Jul 09

Is Lady Gaga The American KLF?*

FT16 comments • 819 views

gaga Frustrating thinkpiece by Ann Powers on Lady Gaga and an apparent turn to theatricality in pop. Frustrating because what I want it to do is zero in a bit more on what Gaga’s “persona” that “never breaks” is and instead it keeps trying to look outward and connect every current dot. There’s plenty of counter-trend stuff out there – worldwide, the Kings Of bloody Leon are as big if not bigger a deal than Gaga – so a macro piece like this is bound to look a bit flimsy. Powers is always insightful and there’s a bunch of good individual points but the whole feels a bit underdone to me.

But Gaga herself – I mean, she’s become a huge pop star and that’s interesting, and if the tunes aren’t doing much for me yet I’ve started to really like some of the visual stuff she’s playing with. I don’t mind her concept – or rather her endlessly deferred tease as to what her concept actually might be. I admire the way she’s done what a lot of stars do, and framed herself so that any critical question you might think to ask about her rebounds on you a bit.

If Gaga has closed off the “this is the real me” option then that’s interesting (though not unprecedented). But I also think all the art stuff feels kind of defensive, a get-out-of-jail-free card her icons didn’t need. And defensive in exactly the same way as “real me” moves: it creates an artist-Gaga behind the persona-Gaga who performs the exact same function as the real-T-Pain behind the autotune T-Pain, even if she doesn’t ever come out.

*Apologies for this completely misleading and trolling headline. I did it for art!


  1. 1
    Tom on 24 Jul 2009 #

    (Apologies also if you just read this on my tumblr – I realised it was basically a blog post anyway)

  2. 2
    ace inhibitor on 24 Jul 2009 #

    what seems perverse is that powers has written this and managed not to mention michael jackson

  3. 3
    koganbot on 24 Jul 2009 #

    I hate trend pieces. I suppose that that’s not very insightful commentary on my part, but that’s all I can think of to say.

    Headline two years from now in the Los Angeles Times:


    (By the way, I pretty much consider Bowie a singer-songwriter, though that’s not all he is, obviously.)

  4. 4
    wichitalineman on 24 Jul 2009 #

    I think the Kings Of Leon fit her story; Sex On Fire sounds so processed for a rock song. Maybe she’s trying to cover too much ground, but the ‘computer is king’ angle works for me, whether in the studio or in building your persona.*

    Lady Gaga’s ‘she’s so unusual’ wackiness grates with me, her pop star persona has no core. Madonna had the core of success-at-all-costs, Michael Jackson had the Peter Pan eternal youth deathwish, Grace Jones was, fundamentally, a clothes horse. Laroux is snotty and suburban, Little Boots is Coronation Street in space. Gaga doesn’t seem to have anything beyond a thrown together bunch of quotes and signifiers; there’s more to being a pop star than simply saying I’m weird’ – or ‘I’m not weird’ as Gaga would put it.

    *sorry if I sound a little naive here, but my day-to-day has only fairly recently been massively affected by the computer age – so if it’s happened to me I guess it’s happened to everyone. Except Bon Iver of course.

  5. 5
    lonepilgrim on 24 Jul 2009 #

    The original article is too equivocal and half-baked.
    ‘Stop Press -Artistes aren’t really like their onstage image – or are they? – They’re not as original as you might think – they borrow from others – Shock! Horror!’
    Quotes like: ‘Bowie pioneered the idea of rock as theater, incorporating influences like mime and Kabuki into an act that stressed the dreamlike quality of his work. But he still made a distinction between that dream life and his real one.” show both ignorance of Bowie and a naive idea of ‘real life’.
    Her failure to mention Michael Jackson may well be because she is aware that he was someone for whom the distinction between ‘dream’ and ‘reality’ was blurred to say the least.

  6. 6
    koganbot on 24 Jul 2009 #

    OK, now of course I have thought of something to say. What’s wrong with this piece is that it neither conveys nor generates any excitement or interest in what it’s talking about. E.g., suppose someone noticed that there seemed to be a trend in critics using subordinate clauses in their writing. Then suppose that person devoted an article to saying, “This critic uses subordinate clauses, and this other critic uses subordinate clauses,” and on and on with a whole list, but making no mention of what any critic uses the subordinate clause to say, or how the use of subordinate clauses affects what is being said.

    The only part of this piece I gave a damn about was the couple of sentences about Courtney Love; possibly it was the only part that Ann gave a damn about either. The rest was her getting copy in by deadline.

  7. 7
    koganbot on 24 Jul 2009 #

    (Btw, I’ve never definitively determined if it’s “Gaga” or “GaGa,” and since the album cover is in all caps, I can’t use that as my authority. I assume “GaGa” is correct though, since if it weren’t why would it exist at all?)

  8. 8
    koganbot on 24 Jul 2009 #

    (Of course, maybe her name uses open source spelling.)

  9. 9
    Steve Mannion on 24 Jul 2009 #

    I actually love the bit in the Paparazzi video where she’s “dancing” with the crutches. It’s both amusing and unnerving. Unlike many I don’t hate her songs but I do hate her image and vaguely look forward to her changing her hair and wearing denim dungarees or whatever’s next.

  10. 10
    ace inhibitor on 24 Jul 2009 #

    isnit GaGa as in Radio…?

  11. 11
    wichita lineman on 24 Jul 2009 #

    Yes, I thought it was a nod to Queen, though I quite like the idea it’s pronounced in the same way as Lemar.

    I don’t hate her songs either, Steve. Poker Face reminded me of Carole Bayer Sager’s You’re Moving Out Today somehow.

  12. 12
    koganbot on 25 Jul 2009 #

    Singer “Lady GaGa” took her stage name from the song “Radio Ga Ga” as her vocal style had been compared to that of Freddie Mercury, says the not-necessarily reliable Wiki.

  13. 13
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 25 Jul 2009 #

    Lady O’Gaga

  14. 14
    Steve Mannion on 25 Jul 2009 #

    ^ beat me to it

  15. 15
    Mark M on 26 Jul 2009 #

    I genuinely can’t see anything there, I get no sense of any ideas at work and I feel that I’m fairly exposed to her oeuvre as her videos are on the music channels almost constantly. If there’s any connection with Warhol, it seems to be the notion that a wig will distract from the fact that you’re pudgy and plain.

  16. 16
    DV on 28 Dec 2009 #

    I’ve decided I like her, though she might want to put it away before she has someone’s eye out.

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