The New Art Glam

May 24, 2010


Lady Gaga makes mainstream pop that should be OK for hipsters to like.

Her music is hyper-weirdness turned on its head. How do people like this stuff? How is she in the top 40 pulling the kind of stuff she pulls? Were her dance pop predecessors that different? Was her acceptance gradual? Did she worm her way in with lowest-common-denominator jokes alternated with depressing pathos like Eminem?

She is showing progression. Her most recent EP, The Fame Monster, is a scary progression from her album The Fame. The beats and diva moves are still there, but tales of the Paparazzi and Boys, Boys, Boys are replaced with vampire domination and violent, psychotic love. Even an innocuous song like “Telephone” is accompanied by an epic prison video to rival “Thriller.”

But she is not a punkish art thug who has a message but can’t play her instruments like the Sex Pistols. She knows what she is doing and she can do things no ordinary people can. She is a superhero (or supervillain). She can play the system with a less-riskier record and then up the ante. Since it is she who is writing the songs and playing the instruments, she has more control over what she does. Her art is one of competence. She made herself.

She is the new Andy Warhol. In addition to her music she continues to write songs and produce. She has her own fashion lines and she is seeking a milliner internship to learn more. Her music featured in South Park and led to its inclusion in Rock Band as DLC. She is famous and may get others famous, if only for 15 minutes. But Andy Warhol, while popular in the counterculture, likely never got Chelsea Girls nominated for best picture or The Velvet Underground and Nico on American Bandstand.

What differentiates her from her artier ancestors is that she is way more accessible. By wrapping her message, whatever it is, in these hyper-catchy club beats in order to parody them, she also makes straight-up good pop music one can hear on the radio.

Like both her glam and pop predecessors, fashion is a big thing for her – it seemed like she didn’t wear pants for the first year and half of her career. Since she got popular about the same time as Katy Perry did, it seemed as though she was another trashy pop tart. After her songwriting past and her burlesque history came to light, along with that SNL performance where she played piano while wearing an orbital apparatus, I started to look at her in a different light. Those crazy no-pants outfits and hoofy high-heels started to be signifiers of something else, almost barriers to misdirect her audience away from her personal life, which I think we won’t be hearing about until a long time into her career.

You have probably decided your opinion on Stefani Germanotta already. Her media presence is big enough that most casual listeners know who she is. Nonetheless she serves an important purpose in pop culture. She makes questions for us to ponder and while we ponder we can groove.


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