Entry from February 18, 2010

In today’s Times of London you may find the following headline: “How to get the Lady Gaga look: At this year’s Brits, Lady Gaga was an impossible act to follow. But what would it be like to imitate her style?” That has been the standard come-on for the media when they are selling their access to the celebrity culture — which they have created just so as to be able to control that access. But surely the whole point of Lady Gaga is that she is inimitable? This adjective has been applied to performers in the past, but in her case it is literally true: her fame is her uniqueness, and without that she would not be famous or, therefore, someone that anyone would think of imitating. This paradox underlines the extent to which Lady Gaga is her fame in a way that few if any performers have ever been before. Even her debut hit album is called, simply, The Fame. At least we have no excuse for not knowing that that is what we are getting.

When I was young, Cher was a bit like her, and her fame was similarly built on outrageous outfits and an outrageous public sexuality designed to provoke what was still, in those days, a residual sense of public decorum about such things. But there was more to her than the costumes — though maybe not a lot more. Yet everyone knew the difference between Cher the performer and Cher the person who had relationships with Sony Bono and Gregg Allman and a lesbian daughter named, hilariously, Chastity. She could also portray other people than herself in the movies. After Cher there was Madonna, whom Lady Gaga apparently identifies as her “idol” — at least according to Neil McCormick in the Telegraph. Madonna never quite made it as an actress of any character apart from herself, but the person she is today — divorcing Guy Ritchie, dating much younger men, adopting children from Malawi — is easily distinguishable from Madonna the performer. That may also be true, eventually, of Lady Gaga, but right now she is pure performance and never out of costume, even in interviews that purport to be with the performer and not the performance. Maybe she knows we don’t believe in these anymore anyway. In an interview with Lynn Barber she quoted a poem she wrote herself to describe her relationship with her audience:

For every minute of the day,
The truth is that I’m dead,
Until I’m here onstage with you —
Then I’m alive instead

She strikes a similar note in her interview with Mr McCormick.

Her album seemed to tie in with the times, bombastically plastic and yet knowingly superficial. Still, I didn’t know quite what to expect and was amused to find her so much in character hours before her show. She spoke about Andy Warhol, Madonna and Grace Jones as if they were not just her influences, but almost her intimate confederates. “I have always been an artist,” she insisted. “And I’ve always been famous, you just didn’t know it yet.”

To prove it, she goes on to talk about “Bach inversions” as well as Damien Hirst and Spencer Tunick whose names are meant to recall her highbrow education at the Tisch School of the Arts of New York University. She learned to write pop songs from studying Bach, she says, but “to me there is nothing more powerful than one song that you can put on in a room anywhere in the world and somebody gets up and dances. If you put a classical piece on, everyone’s not gonna mobilise. It’s gotta be something that resonates on a visceral level.” In other words, ix-nay on the assical-clay — for now.

“People are supposed to argue about whether what I’m doing is valid. That’s exactly the point. It’s not valid, but it is! I think I have the right pH balance, concept to pop to sex,” she said. “I made a great record. It’s not that deep. You and I can sit here and talk about art all day but most of my fans are not gonna care about the artistic level of my work, ‘cause they are just gonna be bopping around to that killer beat.” She reckoned it would take “another four singles” before audiences realised she was not just another pop bimbo. In which case, the 23 year- old is already ahead of schedule. “I always wanted to be a star,” she said. “It’s in the marrow of my bones, how I feel about music and art. I sacrifice, bleed and am sleepless for my craft in a shameless and loving way.”

Actually, I believe her. Except that her “craft” has very little to do with music, whether superficial or “deep”; it is simply the craft of publicity, of becoming famous. Andy Warhol pioneered this art form as a part of high culture; now she is doing it with the popular culture, as various “reality TV” stars have done before her. “What I wanna impress upon people is that you can become whoever you wanna be,” she told Mr McCormick, who finds authenticity, apparently, in phonetic renderings of her speech. “Music is the place where I’m allowed to be as strange as I am.” What she really means is that music is the place where she can be just strange enough to become what she wants to be — which is famous.

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