“The Doors? Jim Morrison? He’s a drunken buffoon posing as a poet. Give me The Guess Who. They got the courage to be drunken buffoons, which makes them poetic,” says Phillip Seymour Hoffman as iconic music critic Lester Bangs in the ’00 dorm room classic Almost Famous. Too often when I’m thinking about the top tier of pop music, I find myself coming back to this bullshit division expressed by Hoffman/Bangs. Sometimes it’s all in the delivery, even if the products couldn’t be told apart in a Pepsi challenge.
Lady Gaga? No thank you. Her take on trash as art and dance as empowerment feels repetitive and over-crafted. Give me Kesha. She’s got the courage to pump out repetitive, over-crafted trash, which makes it empowering, if not artistic.
Yes, Gaga’s positive messages are better than most anything on Top 40 and her bad ones are pretty innocuous. Yes, the ArtRave tour is a massive Cirque du Soleil display in which Gaga sings and dances her heart out. And yes, “Bad Romance” is wicked tight. But there’s something about Gaga’s ARTPOP that feels like a state of arrested development, one that she might never emerge from.
“My ARTPOP could mean anything,” Gaga touts on the album’s title track. Unpacked a little, this phrase contains the vibe of Gaga’s third LP and the star’s project as a whole. By stating that her four-minute pop tunes are indeed art, we’re led down a rabbit hole of conversations concerning her artistic merits—exactly the intentions of the album’s name. Claiming that it could be anything, Gaga’s touting her Play-Doh status as a 21st-century pop star, able to mold to whatever the Fame Monster wants her to be.
But it seems like her work is always about the same thing. So far, Gaga’s three for three in albums that make explicit reference to (art)pop stardom and persona, making a show of pointing out the strings in the marionette puppet show of Big Pop, but never really going beyond that. Instead of realizing the dream that her music could be anything, ARTPOP hangs out in the hypothetical “could be.” It’s like Gaga’s texting at a stoplight, letting out her ideas on fame and pop spectacle as other radio heavyweights drive past, yelling back to her, “That shit turned green!”
There’s no doubt I’m taking it a bit too seriously, but to speak to the candy appeal of commercial pop you have to dive deep into the ingredient statement. I guess I’m making a whopping error according to the actual Lester Bangs: “The first mistake of art is to assume that it’s serious.” —Matt Stieb
From mimicking Madonna and mocking the Catholic Church to collaborating with alleged sexual predators and donning the infamous meat dress (which, by the way, has been preserved by taxidermists and boasts its own Wikipedia page), there’s plenty to dislike about Lady Gaga—an ambitious chameleon its creator (native New Yorker/college dropout Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta) maintains is “not an act.” But Mother Monster, as she’s known by her ravenous fanbase of Little Monsters, has redeeming qualities that unsurprisingly take a back seat to her envelope-pushing fashion sense and ballsy behavior.
Launched in 2011 by Lady Gaga and her mother Cynthia Germanotta, the Born This Way Foundation is designed to “foster a more accepting society, where differences are embraced and individuality is celebrated.” Based on controversy related to a 2012 federal tax report that showed hundreds of thousands spent on legal fees, consulting, social media and publicity (and only $5,000 given to charity), Germanotta released a statement reminding critics that the nonprofit is “not a grant-maker that funds the work of other charities” but a youth empowerment organization—for which Gaga covered the start-up costs. In 2013, BTWF spread messages of self-confidence and anti-bullying to more than 20,000 young people via the Born Brave Bus Tour. Beyond the foundation, Gaga donated a reported $1 million to the Red Cross to benefit victims of Hurricane Sandy.
An admitted bisexual, Gaga made her television debut on the LGBT-themed Logo channel’s NewNowNext Awards just after emerging from the NY club scene in 2008 and has since loaned her celebrity to Pride celebrations from San Francisco to Rome and the National Equality March rally on the National Mall in Washington D.C. Working in tandem to create two signature shades of lipstick for MAC Cosmetics, Gaga and likeminded wildcard Cyndi Lauper raised upwards of $200 million for the line Viva Glam—100 percent of proceeds from which benefit the MAC AIDS Fund (serving “people of all ages, all races and all sexes affected by HIV and AIDS”).
Exemplified by the women’s prison-themed music video for her Beyoncé collaboration “Telephone” and over-the-top G.U.Y. – An ARTPOP Film (which features inexplicable cameos by almost the entire cast of The Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills), Gaga’s got a sharp (and warped) sense of humor and she’s not above satirizing herself. Hosting Saturday Night Live in 2013, Gaga nailed a variety of sketch characters including a geeky Apple Store “Genius” stuck on the morning talk show Waking Up with Kimye, an overbearing dance mom at a fourth-grade talent pageant and a washed-up and forgotten version of herself living on NY’s Upper West Side in the year 2063. She’s also got a fondness for the Muppets that took shape in the (thoroughly enjoyable) Lady Gaga and the Muppets’ Holiday Spectacular.
I’m not the only one who learned a lot about Gaga through her surprisingly unguarded interview with Vanity Fair in 2010 (“Lady Gaga On Sex, Fame, Drugs and Her Fans”), which included a confession that she formerly abused “mostly cocaine” and still does drugs “maybe a couple of times a year.” Earlier this year in an interview for Harper’s Bazaar, she responded to the question “What are your guilty pleasures?” with “Russian hookers and cheap gin. At least I’m honest.” —Bryan Rindfuss
7:30pm Mon, July 14
1 AT&T Center