Before I got the chance to write a similar article, Guy Trebay, part-time nuanced pop culture watchdog, part-time announcer of bogus trends for the NYT, scrawled a style piece on Lady Gaga. I don’t know how, but Trebay gets away with a prose uncharacteristic of the Gray Lady’s distinguished pages: his witty, slightly bitchy words are more fitting for one of Carrie Bradshaw’s facile confessionals than they are for the monolith of American journalism. But whatevs. Maybe the Style section makes special exceptions for stylin writers–Trebay probably has impeccably crafted Italian leather shoes and indubitably carries a dapper murse. Anyway, Trebay’s thesis was: her music might be forgettable, but her whole package is anything but.
But Guy was just fulfilling his role, he had to admire Lady Gaga’s ostentatious clothing before 2009 ended along with her reign. However, she had other notable admirers (and detractors–just as significantly). Sasha Frere Jones bought her hype and admired her Rilke references. Fred “God Hates Fags” Phelps called her a lady of the night, whore, slut, etc. But dudes, dudes, calm down. We’re just so excited because we haven’t seen anything Madonna-esque in a while.
The last white pop star that really made the waves was Britney Spears. Then we had a few years of alleged virginity and highly sexualized 16-year-olds on the charts and TRL. Every once in a while those “artists” got a Swede on their production team and we drooled. But then those stars went crazy, or got married, or became otherwise useless to us. The real winners of the aughts/naughties/last ten years were Rihanna and Beyonce. And for some reason, I think it’s significant that Gaga is white, and that everyone thinks she’s so avant-garde n’ shit. Granted, Beyonce is not considered in the same pop-game as Gaga, as she is admired by critics for her reserved professionalism. She’s not a flashy new star–she is remarkable for her old school classiness, and more of a Diana Ross than a Madonna. Rihanna, on the other hand, visually has it DOWN. She’s not as future-friendly as Gaga, but her new look of leather and steel suits her, and I think Rated R‘s cover art is every bit as visually engaging as a Gaga bubble frock. The only problem is her music–she still hasn’t created an aggressive enough genre for herself. (Hint to Rihanna: dub step is waiting for you to mainstream it.) I still have a suspicion that we are more likely to accept an aesthetic as revelatory and an artist as a true auteur if they are white. Everyone thinks Rihanna is a tool–that she’s a talent who’s just not being handled correctly, etc. Most people blamed her production team for the failures of her recent album. When she gets in the hands of REAL writers (like the-dream, et al), we say, that’s when she really shines. It’s as though Lady Gaga is given a voice and an agency that these other stars are not, and it could be because of her skin color (it also could be because she writes her own music, but let me be a pessimist for a minute). People conceptualize race in entertainment as such: black people dance for us; white people make us think.
Anyway, I meant to talk about Lady Gaga’s EP The Fame Monster. Undeniably, Lady Gaga is an auteur, and she would have us know she isn’t handled by anyone. [Incessant reminders that she’s a free bitch, baby, did the trick.]
The Fame just kinda sucks. We can all agree. Her pounding, drunken club hits were timely, but hardly made for interesting dance music: we’re not talking Basement Jaxx here, we’re talking disco’s version of row-row-row your boat.
But ferreal now, The Fame Monster is awesome. [Listen to it streaming via myspace here.] It kicks off with her best single, “Bad Romance,” a perfectly subversive, triumphant anthem for forbidden love. “Alejandro,” is a tuneful ode to Abba’s “Fernando.” It begins with Lady Gaga denying her many Latin admirers, then launches into an Ace of Base bump, complete with the glossy, Doctor Who-esque organ flourish of the eternal 1994 hit “The Sign.” Just pretend she doesn’t say one of the dudes is “hot like Mexico,” and you will be left with the idea that she really knows what she’s talking about.
Then we have the inspiration for the title of the EP: “Monster.” The monster is a guy with whom she may have had sex with previously, but she “doesn’t quite recall.” Then, like a phantom from the subtextural depths of an H.P. Lovecraft story, his horrifically competent skills in the bedroom rise from her subconscious. They make out on a subway train. (This makes the subway sound exotic and exciting, but of course, it only is for those of us who do not trudge defeatedly onto it every day.) He then tears off her clothes, and also eats her heart and brain. This will probably be her next single–it has plenty of heavy machinery pumps and fuckable thumping. I guess that’s the idea.
I could go on, but I’m sure you understand what this EP is about. It’s musically more interesting and less schticky than her singles off The Fame. And it also gives us a glimpse of what could be an interesting future. Lady Gaga has consolidated her strengths, which include vividly conjuring a real object out of her love in the club. Most Usher hits feature faceless R&B biddies with a booty like ooh-ohh-ohh (sorry, the-dream), but Gaga’s boys are criminals, or monsters, or disco sticks–they have some interesting attributes, defined ontological properties, and foreign accents, even.
All that’s left to see is how her next LP works out. More 90s Euro obviousness? The radio is full of that now. She needs to stop talking about how much Bowie inspires her and write the next oddball dance hit a la “Let’s Dance.” Maybe she could even write a song as weird as “The Secret Nights of Arabia.” I think her capable of it. However, Gaga needs to turn down the punchy fuzz she favors so much production-wise, and let other textures enter the dance floor. She needs to keep wearing bubble outfits, though.