February 16, 2010

Goo-goo for Gaga

Lady Gaga’s stage persona is both ridiculous and redemptive

I always seem to forget about the awards shows I’ve planned on watching. But it’s going to take me a while to forgive myself for forgetting the Grammys, because it means I had to settle for a scratchy, seven-minute YouTube video of Lady Gaga and Elton John’s duet instead of the original, better quality airing. That’s right. Lady Gaga and Elton John, cranking out some tunes, blindfolded by their sparkly sunglasses that completely incapacitate their vision, on adjoining grand pianos. You have no idea how thrilled I am by the existence of this performance.

Now, my excitement about Lady Gaga and the sweet music she makes with Elton John might not make sense if you’ve never heard of Lady Gaga. This seems unlikely, but it is possible. Here are some factoids that you might find relevant in understanding her: She’s a recording artist. She sees herself as a genuine artist, Andy-Warhol style. She never lip-synchs. Wikipedia says she got made fun of in high school. Also, she wears a thong and a polar bear (at the same time!) in her “Bad Romance” music video.

Obviously, my personal knowledge of Lady Gaga folklore is sketchy, at best. So maybe the aforementioned scratchy, seven-minute YouTube video (just Google “Lady Gaga Elton John”) might be the best way to get to know her. After all, as her own performance, it shows her exactly the way she wants to be seen.

It starts off with this snazzy guy in a bow tie using his best announcer voice to get the crowd all ready for the awesomeness to come. There’s fire everywhere and crazy dancers in bodysuits everywhere and a big sign that says “THE FAME FACTORY.” He starts dramatizing into a microphone: “You see, the real Gaga comes complete with five number-one singles! And the best part is—she has her own pogo stick! And she has no soul.” This cues some manic laughter, and then the sudden appearance of the prophesied Lady Gaga in an upside-down Tinker Bell costume, the sort of outfit that I believe conclusively disproves any conjectures that she might really be a man.

Then Gaga sings a little bit of “Poker Face,” before the bow-tie guy goes all Crucible on her, and yells, in a strangely soothing voice, about how “Everyone’s going goo-goo for Gaga!” At this point, one of her male dancers “drags” her up into this thing that looks like a giant, flaming wood chipper and throws her in, all the while with the announcer shouting “SHE’S A MONSTER! SHE’S A MONSTER! And she’s turning all of you…into monsters!” After a second of grinding silence, a couple of doors open, and there she is, safe and sound with Sir Elton John, rocking out a piano power ballad.

This performance did indeed make me feel like Lady Gaga is turning me into a monster, because it made me realize that I’m dangerously close to liking both her music and her bizarre stage persona genuinely, rather than ironically. It’s one thing for “Bad Romance” to get stuck in your head, and for you to play it on repeat to exorcise it. It’s a completely different thing to embrace the music, to admire the audacity of its singer, and to regard the whole package with something approaching awe.

But as I figure this out for myself, I also realize that my excitement about Lady Gaga might not make sense even if you do know who she is. Maybe this is a cop-out to say this, a simple regurgitation of the Gaga propaganda so blatantly on display in instances like her Grammy performance, but she is a monster, a singing, dancing monster. Nobody acts like her, not in real life, where people are people, and if they’re monstrous, it’s something ugly on the inside. She invites us to stare at her, she doesn’t hide anything, and sometimes she sings something that’s pretty catchy too.

There’s a definite transparency about her shtick, a transparency that borders on honesty. It’s never more obvious that she is completely self-motivated, that the whole charade is fake, as when she’s getting dragged to her imminent demise during this epic Grammy performance. At a certain point, she breaks free of the man dragging her, and starts running on her own up the stairs toward the flaming wood chipper. Lady Gaga orchestrated the whole thing, down to the moment of utter triumph when Elton John modifies “Your Song” to say, “How wonderful life is with Gaga in the world.”

She has truly wrung herself through the wood chipper of a fame factory, and come out on top. Well, not on top, but certainly on a grand piano bench opposite Sir Elton John. It’s a pretty exciting concept, at the very least.

— Alison Howard is a second-year in the College.