The power of Lady GaGa has been one of the most scintillating features of 2009: three number one UK singles, a sprawling debut album and enough visual extravaganza to fill a Fellini film, furnish a Warholian Factory, stock a Kubrick movie set, even add a touch of Dada to the austere corridors of the Royal Variety Performance: a killer queen of kitsch paraded before another Queen of the Kingdom.
As the year ended with ‘Bad Romance’ one of the hit parade smashes of the festive season, the punch-up between Simon Cowell’s house-trained turn and the sabotage scheme of raging social networkers seemed somewhat contrived and certainly rather limp – manufactured muzak versus the faux fury of a Facebook fix – when set against the extraordinary artistic realm of Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta.
There are a few popular music-makers capable of moving beyond the asphyxiating straitjacket of the three-minute chart song or the excruciating cliches of rock’n’roll machismo. Some – Little Richard and Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone and George Clinton, David Bowie and Prince, possibly the Pet Shop Boys and occasionally Madonna – have managed to create new codes embracing sexual ambiguity, sartorial flair, harlequin games, on disc, on stage and on screen.
But the New Yorker named Lady GaGa in homage to a Freddie Mercury classic is incontestably the arch exponent of such devices right now: a chameleon and visionary, a singer and composer, a musician and dancer, she has brought the notion of art, a tantalising po-mo blend of high concept and trash aesthetic, back to the tired halls of the Top 40.
Lavish, lush, pretentious, maybe faintly ridiculous, this woman’s blend of brazen confidence, larger-than-life style and pure, undiluted schlock have reminded us that so many of the best sounds of the last half century have been accompanied by a large dollop of foppish and self-indulgent absurdity.
Okay, there’s a time for the intense authenticity of Dylan and Lennon and Neil Young but it’s probably back in the past: in these mean and failing times we need something fast, loud and feckless to slightly misquote Lester Bangs’ original take on the Fab Four and the start of the British Invasion.
GaGa’s invasion has been impressive indeed. Her main strike weapon has been a series of ludicrously infectious dance beats, her offensive strategy a sequence of melodramatic vocal hooks, her killer blow a string of made-for-MTV shorts that are so compellingly over the top that you can hardly believe there are still major label budgets like that around to invest in such tender talent.
But this sexually ambivalent showgirl has bucked the trends and been shifting units almost as fast as Susan Boyle – some feat in a period when the music industry appears to be reaching, virtually weekly, for the life support system and with no certainty that the oxygen bottles have actually been re-filled.
While I do share the general critical view that the re-packaged The Fame Monster is an over-long debut set with some extraneous flab, the best tunes – ‘Just Dance’, ‘Poker Face’ and ‘Paparazzi’ – and their video accompaniments – an eye-catching collage of extravagant haute couture and retro sci-fi, arthouse flick and S&M, Hollywood and Las Vegas – are an embodiment of the moment, a snapshot of the state of the (dance) nation.
The drama that unfurls to the strains of the newest 45, ‘Bad Romance’, is a strange burlesque, recalling, quite bizarrely, Boney M’s ‘Rasputin’, hinting at the menace of Clockwork Orange, suggesting the masqued ball of Eyes Wide Shut, bathed in the dazzling flouorescence of the 2001 flight deck and riddled with a multitude of other fleeting symbols: fetishistic white vinyl, cleft-chinned Russian gangsters, and a Leigh Bowery-like interlude. Derivative maybe, eclectic for sure, its 5′15 is the mini-movie video always promised us.
So, in an age where we call fantasy television reality, nothing, it appears, is what it seems. But in GaGa’s cornucopia – where glitter and the gutter mingle, flesh and feathers co-habit, and a simmering soundtrack of porno-pop truly puts the naughty back in the noughties – we have a mirror for our present, morally ambiguous, culturally indeterminate times.
No one is quite sure anymore where the cheap and the vacuous ends and the luxurious and the expensive begins but I would speculate that this lady as vamp, the global star of the last 12 months, has, through her sonic and cinematic merry-go-round, probably got her gold-clad finger-nail set firmly on the contemporary pulse.
Taken from this post:
Video Gaga: The Lady and the vamp