Posted by: apopalyptic | 06/14/2010

Hott like Mexico

This post is not about fashion. Though it kind of is.

This post is about Lady Gaga.

Lady Gaga, of course, is Apocalyptic. With a capital A. She is dimensional in her Apocalypticity, too. It’s not just about what she wears, or how she presents the physical representation of Gaga. I mean, you can ask Joan Rivers about how fashion forward she is. I think Lady Gaga is actually the most technically-minded Apocalpytician in pop culture at the moment.

One day, I overheard a conversation between two PhD candidates. After pretending to be interested in each others’ dissertations, one says: “you know, I’m fascinated by Lady Gaga. I don’t know what she’s doing, but she’s doing something. And I want to write about it.”

Um… actually, you know what? No, don’t. Do not write about it. Resist the urge to try to “figure out” what she is doing via a 15 page article for an academic journal. You are going to try– feebly at best– to apply theory to interpret the genius that is  the Telephone video but it’s not going to work. Not because you don’t understand the theory, but because you don’t understand Gaga. Yes, she is doing SOME-thing…  she’s doing THE thing.

Oh, and, my dear PhD candidates: the whole world sees the obvious Madonna link. Maybe you see the Michael Jackson link. But the Brian Eno link? And can you hear her incredibly classical background in her tangy, catchy operatic riffs?

Yeah, didn’t think so.

But it’s okay… some of that stuff is buried under layers and layers of pop culture references, and if you haven’t spent a lot of time watching bad television or obscure Italian cinema, or listening to 80s bands that did not get radio airplay, you might not know. I mean, it seems pretty clear to me that the prison scenes in the Telephone video might have been more of a reference to Prisoner: Cell Block H than to maybe Oz or Chicago, but whatever. Though I’m sure you got the channeling of John Landis’ pacing and Michael Peters’ fabulous choreography.

As everything Apocalyptic is a palimpsest, Gaga herself *is* a palimpsest. Her whole being is a collaborative effort of stylists and producers and directors and ideas and influences and riffs and fashion, all of which she produces and directs. She is the name above the title, but gives credit where credit is due. She becomes the star by trading all those people and thoughts like baseball cards, whether it’s a co-credit on her videos (Jonas Åkerlund and Stephen Klein) or an outfit (in the middle of one performance a few months ago, she stopped to pay tribute to Alexander McQueen). She is quick to recognize that while she is the representation of Gaga, there’s a whole lot of Madonna and Liza and Fosse and Prince and Michael Jackson and Annie Lennox and ABBA and  Debbie Gibson and Steampunk and Thelma and Louise and Larry King going on behind the curtain that actually makes all that Gaga possible.

But what I really wanted to talk about is what seems to me to be her most genius (and most apocalyptic moment), and that’s the fact that she has technically made it impossible for anyone to be a Gaga clone (I’m lookin’ at you,  Miss Katy Perry and Miss Ke$ha and all the rest of you ladies and men who will inevitably be coming down the pike in 3…2…1…). Gaga can sing AND play AND write AND be so confident in all of her abilities that she can work with other people. This has nothing to do with autotune, at all, and anybody who thinks that’s all she is should just watch this live version of Paparazzi and then step the eff off. Though effects do play a role in her sound, they are the kind of effects that you have to be able to sing your ass off in the first place for them to work. For example… go listen to the chorus of Alejandro and try to count how many Gagas you hear… it’s like, HUNDREDS OF GAGAS! Doubling isn’t a new production technique, at all. And it’s not even innovative how she’s doing it. Doubling can be hard because you have to basically sing the same thing over and over again in the same exact way so that the producer can melt all of the tracks together into one, the effect of which is a strong, solid vocal track. If you are some two-bit, fly-by-nite pop singer who can’t even basically nail it once the first time, this is a painful studio moment for you (an aside: I actually think doubling is kind of fun, but whatever). In the moment where Gaga sings that one word– Alejandro– she is harmonizing in triplicate with herself. A dimensional, faceted chorus of Gagas. Can Katy Perry do that?

I’m pretty sure the answer is no, and that brings us back to our PhD candidates. Sure, some academics will dissertate and dissect Gaga brilliantly, and I look forward to reading that criticism. But, a lot of academics will not, and that’s because they will be focusing solely on the visual, which is only part of the story. The rest of the story has to do with how it all actually sounds.

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