Friday, July 17, 2009

Lady GaGa as Post-Modern Identity-Art.

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, clich├ęd, 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.


Anonymous said...

I guess I can see your view on this. I much rather see Lady GaGa than other divas for the fact that she actually puts on a show for the audience. Like KISS or David Bowie or even Maryln Manson before her, their personalities was the stage. They were entertainers at heart. So they had to put on a good show on and off the stage. Nice work, LeVautour!

Bernard P. Provencher LeVautour said...

Thank you!

I'm glad that you picked up on the OFF stage element of it. I think the general idea of artists' identities AS their art also goes deeper than KISS, Bowie, GaGa, and Manson (although those are all great examples)... think Oscar Wilde, Lord Byron... even Benjamin Franklin?

I think with GaGa what's most interesting to me right now is how seemingly deliberate and conspicuous (if you're looking from the right angle) she makes it.

Anonymous said...

You are a fruit cake and think way too much into things... but I love Lady GaGa because it is fun to dance to :)

Bernard P. Provencher LeVautour said...

I would never spend my time analyzing an artist that I don't believe has put just as much thought into their work as I put into trying to figure it out... and if no one's going to take the time to take a deeper look into what's actually being SAID by the artist, they're being done a bit of a disservice, and they've wasted their time a bit, don't you think? Which I guess makes the Artists that I critique just as much "fruitcakes" in your eyes as I am for "thinking too much" into the construction of their projects.

Just a thought.

Dyer said...


We can talk about this sometime, but you're wrong. Post-Mod is dead.

Bernard P. Provencher LeVautour said...

Wow, Christian, that was a great article. Thanks for posting.

I agree with him on some points, disagree fervently on others, and wish to parse words with him on the vast majority to take a less-pessimistic stance on our general state of intellectual affairs.

I think, in general, though, that declaring the entirety of the loosely-defined mindset "dead and buried" due to this one viewpoint is a bit over-zealous... especially considering there are definitely major critical definitions, major tenets, and major (and more recent)texts of post-modernism that he seems to over-look entirely (many of which are taught as the primary contemporary representations of the movement in most American English programs, including the one that I studied in)... which would make many of the aspects that he defines as "pseudo-modernism" into merely extensions of the project... and very similar to what I was asserting about Lady Gaga in this post (hence why I made sure to reference "post-post-modernism"... whatever that is... because I don't think any one's quite sure yet.)

I know that I, for one, am not completely on board with Kirby's cynical "if pop-culture isn't thinking this way, no one should" version of what comes next (or now) as "pseudo-modern"... but it was a fascinating read nonetheless, and I'm pretty sure I'll try to address some of these issues in my next entry.

Thanks again, Mr Dyer.

Anonymous said...

I've definitely come round to Christian way of thinking on this. The thing that sparked my change of view was the now infamous 'gimp mask' incident. Whilst most pop divas have embraced a degree of fetishistic attire, this is clearly just too off the wall and disturbing for general consumption. Clearly she is throwing a spanner in the works of taking it at face value. The other thing that's interesting is the way the videos appear to be getting increasingly challenging, particularly the one for 'Paparazzi'. It is full of glamorous fake murder/suicide pictures that tread a thin line between satirising media culture and out doing it at its own game. This is highlighted by the YouTube video comments that are polarized between adoration, revulsion and laughter.

Bernard P. Provencher LeVautour said...

Those are all great examples. That's definitely along the lines of what I'm talking about.

(just a point of confusion/ correction... Christian is the last commentor who posted under the name "Dyer" that posted the link asserting that post.mod is dead... not the author of this blog. Is "post.mod is dead" the way of thinking you're coming around to, or the critical stance in the original blog-post?)

Anonymous said...

Yes sorry I meant I've come round to the blog writers view that Gaga is different. And of course Post-modernism may be dead as the dominant philosophical and cultural force, and yet still be relevant in this context. What I would like to know is where is this heading? What if anything is the plan? The stated aim 'changing pop culture one sequin at a time' suggests an attempt to make the art-fashion collective the dominant force in pop culture. How far could this succeed? Is it bound to end in audience alienation, corporate co-option etc.? Is Gaga to be a victim of her own construct? Gaga seems to be taking over, Stefani a thing of the past. Gaga is not, it would seem a Borat or a Bruno, that is easily shed. She seems to have said 'Gaga shall be the meaning of my life'.

Bernard P. Provencher LeVautour said...


I think you hit the nail on the head about the relevance of post-modernism (or whatever comes next, which I'm very leery about jumping on Kirby's "pseudo-modernism" bandwagon from the linked article) in ART and IDEAS(as OPPOSED to pop-culture, and the interesting ways that those things are now becoming intersected.... as I was trying to scratch the surface of with the GaGa piece...)

I plan to continue to address my thoughts on this in the next couple of entries, so please stay tuned and keep weighing in.

As for what the end-game is... I tend to think that for GaGa (and allot of other hybrid-conceptualists) the point being made by way of the construction may very well BE the end-game... and the further they go to become the concept they're intending to express, the more thoroughly the point is made (whether or not anyone is paying attention... which could be part of the point itself.

Anonymous said...

Yes one can perhaps argue that a lot of the most interesting artistic outcomes are a result of the ‘intersections’ of various movements and contexts. I was forcefully reminded recently just how peculiar a mix T.S Eliot was i.e. the quintessential modern poet of the 20th Century, who was also an Anglo-Catholic royalist! But then again a devotee of all things modern like the Futurist Marinetti, couldn’t have written an hymn to alienation like ‘The Wasteland’, and of course ironically it is perhaps alienation from the modern that is modernism defining characteristic.

The other aspect of the GaGa construct that I find interesting is that it appears to be two constructs not one. Have you noticed the solo acoustic versions of most of the key songs from ‘The Fame’? What a difference! A more elegantly dressed version of GaGa pounds out a musical tour de force more reminiscent of ‘Caberet’ than ‘Disco Inferno’. This brings admiring plaudits from the likes of BBC Breakfast’s starchy middle England presenters – ‘much better, shows off your musicality’, ‘oh you write your own songs’, ‘you’ve played the piano since you were four’ etc. Does this alternative identity fit with your analysis, or is it something else entirely different?

Bernard P. Provencher LeVautour said...

The T.S. Eliot comparison is an interesting one that I hadn't thought of. I definitely do tend to think that, in general, we are in that sort of crux/ transition period... where, if this is still the "post-modern-era," whatever comes from it will be labeled "late-post-mod" or "pre-{whatever's next}" or something... and that the products of this time-period (or at least a very select and deliberate subset of them) will be considered to be the catalysts for the changing-of-the-gaurd...

I haven't seen the acoustic versions. I'll have to check that out, thanks.

By a blind guess, I would venture to say... those sets could be part of the jest, a bit of a toying with her own identity construction... a rub in the nose of the people who STILL won't take her seriously as an artist, merely BECAUSE of the "pop-star" identity that she's created...

I think she's taunting us to catch her in her stunt.

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