in the UK's Sunday Times
magazine, writes a systematic and devastating critique of the undisputed icon of today's popular culture, Lady Gaga. The link provided will only get you a tease as (perhaps fittingly) you have to pay if you want the full satisfaction of witnessing the hammer come down on Gaga. Though, after reading what Paglia has to say about Gaga, one wonders whether hammers or no hammers might be all the same to that purported Diva.
Paglia is particularly repulsed by Gaga's "banal voice" and her "lugubrious face" both of which, Paglia argues, come together awkwardly in the Gaga music videos and live concert productions, to produce an over-manufactured as well as shamelessly plagiarized product that is anything but sexy. Paglia takes pains to demonstrate how erratic and, seemingly, pointless are Gaga's borrowings. There is copying that can come from inspiration and a desire to pay homage to a thing one considers great. But this is not what Gaga offers--for nothing is great and nothing moves in the Gaga universe. Gaga, it seems, copies out of boredom--the way teenagers text at the bus stop or while "talking" to their parents. Gaga is pop music at the end of history. It is the place where the soul cannot be stirred.
Her catchy, but soul-numbing lyrics in "Poker Face," Paglia suggests, offer a window into Lady Gaga's soul (though not, of course, into Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta's) and that "soul" amounts to an excuse for what Paglia considers her pathetic artistry. Yet the "little monsters" of the digital age--who, like Germanotta, were raised in a political correct and sanitized world that offered almost no suggestions of an alternative--eat it up. Sadly, rebellion without authority turns out to be pretty unexciting . . . and it degenerates, quickly, into a silent scream of horror. It is fitting that Gaga calls her fans "little monsters" . . . for they, like she, have been denatured.
Paglia tries to illustrate this point by offering a contrast between Gaga and one of her presumed fore-mothers, Madonna, that bears repeating at some length:
Gaga's sexual reticence can't be chalked up to priest-ridden guilt: although
she was nominally raised Catholic, her father (an internet entrepreneur who
was once a bar-band rock musician in New Jersey) was clearly less repressive
than Madonna's old-school authoritarian Italian-American father. In fact,
the puritanical strictness of Madonna's background sparked her ambition and
strengthened her best work. Without taboos, there can be no transgression --
which is why Madonna's ideas waned after she drifted into misty Kabbalah.
There is no religious frame of reference in Gaga's songs, aside from the
passing assertion, "Got no salvation, got no religion" (in So Happy I Could
Die); there is nothing remotely comparable to the sweeping gospel-choir
crescendo of Madonna's Like a Prayer. So it is unsurprising to hear that
Gaga is consulting celebrity "spiritual guides" like Deepak Chopra. [Italics are mine, ed.]
We note, too, that in another of Gaga's more famous works (a work that earned her top honors at the MTV VMA awards), Bad Romance
, the lyrics--to say nothing of the visual suggestions--are remarkably un-erotic horrors cheaply packaged in what is taken by those who haven't experienced real eroticism to be an erotic envelope. Passing over without comment the mangled "tableau" at the end of video (which depicts a typically expressionless Gaga perched in bed over an incinerated corpse), take note of the tiresome refrain, "I don't wanna be friends."
No, she doesn't. But neither does she want that "something more" than friends suggested by true eroticism. She does not want to know you, as there is nothing to know. Paglia is disappointed that the only connections offered in a Gaga universe are those of a "filial" nature--and she disapproves, strongly, of Gaga's supposed celibacy. But Paglia's use of "filial" strikes me as off. Gaga doesn't want any of the varieties of friendship previously known or celebrated by humanity through the ages--nothing filial or erotic. Instead, what she seems to offer is exactly the thing that is already tired and passé in this Facebook/My Space generation: the "friending." Paglia bemoans the ways in which the "hook up"--once a kind of thrilling dash into the forbidden today, "blends friends and lovers, with sex becoming
merely an excuse for filial hugging." But the hugs that gag Paglia aren't even "filial" hugs. They are less
than that. They are the utterly meaningless expressions of nothing; ways to pass time in stupefied comfort and they have about as much real meaning as air kisses. Though those, at least, had a mild taste of disdain in them. The "seduction" of a Gaga video is similarly indefinite and equally meaningless. You might touch--you might not. You might be an onlooker, you might erupt in flames. You might be the equivalent of Facebook "friends" but you're really not anything to anyone . . . so you just aspire to acquire and conquer or kill for the sheer thrill of pretending to feel. Because, hey . . . why not? Nothing is real. All is a lie. What is the difference, then, if we incinerate and die?