How the world went Gaga

One of the most intriguing artists
of modern times is Lady Gaga. Taking the blueprints of the likes of Madonna and
Cyndi Lauper and re-contexting pop for a brand-new generation, she has exploded
onto the scene with hit after hit over the last two years. Debut album The Fame
quickly became a multi-million seller as the one-time songwriter for the likes
of Akon struck out on her own, thrusting songs like Poker Face and Bad Romance
into the musical vocabulary of a new generation. It’s almost like she’s always
been there – or, more accurately, that the world was waiting for someone like
her. It’s hard to imagine a Gaga-less charts these days which is testament to
her catchy tracks.

And it’s not just down to the
music; her personal style and approach to clothing and artistry in general has
been much-discussed by art and fashion magazines, television shows and –
endlessly – online. A good example is during a recent press conference appearance
in Malta, she wore a full-face mask designed by a friend of hers – merely her
nose and a shock of hair were left exposed to the world.

“It’s not just a mask; it’s an
art-piece and I just wanted to wear it. I love it so much. It’s been a very remarkable
couple of years, I feel very blessed,” she told journalists at the time.
Needless to say, they were delighted to finally have something, and someone,
interesting to write about.

Theatre

If you’ve not guessed quite yet,
there’s a little more to the 24-year old New Yorker than meets the eye. Below
the pop sheen there’s always been a real sense of theatre, even darkness.
Indeed, the re-released version of her debut album, featuring several new
tracks, was renamed The Fame Monster. It is a nod, she says, to two heavy
inspirations of hers.

“Fetish glamour is something I’m
interested in at the minute mostly because of the Paparazzi video and the
obsession with death and sex. Those two things are also the nexus of horror
films which I’ve been obsessing over lately; watching horror movies and 1950s
science fiction movies. My re-release is called The Fame Monster so I’ve just
been sort of bulimically eating and regurgitating monster movies and all things
scary, to inspire myself.

“I’ve just been noticing a resurgence
of this idea of monster, of fantasy, but in a very real way. Vampires, blood
but if you notice in those films there’s always a juxtaposition of sex, or of
kissing and love with death. And that’s what makes it so scary: Your body and
mind are primed for an orgasm and instead somebody gets killed. That’s the sort
of sick, twisted psychological circumstance,” she says.

David Bowie

The nature of Gaga is showcased in
her music and her clothes, sure, but she follows firmly in the footsteps of
many who have been obsessed with glamour and media over the years. One
inspiration is David Bowie, whose continual reinvention as an artist and
character is central to Gaga’s inspiration.

“I don’t see a particular
separation between myself and my stage self the way that Bowie did. For him it
was more of self-preservation and an extension of his soul but in interviews
I’ve watched he made a clear distinction between Bowie and Ziggy Stardust and
David Jones,” she explained.

There’s another character that’s
had a massive impact on the way that Gaga approaches her art. Lady Gaga
surrounds herself with a retinue of staff, each of whom has a defined role
within the creative process. The House of Gaga, as she calls them, comprises
designers, dancers and other close compadres who are all part of creating the
world of glamorous pop.

“I love Andy Warhol; it’s no secret
that I’m a huge fan. I do perceive the work and the philosophy to be different.
People often say to me that I model The Haus of Gaga on The Factory but I never
lived there, I don’t know what it was like. You hear stories and dramatisations
about this beautiful musical place and I love that that’s the way I think of
The Factory. But I have a very specific way that I view my Haus.

“Andy Warhol’s legacy, and what I love
about Warhol, is the way that he inspires the young person to be and choose
whoever they want to be. You wake up one day and think, ‘I’m going to be a
photographer’, ‘I’ll be a film maker’, ‘I’ll advertise shoes’, ‘I’ll be a
producer’ – that is the thing where I just cry when I read about him and see
his work because he really cared about pop culture, about conveying something.
He invented pop culture,” she notes.

Opinions

Opinions are not a problem for
Gaga; she hardly fits the malleable, transient pop puppet of some of her
competitors. Whether hanging out with Marilyn Manson, duetting with Beyonce
Knowles or scheming with Kanye West, there’s a beautiful duality about the
artist that somehow blends the sweetness of pop with a raised eyebrow to the
world. On the dark side of arch, perhaps, but very modern for all that.

The newest release, Alejandro,
continues the series of songs about lovers and, typically, featured a video
that has caused a little controversy in some quarters for its juxtaposition of
religious and wartime imagery. It’s not intended to get under people’s skin for
the sake of it, she says, but she also acknowledges that is an inevitable
product of her output.

“Provocation isn’t something that
comes from me. It’s how you perceive me to be and your projections of that.
[But] I’m exploring dark directions. The Beatles were dark at times, listen to
Sergeant Pepper. There’s a darkness, there’s always a door somewhere in those
records that has a monster waiting behind it,” continues the singer and
pianist.

Inspiration

Inspiration can come from the
strangest places, she says, but it doesn’t have to be from anywhere obvious. In
the world of Lady Gaga, perhaps that provocation – whether intended or not – is
a central part of her oeuvre, but it’s not always comfortable to watch – or
even listen to.

“There’s an element of a stomach
ache to the work – I don’t intend to make work that fits into any kind of
musical bed or visual bed. For me that is a coffin.

“I am a free woman and I truthfully
work from an intuitive place. I have visions; I imagine the future. I obsess
endlessly over a colour or a phrase that I saw when I was sleeping or I heard
when I was running. And from that one moment I generate an entire world for my
fans to live,” she concludes.

At the moment, there are millions
of fans eager to inhabit that very place with her. The world, it seems, has
finally gone Gaga.

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Lady Gaga: Agent provocateur?
Photo: File