Monday, November 16, 2009

Love, love, love, I want your Love

It has recently come to my attention that Lady Gaga is the shit. Well, maybe I should tone that down a little bit. She is the most shameless exhibitionist in showbiz, that's for sure. She is a master of media saturation, marketing, and multiple genre post-modernism. (All that alliteration makes me want to sing Roma, ro-ma-ma!)

Her new video, "Bad Romance," was just released to general excitement, controversy, and ogling.

Part of me wants to demolish Gaga with a feminist / anticapitalist critique. Yes, this video is a microcosm of a society that spends billions of dollars on advertising and where little public space remains without some kind of arches or swoosh adornment. And yes, this video is a total feminist dystopia. The camera-as-male-gaze renders the women sex objects, a role the video actually casts for them explicitly. Female bodies are covered in makeup and alterations that I hope to God are computer generated. Norms about what is feminine and what is beautiful dictate that all the women are skinny, white, and hairless. (Although I guess all the men are hairless, too, and while we're at it so are the cats).

Ok. Now that all that is dispensed with, I have to say I really can't stop watching this video. It's partly because it's such a freakish cultural artifact, and equal parts because of the straight-up eye candy, both fascinating and disturbing. Gaga has played on some fundamental tensions, and these make the video rich. Let's examine these one by one.

The liberated sex-object tension: This video is a perfect metaphor for Gaga in real life. She's a high-priced sex object cloaked in high-priced adornments. It seems like she's being exploited, and truth be told her legitimacy and agency are seriously limited, but in the end... she wins.

Detachment vs. old-school romanticism (no pun intended): Notice the slightly time-delayed close-ups of Gaga lip-sync-ing sans make-up. A traditional staple of the music video genre, these cast the singer as expressionist, channeling her emotion into music. These shots appear at the video's climax, pulling on our romantic heartstrings. On the other hand, most of the video exhibits a wierd detachment that is part of Gaga's overall character deal. She doesn't care, she's just selling crazy razor sunglasses and walking in freaky ass crab claw heels. But wait! She does care - she's singing in slow motion and crying. Which is it?

Hipster irony vs. high fashion: The dance moves here reek of hipster irony, especially the wierd twitchy hand distraction at the beginning and the slow hip-shiftingin the middle. But most of this video is about hipster irony's evil cousin, high fashion. With all the elaborate props and model-ly poses, the video resembles a photo shoot with some dance scenes spliced in. If Gaga were on America's Next Top Model, Tyra would congratulate her for "working the garment." She also works the headphones, and the vodka, and the beats laptops... Point is, Gaga is way too cool to dance outside the self-aware hipster paradigm, but unlike most hipsters, she's got diamonds raining down on her while she looks aloof.

(Non-sequitur: I self identify as a hipster and I am NOT down with the shit-talking that surrounds this term. A post on this is due.)

Postmodern low-attention-span collage vs. old-school narrative: There's a storyline here. I would argue that few of us really know how to relate knowledge without narrative, and this video demonstrates that a little narrative goes a long way toward making a piece of art compelling. There's a big literary debate about this. On the other hand, the narrative is totally spliced and confused by the short takes, costume changes, and just general non-sensical-ness. I want to know how to fit these into my narrative, i.e. what are the folks in red doing at the end and why does Gaga then put her black glove on her face and wink like that? Is that future Gaga knowing that present Gaga is about to burn this motherfucker down? I try to piece a narrative together, and I'm compelled in the process.

Whiteness: Whiteness is its own tension, as any white person can tell you. There's something hip and kind-of-black going on here: "I'm a freak bitch, baby" sneaks in as if on a side track, dropped onto the record player and then shuffled off by an expert and extra-subtle DJ. And the Thriller-esque moves recall Michael Jackson, which makes them fraught with racial ambiguity. Gaga shouts herself out throughout the track ("Ga GA Oh La la") like a rapper would, and uses nonsense syllables to rhyme like a rapper, but the whole thing is happening in a pop song that sounds kind of like a Russian folkdance. AHH!

Best of all, the video is totally shameless about containing all this contradiction and allusiveness. All Gaga really did here was dress up a pretty standard surprise-ending story in as many ridiculous outfits and aesthetics as possible. Fucking shameless, and that's all I ever want out of pop.

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