When we speak of post-modern art, it is commonly understood that elements of pop-culture play an important role. What this role typically involves when we say this is that artists (who are typically functioning (or attempting to function) in certain ways OUTSIDE of the pop-culture, utilize elements of mainstream cultural trends within their work, as components of the pastiche that they employ. Think of pop-culture as a shade of fluorescent paint, not the painting itself that the pigment is utilized to make.
As my girlfriend was recently reading elements to me of the Wikipedia bio for the current ironic pop-princess Lady GaGa, it struck me that a bit of role-reversal within these conventions may be finally coming into play. From what I can piece together from the wiki and some further digging into similar info available on the internet, here’s a brief synopsis, and my analysis of how and why it works-
“Lady GaGa,” A.K.A. Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, is first-and-foremost an Artist (and not in the same way that we might off-handedly refer to Britney Spears as a “recording-artist,” rather in the “Fine Art”/ “Conceptual Project” sort of way) She’s trained at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and maintains a “collective” (“Haus of GaGa”- of which she claims “this is my own creative team, modeled on Warhol's Factory. Everyone is under 26 and we do everything together.”) This is decidedly NOT the resume of someone who (like most of her peers) signed themselves away to a talent-agent with a hysterical (and hysterically naive) cry of “Whatever it takes to make me a staaaaar!”
In her own words, rather; "I consider what I do to be more of an Andy Warhol concept: pop performance art, multimedia, fashion, technology, video, film. And it's all coming together, and it's going to be traveling museum show."
For a couple of weeks I had near-constant exposure to “The Fame” and streamed videos of the songs from the GaGa record… not exactly of my own volition, but not quite in a “kicking and screaming” sort of way either… I honestly don’t mind this stuff nearly as much as I feel that I probably should. From the first time that I heard it, the record struck me as conventional, clichéd, saccharine, girly pop (albeit with better-produced dance-beats and glammed-up electro than most of that ilk) of a sort that I don’t usually like…but somehow, this one felt… DIFFERENT. That difference, I believe, is IRONY. By this point I feel like I could write an entire book analyzing the double-entendres in each song and the mixed metaphors and tongue-in-cheek references in each video… but I’ll spare the close-read for now. Suffice it to say, there isn’t a single song on the record or official video released that doesn’t have an undertone or possible translation that doesn’t suggest the sort of pastiche that I’m speaking of. This is something a bit too artistically-serious to be called “spoof,” but a bit too ironic to be taken serious in the context that it’s presented… which presents another layer of irony- this pastiche is far more serious and legitimate than the genre that it takes as it’s subject. Think the way that Don Delilo, Salman Rushdie, Andy Warhol (a name you might have noticed GaGa herself seems quick to drop), or Sheppard Fairey repurpose pop-culture as a facet of their art. This is basically the same idea, but the formula has been cleverly inverted.
The nearest I can gather, “Lady GaGa’s” current public persona was created as a performance-art stunt. She seems to have taken the current media-driven pop-music market as her canvas, and decided that on it she would paint a construction of herself, an intentionally fabricated pop-star.
Let’s face it. They’re ALL fabricated. That’s part of the deal; the entirety of what currently “sells” in that realm. It’s about time that an Artist stepped up and made themself and their identity into the canvas itself, dedicated themself to creating their own identity into a “pop-star” in order to achieve, in a more extreme and all-encompassing way, the points that nearly all dedicated post-modernists, “pop-artists,” and post-post-modernists are intending to make about the world that we live in and the fleeting natures of “truth” and “reality,” by merely referencing or lifting elements of pop-culture, rather than diving right in, as Lady GaGa has.
Pop-culture is no longer merely a shade of paint dabbed on for effect or to make a point. Pop-culture IS the point, but the post-modern point remains the same. The identity is still the canvas, the artist becomes that canvas, the paint is both the artist and pop-culture itself. Lady GaGa seems on a crash course to prove that artists can BECOME the very thing that they’re critiquing (without devolving completely to satire), and this may prove to be the most extreme and compelling way of making this point to date.
That is, if anyone bothers to take notice that, regardless of the surface-level similarities, there’s something decisively DIFFERENT between Lady GaGa and Christina Aguilera.