I wrote this piece in June but did not post it because, at the time, I felt the content was inappropriate as it had nothing to do with unsigned musicians.  However, I have since decided that it’s my blog and I can post whatever I like...

I recently purchased a rather large LCD TV and sat in front of it a couple Sundays ago, hoping to catch some interesting program or other on one of the High Def channels my cable company had recently added.  I scrolled up and down the menu and eventually landed on FUSE-HD and an episode from On The Record titled “Lady Gaga: The Lost Tapes.”  When I decided to watch the program, I knew almost nothing about Lady Gaga - so little, in fact, that I wouldn’t have recognized her had she passed me in the street draped in the finest of her flamboyant avant-garde couture - but I was a bit intrigued by her virus-like spread across the media.  Despite my ignorance, once the interview began I was immediately captured by her confidence, her bravado, her intelligence and unflinching forthrightness regarding her career, her views on art and culture and, of course, her controversial personal life and stance on gay rights. 

Now I hate pop music.  Wait, I don’t think hate is a strong enough word, but it will have to do.  I find most of it banal, uninspired, simplistic, overproduced, unimaginative and full of idiotic, ridiculous lyrics that insult the clearly lacking intelligence of the drooling public that flock to it, constantly begging to be fed more crap.  But as I listened to Lady Gaga speak about her music (and as I subsequently listened to her songs and watched her videos) I discovered a shining light bursting from within the dark and dreary din of pop sub-mediocrity.  And in the interim I have come to see her as a latter day ready-made, conceived and executed to illuminate the grotesqueness of popular culture by mirroring it - which she does with a rapier wit and sense of biting dark humor that pop culture seems to recognize in some obscure way, but still fails to really get.  So it’s been attempting to subsume her into its fold, hoping she’ll adapt at some point and stop messing about with all her “antics.”  Ironically, I believe it is the carnivalesque spectacle of Gaga’s antics that is both her unnerving allure and most brazen reflection of that culture that both adores and reviles her. 

Since discovering Gaga I have noticed how frequently she is compared, often disparagingly, to other pop stars: Madonna and Christina Aguilera, for starters.  I actually saw a news report on the issue the other day in which a random tweeter commented that Gaga ripped off Madonna, but “Madonna did it first, did it better and was better looking.”  I’m certain that this would have pleased Gaga as she is unabashed in her use of pop iconology in her performance art that, I feel, owes more to the work of artists such as Andy Warhol and, more recently, Matthew Barney, than to any of the pop icons Gaga routinely apes.  

During her On The Record interview Gaga compared herself to Warhol, declaring that she is currently in her “Silkscreen Period.”  She slyly slipped this comment in, almost as an aside, during a talk about Warhol and her experience of viewing an early piece of his that bore no resemblance to the work for which he later became most well-regarded, ie. the Silkscreens.  Anybody familiar with Warhol’s work will know that what he did most adeptly was to employ the silkscreen printing method to replicate familiar images from popular culture of glamorous stars such as Marilyn Monroe, Elvis and Jackie O., with multiplied repetition - copies of copies of copies - regurgitating such images with industrial fervor - much the way pop-culture propagates endless copies of itself.  He also made pieces that culled  images of violence and death from the news media, creating a body of work that illustrated the endless collective obsessions with the dance between Eros and Thanatos, the erotic and the deathly - often blurring the boundaries while elucidating their dialectical relationships.  His work utilized silkscreening as its medium and popular culture, at its best and worst, as its subject matter.  I believe what Gaga was eluding to in her statement that she is in her own silkscreen period was that she is using the same tactics Warhol once did to reflect and comment upon popular culture - its hopes and fears, heroes and villains - utilizing pop music and performance as her chosen medium. 

I plan to return to Lady Gaga and her oeuvre in future postings, focusing further on her style, image and iconography.  I’m also planning to write an extended article on the subject and shop it around for publication.  I truly believe Gaga deserves to be scrutinized and appreciated for the contribution she is currently making in knitting together a high/low cultural critique, one that has only been marginally touched upon by a small handful of other pop artists. 

The question that rises to the top in this analysis is whether Gaga is an artist employing Pop culture as her medium, or a Pop Star exploiting the “shock the bourgeoisie” approach, an oft-used tactic in the world of high art, to grasp public attention and thus sell more records.  I will try and grapple with this next time, keeping in mind that the Guggenheim - bastion of populist “high” art that it has become, with it’s recent pact with YouTube to discover the next emerging video artist - is the ideal locale to begin giving Gaga the recognition she deserves for her ability to actualize her multivalent critique from her unique vantage point at the crossroad between high and low culture.


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