Redeeming Mother Monster vs. Arrested Development: The pros and cons of Lady Gaga
Published: July 9, 2014
“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.
> Email Matt Stieb and Bryan Rindfuss