When it comes to pop culture, I'm always just a few days behind the curve. I know, I know—I shouldn't tell you that. After all, this is a blog about culture, and blogs are supposed to be au courant.
But hey, who'm I fooling? My first blog entry (at least here; I do have other blogs y'know) was about Judy Holliday and Blossom Dearie, after all. I freely admit it—though I'm only in my mid-thirties, I have the aesthetic tastes of a 60-year-old gay man living in 1955. Luckily, my politics place me somewhere around 2012, the year we'll get Universal Health Care in the U.S.—or, to be more historically accurate, my politcs place me in Amsterdam circa 1985 (remember, that year's a good thing in some places; the Dutch didn't have Reagan and Bush Sr. to gum up their windmill gears).
Anyway, I finally watched the new Lady Gaga-Beyonce collaboration video, and I can hardly tell you how impressed I am—the ironic-chameleonic fashions (glasses made of cigarettes, hats made of nursery-room telephone dials, lavender funeral veils), the countless pop culture references (Kill Bill, Thelma and Louise, Britney Spears' snatch shot, and more), the winking product placement (a telephone of course, but flashed only while Gaga swaps spit with a soft-butch cellmate), and yes, I even loved the song (well, at least Gaga's half). Nevertheless, this blog is a publication of sorts, not a mind-reading game (that's what relationships are for, right? Or so I hear from my married friends), so I will tell you out loud how impressed I am. Very. I am very impressed.
Someone I know campared Lady Gaga to Elton John and Andy Warhol. When he first made that analogy before I'd seen her on Youtube and before she'd become the "It-Girl,"* I thought he was being ridiculous and hyberbolic (I admit it, I thought this, in these polysyllables no less, but I don't say things like this out loud), but now I have to agree with his comparison.
Lady Gaga has not only brought "sexyback" from farther away than Justin Timberlake did, she's helped make "sexy" and "smart" synonyms that even ad-addled and Twitter-pated post gen-Xers find refreshing and cool. And she's brought performance art into the mainstream, in a way it hasn't been since the Factory days of Warhol and the Sex Pistols. To extend Adam's analogy, I would also compare Lady Gaga to the very quirky Roches and the brilliantly eccentric Laura Nyro, with a dash of Blossom Dearie thrown in for sweetness.
Laura Nyro, whom Gaga most resembles physically and maybe musically (if you don't believe me, compare these two videos filmed over 30 years apart) is such a cult figure among artists "in the know" that even the notoriously (and justifiably) vain Joni Mitchell doesn't mind being compared to her.
All are very New York, so witty and worldly that all have been mistakenly assumed to be 100 percent Jewish, even by critics, even though some weren't Jewish at all. And among NY artists and intellectuals, such an assumption is a high compliment indeed.
If Warhol, Nyro, and the Roches are apt comparisons, then my only fear is not that Gaga's artistry won't continue to blossom with age—she'll be 24 on March 28!—but that Gaga may burn too bright too soon. A facile fatalists' fantasy, perhaps, but many of the above did peak early, falling afterwards into critical disfavor or cult obscurity.
Lady Gaga is the best new artist to shimmy onto the scene in a long time, and we need her to stick around more than she needs us—I was amazed that this year's Grammys (as you know, I think awards shows can be a real joke) actually honored her as Best New Artist. I am convinced that her award will not be a death knell (as it was for Milli Vanilli, Lisa Loeb and others) but merely an early signpost on a long and illustrious career path. Barbara Walters even called Gaga one of the "10 Most Fascinating People of the Year" (in a year that gave us Octomom and Balloon Boy no less). During her interview, Gaga forthrightly responded to Walters' coy questions:
"I do like women. I've only been in love with men ...but ...the song [with lyrics like "fluffin the muffin"] was about why,...when I was with my boyfriend, was I still fantasizing about being with women?...I've certainly had sexual relationships with women, yes. [The biggest misconception about me is] that I am artificial and attention seeking, when the truth is that every bit of me is devoted to love and art, and I aspire to try to be a teacher to my young fans who ... feel just like I felt when I was younger.... What I'm trying to say is I want to liberate them, I want to free them of their fears, and make them feel that they can create their own space in the world."
Words that could even make someone without tear ducts weep, but Walters and her producers followed up Gaga's frank, honest avowal with a slick, jump-cut montage of Gaga's sexiest dance moves overdubbed with these granny-pandering words: "Kissing women, bizarre outfits, and scantily clad perfomances: Not exactly a father's dream for his little girl."(What?! C'mon Barbara, you're not really the prude you play on TV: you dated that slutty Walter Cronkite, who's fluffed umpteen muffins, for crissakes.)
Luckily for people like me who take two or three days to find out about the latest gidgets and gadgets, Gaga has already overcome the main newbie pitfall, especially for stars so wildly adored by gay fans—cult-status balkanization. Heck, if Madonna and Beyonce are slavering to get pokerface-time with you, you've moved past cult status. Gaga is so real and so hip that by her very presence with those ladies on SNL or the new "Telephone" video made them hip and relevant by osmosis. This month, she even lends her considerable cred to Cosmo, that hoary arbiter of mainstream female fashion and sex. Look, she smirks from its cover, I'll be wan and pretty for your magazine, but only if I can stare knowingly into the lens, and only if I can wear my un-prettiest granny panties while I'm doing it.
In an age when artists moan about MP3 pirating of their work so they can justify allowing Madison Avenue to use said work to hock everything from apps to alchohol, we need more stars like Gaga—sure they'll try to sell you stuff you don't need to pay their bills and make their DIY couture, but they'll snog with girls on TV while they're doing it—and they'll have real talent to boot.
Happy Birthday, Lady Gaga. Thank you for making our wishes come true.