I’m not digging Gaga’s new video.
I usually defend Gaga. People get all het up over how she’s unoriginal and/or too poppy or pretentious or whatever, but it takes a tremendous amount of skill to write an earworm–those pop tunes that get in your head, like transparent commercial prose, are a skillset all of their own, and an impressive one. I can’t do it. And I really love her first album. We need silly, fun, dance music! TO DANCE TO. AWESOME.
I loved the Bad Romance video–I think everyone did. It seemed to be saying something genuine about her, about popular culture, about being a freak. But then there was Telephone, which was pretty dumb and clearly an audition for the next Tarantino flick, and Alejandro which wasn’t such a great song and just looked like Evita to me. I became less excited for the new Gaga videos. Born This Way has already rubbed me the wrong way in its use of the words chola and orient[al] to describe humans who were "born that way"–not really so cool for a privileged white chick to roll that shit out. But I watched the video anyway, because, you know, it’s a Gaga vid. I’m at least guaranteed a grotesque birth image dripping with goo, right? (Yes.)
It has a two minute long intro where she refers to the vid as a message from Mother Monster, and then makes a lot of sci fi noise about space beyond time or whatever. How did Michael Jackson get away with this? His songs were no less pop candy, but when he was an alien from space I didn’t get all irritated. Is it because he’s a dude? I don’t know. But of course when the song finally starts, it’s just Gaga dancing in her underwear to an almost note for note clone of Madonna’s Express Yourself. She even grabs her crotch–and makes a jacking off motion. Which, I don’t know, maybe I’m just ruined by my alt culture lifestyle, but shock me shock me shock me with your deviant behavior.
My first thought upon hearing the oft-repeated imperative choral line: "Don’t be a drag, just be a queen" was WHOA, GIRL. I don’t think she gets to police the term "drag queen." It’s not hers to take apart and shake her finger at. I mean, if you take the drag away, you’re left with queen–a heteronormative cis-female role defined by marriage to a man or being the daughter of a man. Hrm. Also drag queens are not drags, they are awesome, and in a song about accepting who you are I am downright puzzled by the scoldingness of that line, which gets repeated over and over Vogue-rap style, and like Southland Tales’ "Pimps don’t commit suicide" it is not nearly as good a line as Richard Kelly/Gaga thinks it is. (Though I kind of want a short film about Eyora, the Gloomiest Drag Queen.) Gaga often codes her own sexuality along the lines of gay male culture, which is its own post entirely, and I think this is part of that–in some sense I think she sees herself as occupying the same psychic space as a drag queen, but it come off as just…super appropriative.
Then add in the use of "chola" and "orient." Born This Way is also…well, that line can be used to define and describe a lot of privilege, can’t it? The way you’re born determines so much in our culture, and by using all these terms she’s sort of rolling that secondary definition into the one she means to call on.
Which doesn’t even get into…look, LG. You’re not my mom. I’m a fan (usually) but I’m a little uncomfortable with you labelling yourself as Mother Monster. Maybe I’m just not involved enough in Gaga fandom but I’ve never heard anyone refer to her as MM–just her referring to herself as our mother, and that, like everything else in the video, smacks of Madonna, because, well, the Madonna is the mother of the world, mythologically speaking. I feel like that sort of thing should come from fandom, not from the top, and that even if it comes from fandom, maybe the source shouldn’t capitalize so heavily on the Mother Monster/Little Monster thing. It’s infantilizing, and a little creepy, and like…we are all shadows of her? Our monstrousness (only acceptable if it is a pretty kind of monster, a standard deviation from the norm, if we still look good in our underwear with horns on, or can sing and dance, or present able bodies and normative minds) will never be as big as hers, because she is in some real sense the source of us? (Made extremely explicit in the video where Gaga LITERALLY GIVES BIRTH TO THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE.)
Maybe I’m making too much of that.
But I’m continually disturbed by the dominant visual of Gaga videos (that do not involve Beyonce) which is Gaga herself surrounded by an indistiguishable mass of other humans writhing around her. They are usually situated physically below her, like worshippers. They are faceless because they are not the focus, they are body parts there only to augment her. In a very real sense, Gaga is the only one with any personhood in this mass of humanity–they are not backup singers, and in the writhing scenes are not backup dancers. They are abject and prone and the camera doesn’t mean for you to see them in an individualistic way–they are there to bear up Gaga. To some extent, this happens in many videos, but it is a repeated image in LG’s work. In epic music videos there are many characters–think Smooth Criminal or Sour Girl or any of the narrative vids of the last thirty years. But in Gaga’s there is only one. She is the only character, the only person. More than a mother, she is a solipsism. This seems to connect to the Haus of Gaga thing to me–so many people do the work, but Gaga is the one who gets the golden crown of cultural agency.
And that’s just not that interesting to watch. Born This Way is almost hilariously mismatched to its video–the song is nothing, even compared to Bad Romance or Poker Face, it’s not even so idiosyncratic as to launch a thousand youtube videos making fun of it. It’s ANTHEM FROTH–and frankly, Pink and Madonna both have bested her on that score. But the video is CRAZY overblown and epic–except that it is almost completely monochromatic, where previous videos (except Alejandro) have been super-saturated with color. The two do not go well together. Not visually or thematically–and not psychologically, where the song is meant to make us proud to be freaks, but the video is all about Gaga as the center of everything, the source and destiny. She was born this way–and we were born to love her.
I’ve looked at that last line for a couple of minutes, wondering if I’m overstating it. But then I think about Gaga giving birth to the entire universe and I’m like….nooooope. Even Jackson never did a video of his penis shooting out the universe into the void. (I am personally skeeved by that image. You’re welcome. But look, I’m not like DON’T SHOW YOUR CGI GLITTERPARTS. I mean, some of you have read my books. I dig the primal womb imagery. But, well, it’s never MY womb. Like, it’s not CAT VALENTE SQUEEZES A GALAXY OUT FROM BETWEEN HER LEGS. That said, it’s easily the most beautiful part of the video, visually. It’s just the thinking about it that makes a body go hmmmm.
Oddly enough, Ke$ha, who gets NONE of the hipster, arthouse cred of Gaga, came out with a video just a few days before this one (which also has unicorns? weirdly? I am SO ON BOARD with unicorns being the new punk thing. Wait, Ke$ha is not punk…EDIT: Gaga’s unicorn is inside a pink triangle, which is just fantastic. For gay men who don’t mind the Nazi oppression tie-in, and the rest of the quiltbag can go listen to Ke$ha. As long as you’re not "a drag!" Also, definitely follow up that image with some shit about "the birth of a new race." WIN.). It is AWESOME IN A BAG, though a little bit "I am going to make a video that will definitely be adored by the internets," featuring a unicorn gun fight and James Van Der Beek punning on his own name and also unicorns bleeding rainbows. The song is also pop froth, but Ke$ha never pretends its anything else, and makes fun of herself, and seems generally to have a sense of humor about who she is and what she does, where I don’t get the idea that Gaga laughs at herself much at all. (Yes, Telephone. Beyonce seems to chill her out a little.) Which makes me LIKE KE$HA, for fuck’s sake, because Ke$ha doesn’t want to be my mother goddess, she just wants to shoot unicorns and inspire Star Trek fan vids. I can dig that.
This has been your thinking too much about pop culture post for the day.