Love and Warhol
Lady Gaga, photographed by Terry Richardson.
Only a fool would declare Lady Gaga nothing but an image. Telephone, Just Dance, Bad Romance - they haven't been played to death by radio stations and millions of real people just because of a fashion shoot or a provocative video. People love her pop. And they buy it.
However, only the naive would claim Gaga's rise has nothing to do with a carefully wrought, diligently managed and cannily marketed image that mixes fashionable and dangerous, repeatable and inimitable, high-end clothes and low-rent shocks. And a culture in which show business is life. Just ask the lady herself, the artist formerly known as Stefani Germanotta.
''Money and recognition were never a driving factor for me: I was driven by showbiz and what does come along with showbiz is recognition,'' Gaga told Metro last year before her one-off show at Sydney Town Hall. ''I love being a musician, I love writing music, I love being a performance artist. And the blend of the performance art and pop commercialism, this is … what I live and die for.''
That show featured semi-naked bodies, a lot of wigs and outfits, and a recreation-inversion of a famous religious painting by Michelangelo, with Gaga lying death-like in the arms of one muscular boy.
Every second of the show was orchestrated. The message was controlled, self-knowing and self-referential in a way that went further back than the obvious connection, Madonna, to pop art and Andy Warhol. Take the song Fashion, which may be mocking in part (''I'm so, fierce that it's so nuts/I live, to be model-thin /Dress me, I'm your mannequin'') but doesn't have verses name-checking Gucci, Fendi, Prada and Jimmy Choo for the purposes of cultural study.
However, as academic Ella Bedard points out, writing for the online journal of critical thinking about Gaga, Gaga Stigmata (and, yes, they're serious, very serious), there is a crucial difference between Warhol's prints and Gaga's product placement. Warhol was selling himself and his art, not, say, Campbell's soup; Gaga is marketing both herself and the products.
''Gaga makes a Warhol-esque gesture by mocking blatant consumerism and American excess,'' Bedard writes. ''However, Gaga simultaneously promotes and benefits from these same practices. If Warhol's art gestured towards the inherent consumerism in art, Gaga's videos completely obliterate the difference between art and the economic market: she is selling, she is being sold, she is unapologetically sold out.''
That isn't to say there isn't ''art'' alongside the commerce in the world of Gaga but, rather, that you can't really understand one without grasping the other. This is something made even more important by the fact this is a very 21st-century pop star, one who exists in the art, not necessarily because of it.
As Bedard says, ''What one might call her 'actual' or 'natural' visage is virtually unknown to the public, since she always appears in costume, mimicking a plurality of feminine archetypes, but also performing more androgynous roles.''
The surface is the image and the surface is reflective: it's all about the Little Monsters, Gaga says.
''The endless conversation between us about these modern issues is about culture, the culture of the fans as a lifestyle issue now - this is what propels me forward,'' she says. ''It is the mobilisation of our voices. We close all the doors, turn up the music and we exorcise all of our shame and our challenges and we say it is our differences that make us the same.''
Asked if she has control over all this creativity, Gaga answers with an emphatic ''yes'', claiming she does not exist outside it. ''It is one and the same. I don't exist without my creativity. I am halfway reality and halfway fantasy, all the time.''
From: Sydney Morning Herald