Roll up, roll up, for the Lady Gaga media circus. There she is in The Sun, heading out for a spot of lunch with a lobster on her head (must try that look next time I visit Beckenham Nando’s).
Turn around and she’s on the cover of Q, posing with a plastic dong crammed down her pants. Not explicit enough for you? Fear not – Holy Moly are raking in the search traffic by publishing photos of her exposed labia (it’s funny cos people dun sed she had a willy LOL).
Arrgh, make it stop. Has there ever been an artist so relentlessly pawed over and leered at, so scorned and over-praised simultaneously, as Lady Gaga? More to the point, what is it about this artist that makes otherwise intelligent journalists come over like a gaggle of tittering fourth-formers scrawling bell-ends on biology textbooks?
There is no escape. Already relentless, the Gaga hype machine has reached a hysterical pitch with the arrival in the UK of her live show, which – as every review has slavishly reported, with a journalistic gravitas usually reserved for meetings of the UN’s Security Council – features zombie wank-orgies, an animatronic sea-monster, and an outfit that resembles a “yeti crossed with a lampshade”.
Is that good? I don’t even know any more. I’ve become so inured to these kind of outlandish details, if I came across a headline tomorrow that read, Lady Gaga Rides Papier-Mache Unicorn To The Moon, I’d probably just nod solemnly and go, “Huh. Figures.”
Trouble is, there’s an infuriating blank at the heart of this wall-to-wall Gaga worship: her music. Funny how the reviews gloss over that part.
There’s a howling gulf between the claims the media makes for her (she’s a Bowie-esque pop chameleon! A Situationist prankster playing the press at its own game!), and the sound that actually comes out of the speakers, which is production-line, R&B-tinged, faceless robo-pop, of a kind that her producer RedOne has knocked out for countless acts, from Akon to Cassie.
Indeed, notions of Gaga’s zeitgeist-grasping genius tend to break down when you look beyond the Kermit The Frog overcoats and examine her actual lyrics, which consist primarily of pre-linguistic babbling (”Ra-ra, ah-ah-ah, Ro mah, ro mah mah” – so true!), hip-hop-inspired bragging (”Check this hand ‘cause I’m marvelous”), and lame double intendres (“Bluffin’ with my muffin”).
Recently, a Rolling Stone journalist attempted to tease out the allusive subtleties of that last line, as though he were parsing a particularly knotty TS Eliot stanza. Fortunately, Gaga explained it for him: “Obviously [‘Poker Face’] is a metaphor…it’s my pussy’s poker face.” [Slaps forehead] Of course! The mystery is solved.
Of course, Gaga herself is only too happy to encourage such pseudo-intellectual analyses of her work. “My art is liberation… I want to free you,” she opines earnestly in Q, before going on to explain that her current tour is about “fear of alcohol monster, fear of sex monster” – which is no way to talk about John Terry.
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Truth is, the closer you examine Gaga, the less there is to see. She’s a cipher, a blank canvas on to which the media can daub any narrative it likes. Feminist critique? Step forward, Hermione Hoby in The Guardian. Family values why-oh-why-ing? The Telegraph. Giggling about camel toes? 3am.co.uk. Angry directionless rant? That’ll be, er, me.
So many layers of artifice, so little substance underneath. We know next to nothing about her private life, the inner world behind the exploding bras. It’s not so much, ‘The emperor has no clothes’, more, ‘The emperor is nothing but clothes’. Consequently, there’s something heartless and robotic about what she does. It’s visually exhilarating but emotionally cold – all surface, no feeling.
She’s also a product, I’d argue, of a mainstream press that requires its female stars to be self-promoting, photographically arresting, a bit ‘mad’ (cf Courtney, Florence). Get on with the serious business of writing songs – as opposed to playing the game, supplying wacky soundbites, stripping off for magazine covers – and you’ll be dismissed as bland and boring, as Ellie Goulding is discovering to her cost.
The most downloaded artist of all time, Gaga holds up a mirror to our brutally accelerated web culture. Offering endless opportunities for snark and lolspeak, she’s a pop star for the Perez Hilton age, the ultimate search term, an icon that generates a torrent of cheap clicks, but little in the way of passionate engagement. And now I’m stoking the bonfire of Gaga tedium with this blog. Bugger.
More than anything though, Gaga’s planet-engulfing success says a great deal about the featureless abyssal plain that is modern pop. Let’s be honest about this. Is she really worthy of the attention we collectively lavish on her, day after day? Or is there, in truth, simply so little else going on in music, she appears exotic and enthralling by default?