Baby sees the future, tells me it’s got nothing for us… Nostra… Nostradamus — sung to the tune of Lady GaGa’s “Paparazzi.”
Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, aka Lady GaGa, hasn’t been in the public eye for very long, but given the hype, you could be excused for thinking that it’s been just shy of forever. Credit where due: it’s no small feat to direct the attention of today’s attention-deficient masses and sustain it for more than the length of a tweet. Yet it seems the grains in GaGa’s hourglass have finally begun falling, and we all know what that means: time is fleeting for the new Queen of Pop.
I’m not so bold as to call GaGa’s back-to-back appearances on “60 Minutes” and the Grammys a shark-jump, but it may be where her fame clock officially began ticking. For someone who claims dominion over the apparatus of fame itself, both events made a conspicuously feeble impression. Not among her fans — those already under her spell remain so. But if you are not a GaGa devotee (I believe she calls them “monsters”), you likely regarded Ms. Germanotta’s Old Media blitz as the definition of meh. Not even worth being annoyed/disturbed/fascinated/repelled by.
Probably not even worth a blog post.
In fact, the reason that I’m even bothering with this exercise is because I have an obsession with epoch-setting calendar events, however minor. So, I’m calling this one for the record: February 13, 2011 marks the official beginning of GaGa’s decline.
Since we’re here, let’s examine why. Admittedly, nobody under the age of 35 watches “60 Minutes,” so GaGa’s aimless interview with Anderson Cooper will have had a negligible impact on her core demographic. Actually, I’m willing to bet the venerable program was the true beneficiary, as GaGa’s most obsessive fans temporarily bolstered the number of viewers who tune in to witness Andy Rooney‘s burgeoning dementia. (Forgive me, Morley Safer, for I have sinned…)
On “60 Minutes,” GaGa came across like a distracted grad school gal sweating her final thesis. With regards to her peacockery and calculated weirdness, I believe this Lady doth protest too much. GaGa did everything she could to impress upon Cooper that she fully understands each symbol that informs her meticulously crafted persona. This is the wrong move for someone who trades in the techno-cryptic. We don’t need you to tell us that you know why we’re enraptured. It kind of ruins it.
GaGa keeps explaining that she’s a “student of fame.” Nice work if you can get it, but forgive those of us who have witnessed several historic superstar permutations for expecting a little more. It’s not that GaGa is drawing incorrect conclusions from her studies. It’s just that, unlike true alchemists of adoration, she adds no new ingredients to the stew. Everything GaGa does, says, or reflects is a pale reflection of her forbears’ more innovative expression.
Surely it is difficult to be original in a fractured culture saturated with corporate and brand symbols. But to be regarded as an artist of lasting stature, one at least has to try. GaGa’s schtick can be boiled down to Madonna and David Bowie, with a dash of Freddie Mercury and Elton John. Maybe some Cher, with her penchant for pantslessness and warbly singing. If only pastiche were a substitute for genius!
Back in Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust phase, he tapped into a similar longing for acceptance that animates GaGa’s fans. Bowie took the idea of alienation and turned it into an Alien Nation — a clan of disaffected youth who reveled in their estrangement by exaggerating it through gaudy makeup and “tacky things.” What Bowie did was hardly subtle, but at least he had the good sense not to fucking tell us what he was doing. He respected his audience more than that. In fact, he respected his audience so much that he dragged a portion of them kicking and screaming through his metamorphosis into the Thin White Duke. But that’s a tale for another time.
What’s GaGa’s next act? Does she even have one? Judging from her musical output, probably not.
Speaking of her music, it’s hardly worth mentioning at this point that her new single, “Born this Way” is a melodic and rhythmic clone of Madonna’s “Express Yourself.” Not that The Material Girl seems to care. The aging succubus will surely find a way to suck some extra lifeforce out of her sycophantic understudy.
GaGa’s performance at the 2011 Grammys was, despite the requisite costumery and dancers, surprisingly bereft of spectacle. My favorite part was the beginning, when she hatched out of some kind of space egg, a la Mork from Ork or Spinal Tap in “Rock ‘n’ Roll Creation.”
And here’s Lady GaGa:
Many of us who can afford to eat more than once a day are any combination of bored, distracted or overwhelmed. We require escapism, and for some, GaGa delivers. Better still, she does so in a way that champions a vague sense of self-empowerment (Madonna) and commiseration with fellow outcasts (Bowie). But can that sustain a career? On some essential level, Madonna possesses the raw material of which lasting art is made (I can’t believe I just said that). Bowie, for his part, is an ace showman/manipulator. He’s also a fabulous musician who had to grow into that role. Yes, Bowie, too, struggled to transcend his influences — Velvet Underground, Dylan, Bolan, Iggy. But he eventually did so, and triumphantly.
Can GaGa do the same? Clock’s ticking.