I am plugged into my computer via a pair of Bose headphones, and the song that is making its way to my ears is “Applause” by Lady Gaga (and for those of you who have read any one of my blogs, you know that I have mad respect and a massive girl crush on this particular artist). When I first heard this song I was utterly disappointed. For her first single in years I was anticipating some massive opus dedicated to the cosmic puzzle that is art and pop culture. The title of her new album is Art Pop, and with her many interviews discussing the idea behind her music, I thought I would hear more of a discussion about pop art and the cultural delusion that allows people to criticize any and every form of art they find lacking. Or to not sound so verbose and pretentious, I thought she would flaunt her ability to take popular culture and turn it into a vein of high brow art, similarly to how Andy Warhol took a picture of Campbell’s Soup and made it an iconic print. Lady Gaga definitely assumes the role of a modern-day Andy Warhol, being the visionary mother of Haus of Gaga, a Factory-esque collaboration of artists that encourages the transcendent experience of creating art. She is Mother Monster, and she relishes in the role and responsibility to her fans. In many interviews she has expressed how her fans are why she does what she does; she never allows her identity to control her art, rather her persona as Lady Gaga is art itself. It is probably why upon further listening to “Applause” I have come to realize the song is a perfect introduction to her new album. It is the opus I was seeking, though it takes a few listens to let it sink in.
My first impression contained a disappointment at how this track didn’t have an explosive chorus, something that could cash in on the leading crescendo of the first verse. When I anticipated some mind-blowing techno-alt-rock combustion, the music tapered off and plateaued. Where there should have been a fist pumping adrenaline rush of sound, it simply went back to the opening rhythmic beat with a techno overlay that didn’t encourage the excitement the lyrics are asking for. The music fell flat, plain and simple. At least that’s the impression I had until I watched her perform this song live via the iTunes Festival. The music was the same, but the energy of Gaga and her dancers coalescing with the crowd brought a whole new level to the song. Everything she is discussing in her lyrics was occurring. She was feeding off the audience as if they were a drug injecting verve and energy into her, and in reciprocal fashion, the crowd was getting high off the experience. Gaga was what she always proclaimed, a living, breathing work of art created by her little monsters. The symbiotic relationship was so powerful that I could almost feel the effects through the recording as I sat on my couch viewing the experience third hand. And somehow the visual of her performing this song live has transformed my ability to listen to this song. I cannot imagine what being at a venue with her would be like, if just by viewing iTune’s recording of the event was so affecting, the air must sizzle at a live event.
I have come to appreciate the aesthetics of this particular track (especially when listened to through headphones, because you hear every nuance and marginal sound clearly and realize the technical layering is profound and can issue the ever elusive ear-gasm), but I have also come to appreciate the lyrics as the opus I was hoping for. She opens her song pitting herself against the critical reviews. Later in the song she addresses a nameless sir remarking on his theory that “nostalgia [is for] geeks,” and she responds her acquiesce in a somewhat condescending and flippant way, because truly, who dictates what art is, what pop culture is, and who and what should belong within these definitions. The parameters have shifted heavily and lines have begun vanishing when it comes to classifying the “popular” within this culture. With tools such as the internet and platforms like WordPress, opinions are far too easy to come by and are far more reaching than ever before. To achieve fame, artists no longer have a handful of critics and business executives to impress, they have the even harder objective of catering to hundreds of thousands of fans coming from every cross-section of life. Critics of music (or movies, books, etc.) have the difficult realization that their words are losing value when anyone can publish their own opinions on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, or any number of blogging websites, and oftentimes it’s the fans opinions, not the critics, that move mountains. Lady Gaga’s second full-length album was a commercial flop, but who out there doesn’t know “Born This Way” or “Judas“? Even those self-proclaimed haters of Mother Monster know the songs, they have seen her avant-garde videos and questioned what she was hoping to accomplish. Here’s a hint: exactly what she got, discourse, her name out there, her art out there, and all of you, haters and lovers alike, talking about it. Advertisements, and the men that dreamed them up, are dwindling in importance, their opinions on what the next “big thing” is has a weakened clout. In a culture where hitting a “like” button has far-reaching ripples over most advertising, why are we waiting on a critic to approve what we know we already like. Who cares if critics find Gaga derivative? Who cares if they comment about how, like her lyrical references, she is not saying anything profound? The point is this: it is profound if one person likes it, if many people like it, it is profound if, because of her video or song, one person looks up the definition of post-modern art, questions why she titled her new album Art Pop and sees the correlation to Warhol, or discovers a calling to create, and most importantly it is profound if the conversation continues.
My favorite line from the song is: “Pop culture was in art, now art’s in pop culture, in me.” Art and pop culture are not mutually exclusive. It isn’t just for the rich and stuffy patrons of art houses and galleries. Those who create are artists, despite recognition from an elite group. Andy Warhol revolutionized art when he made reproductions and prints of every day objects. Pop culture did become iconic and the art world considered it cutting edge. Gaga mentions Jeff Koons in her song, an artist who made his name by photographing banal objects. The ideology behind these movements are that anything can become art, and that is what Gaga has championed for several years. What Gaga is doing is bringing art to pop culture, through her music, her videos, her persona, and she is trying to show that if the every day is art, art is in the every day. Those avant-garde fashion induced acid trip like videos are breathing new life into pop culture. Her live show and quick changes on stage, going from a blonde bombshell a la Botticelli’s Venus to a brunette in studded black boots and plaid offer an insight into Lady Gaga as a creation. She has always proclaimed that Gaga is art, that the persona is a walking, talking, living, breathing, eating, singing piece of art, that Stefani is not Gaga and Gaga is not Stefani, and that is why it is an epic homage when she says that “art’s in pop culture, in me“.
If Lady Gaga can do one thing for her fans, it is that she inspires. She strongly backs LGBT groups and advocates the creation and preservation of self, no matter who you are. Many see her as a crazy girl attempting to claw out a space in the music industry by wearing meat dresses and arriving to the VMAs in an egg, but I urge you to see her for the intelligent artist she is. Some of her outfits are ridiculous, some of them have been lost in translation, and some of the ideas behind her epic clothes or videos have been held up in shaky arms or failed completely, but her willingness to venture into unknown territories is what makes her an important artist. Imagine if Jackson Pollock hadn’t used a drip paint method and did not help to carve out the American abstract expressionism. (To those who are rolling their eyes and exclaiming how I should not compare Gaga to Pollock, please and respectfully get over yourself; the point I am making is that without progress and attempting something new, we stagnate in art, and since art is about creation it is beneficial to think out of the box.)
I am definitely looking forward to listening to the rest of Art Pop, and once again Mother Monster has impressed me.