The Lady Gaga Backlash
Lady Gaga released the video for her latest single "Alejandro" on Tuesday. The song is a pastiche of ABBA by way of Ace of Base and the video pays homage to Madonna and Bob Fosse, with images of gay boys in Nazi-esque uniforms marching, humping and writhing all over Gaga, who is alternately wearing a leather nun's habit or a bra made from machine gun barrels. Yes, it's a whole lotta look.
The next day, Gaga showed up at her younger sister's high school graduation ceremony wearing a revolutionary ensemble (pictured below) that might have given Grey Gardens' Little Edie pause. She was immediately accused of hogging the spotlight from her little sis and that the outfit was completely inappropriate for graduation from a Catholic high school, which just so happened to be the same school Gaga attended. The imagery from the video, her sister's graduation from a Catholic school and the outfit were, surely, all designed for the most media impact possible. But something about the one-two-punch of the video and photos seems to have caused a quickening in the inevitable Gaga backlash.
It's been nearly 30 years (gulp!) since Madonna channeled Marilyn Monroe for "Material Girl," not to mention borrowing looks from 50s pin-up queen Bettie Page and the dance moves from the gay underground drag balls for "Vogue." Except Madonna wasn't accused of ripping off these artists; she was paying homage. Gaga, who is only 24, grew up watching Madonna and is now honoring her inspiration in "Alejandro," which also pays a debt to Madge's "La Isla Bonita." Is Madonna upset about any of this? No. She likes Gaga, and the two have already done a send-up of their tabloid created rivalry on Saturday Night Live. Expect a collaboration in the near future.
This makes Gaga a threat on many fronts. She's a smart woman with an opinion; she pushes cultural and societal buttons; she wields an amazing amount of influence; she flaunts her fame and (bi)sexuality. Mousy-haired coffee house singer Stefani Germanotta's rise to global superstardom in less than five years is one of the most calculated artistic reinventions in music history. I say, good for her.
The Internet is full of singers, songwriters and performers playing guitar and keyboards in poorly-lit bedrooms hoping they'll be the next Gaga or Justin Bieber. Cutting through the web's non-stop noise is a miracle in itself. Luckily, Gaga has real musical talent to back it up. Anyone who's heard her sing a cappella or accompany herself on piano cannot deny the woman can sing. But it's the image and the media frenzy that seems to be causing the backlash.
I first took notice of Gaga in the summer of 2008 when she performed "Just Dance" on So You Think You Can Dance. I was hooked immediately. It seemed after that performance that Gaga was everywhere. You couldn't surf to a website, pick up a magazine or turn on the television without seeing or hearing Gaga. She sucked the oxygen out of the room. Not quite a year after the release of her debut album The Fame, came an EP called Fame Monster, followed by the shock and awe of the "Bad Romance" video. How would she top herself? She hasn't...yet.
The "Telephone" video was fun, but overblown. The decision to release "Alejandro," Fame Monster's weakest track, and pair it with a beautifully filmed, but overly-serious set of images that seem to have no correlation to the song, despite Gaga's message that the video was a tribute to her gay fans, was also a miscalculation. And, yet, for all the accusations of "Alejandro" being a Madonna rip-off it's still one of the most compelling, talked about music videos to come along in years.
The most bizarre backlash is from gay men. Today on Facebook, I read a number of comments from gay men who have referred to her as a "tranny," "Lady Caca" and one who said she only appealed to "shallow fags who like shiny things." This isn't the first time I've heard derision from the gay community about Gaga. I have a friend who DJs at a local gay club here in Atlanta, isn't a fan and hates having to play her music in his sets. He's never been able to articulate exactly why he hates her, because his music collection is filled with more disposable pop than you can shake a disco stick at.
Of course, I'm not saying that every gay man should like Lady Gaga, but I think many have shunned her because they are expected to like her, just like every 'mo is supposed to worship Judy Garland, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and Madonna. The need to break out of the stereotype and not have gay culture assimilated and consumed is a strong motivator. I totally get it. What I don't get is the vitriol and just plain nastiness that comes from the gay community as they slag her off. It's poor form, gentlemen, especially as the GLBT community continues to fight for civil rights and promote tolerance.
Whether you like Gaga or not, she is an invaluable voice and, I believe, a sincere friend of the GLBT community. She supports gay marriage, raises money for HIV/AIDS organizations and is outspoken in interviews about the need for tolerance in America and around the world. Elton John cashed a check for $1 million this week for playing virulent homophobe Rush Limbaugh's wedding reception, but that story was lost in the white noise once "Alejandro" hit YouTube.
Without a doubt, Lady Gaga is overexposed. Maybe she hasn't realized it yet, but she will. She's too talented, intelligent and driven to be one of Warhol's "15 minute" types. She'll take a break soon, but like Bowie and Madonna, she'll reinvent herself with a new sound and image. And the hullabaloo will start afresh all over again.