her “the most adventurous and talented star of our age.””
Note: When mentioning other artists in this entry, I am not talking down on them. I own and listen to music from a variety of artists, including Gwen Stefani, Christina Aguilera, and Britney Spears. I use them in this article in reference to a certain occasion as well as a touch point for idea.