I’ve decided to call this series of back-and-forths “Arguments With Friends” and the topics will vary from music to entertainment to sports to politics to anything else I’m right about and some other stupid idiot disagrees.
For this particular incarnation of Arguing With Friends I took on Mr. Steven Ginsberg, the esteemed Pendleton Chair of the Ithaca College Los Angeles program and my former advisor, to discuss our disagreement about Lady Gaga. I detest her, he adores her. Let the arguing commence.
[Editor’s note: It’s a bit long, so I split it into Part 1 (which is actually the second half of the argument) and Part 2.]
I Googled “Why I hate Lady Gaga” for a bit of inspiration (and to really get the full brunt of hatred seething) and found that there is a real dearth of substance on this matter. Ergo, I’m convinced this will be the preeminent Lady Gaga hate piece. I take that as a great honor and responsibility and plan to proceed henceforth with that in mind. In the words of The Sappy Mulatto a.k.a. Canada Dry a.k.a. Drake, thank me later.
I digress. My problem isn’t really with Lady Gaga. I don’t like her music, but that’s not because it’s particularly bad, it’s just not my cup of tea. I think Stefani Germannota is a fine singer and songwriter. What I don’t like about Lady Gaga is Lady Gaga. I’ll explain.
I grew up in what’s becoming increasingly known as the participation trophy generation. We are the children for whom struggle and failure were deemed simply too damaging to our future psyche and self esteem, so they were eschewed at all costs. Parents rushed in white flight to the suburbs to protect their children from the indignities of city life and those brazen few that remained in the cities did their best to instill in their children the values and core consistencies of suburbia: nothing bad can happen and if something bad does happen, it’s not your fault.
Bad grades? Must be the teacher’s fault. Not starting on the football team? It must be that racist coach. Didn’t get into the college you wanted to? It must be all those black students and their damned affirmative action.
We are the generation of entitlement and false, unearned pretension. Everyone in my generation (and it’s only gotten worse with the kids after us) thinks that they are so fucking smart and so fucking interesting and that they all have such great ideas. This has permeated into just about everything we do. This is why I think this recession is kind of a good thing. While I’m sure that few of my confreres have taken to blaming the man in the mirror for not having a job (it’s the economy’s fault or Obama’s fault or Bush’s fault or the 1%’s fault or their parents’ fault depending on who you ask) at least they will have gotten some taste of unmitigated failure in their lives.
This also explains our current pop culture. It explains why Snooki gets paid $35,000 to speak at a college campus and why Khloe Kardashian is a millionaire and married to a professional basketball player. We don’t believe in talent. We don’t think it’s necessary. We don’t value it and we don’t think having talent makes you better than someone who doesn’t have any (because no one is better than anyone else ever at anything in this fucking generation).
It also explains the ascent and staying power of Lady Gaga. She’s a farce, a running gag, a glib rich girl from the Upper West Side of Manhattan who decided that she was going to be Madonna and made it happen. In previous generation’s she would have been laughed away as quickly as she came, but today she’s the biggest thing since sliced bread.
And then I saw her standing there
With green eyes and long blonde hair
She wasn’t wearing underwear at least prayed that
She might be the one maybe we’d have some fun
Maybe we’d watch the sun rise
But that night I learned some girls try too hard
Some girls try too hard
Some girls try too hard to impress
With the way that they dress
With those things on their chest
And the things they suggest to me
This is Lady Gaga. She just tries SO hard to be interesting and different and outré and creative and it is just such bullshit. Real interesting and different and outré and creative people don’t have to try, they just are. Nothing about her is honest or real or genuine or actual. It’s all just an act to be famous and no one notices or cares.
Her music is the same way, it’s all completely derivative. She tries so hard to be shocking and different, but she doesn’t do anything new. It’s all just a hodgepodge of David Bowie, Madonna and Britney Spears with this artist or that artist sprinkled in for taste. Hell, sometimes she doesn’t even bother trying to hide her larceny. She flat-out lifted Madonna’s “Express Yourself” for “Born This Way” and did the exact same thing with Ace of Base’s “Don’t Turn Around” for “Alejandro.” Both were singles and again, no one gave a fuck. No one stopped and said, “Wait, I’ve heard this before.” It’s not like she’s Coldplay and ripped off some underground guitarist, she ripped off one of the most famous singers of all time and released the song as a single to radio and made it the title track for her album and people ate it up. I felt like I was taking crazy pills.
Music is supposed to be about self-expression, but the thing about self expression is that it’s supposed to be an expression of self. When you’re just rehashing an image that we’ve already seen to go along with music that we’ve already heard, what part of you are you actually expressing?
In theory she’s no worse than those soulless teenage boy bands and pop princesses that get trotted out every five to 10 years, but at least they aren’t pretending to be artistic and creative. They accept that they’re peddling heartless bullshit intended solely to move units and get 14-year-old girls moist. But not Gaga, she wants to run around pretending that she’s giving herself to the world and that she’s a whirlwind of unfettered creative beauty.
That’s why Lady Gaga is such a perfect embodiment of the participation trophy generation. She and all her fans think she’s so fucking smart and so fucking interesting and has such great ideas. But she’s not interesting. She’s just another rich girl who didn’t enough of daddy’s attention growing up. (I will give her credit for being smart enough to realize that she could just redo songs from 20 years ago and still make $65 million in a calendar year.)
That’s her appeal, though. She appeals to other people who don’t have genuinely good or creative ideas and aren’t really attractive or talented. We don’t want people who are supremely talented or genuinely elite. What we want are people that are like us.
Yeah, yeah, she can play the piano and she’s really not a bad singer, in fact I’d go so far as to say she’s a pretty talented singer. But so are millions of other girls and they’re not Lady Gaga.
Post Script – The whole “I’m a bi-sexual and I’m representing for all the LGBTQEYZ community” thing is tired. There are real homosexuals out there who have done so much more to advance the cause than she has and I get so sick of hearing people present that angle to defend her. You like girls, we get it. So does every other single 25-year-old girl living in a metropolitan area.
God, Gaga, it must have been so hard for you growing up as a semi-attractive blond girl living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and being into boys and girls. Did you get death threats? I bet they threw rocks at you.
As someone who’s actually had to deal with prejudice growing up, it just sickens me that she wants to sit here and pretend to know how hard it is for other people. Being a gay man in Laramie, Wyoming, is hard. Being a transgender female in Falls City, Nebraska, is hard. Being a bi-sexual girl in Manhattan…not the same thing.
But again, our generation doesn’t get the difference. Because we don’t really understand struggle, so we don’t appreciate it. Lady Gaga is the participation trophy generation and I hate her.
Post Post Script - “Poker Face” may be the second worst song ever written (after “My Humps” by The Black Eyed Peas, which is unquestionably the worst song ever written and can never be dethroned even by Rebecca Black’s “Friday” because, sweet Jesus, she was a 14-year-old girl who wrote a song and made a video at the mall. Of course it was bad).
Lady Gaga is a continuation of a string of strong Diva stage performers. She’s Bette Midler’s Divine Miss M, Madonna’s Material Girl. She’s also no different from the ethnic sensibilities of Barbra Streisand or Cher.
Ultimately, It’s not about her stage persona or her performance art persona. It’s about her talent. If she weren’t a great singer she’d be the Snookie or Khloe Kardashian of the music world. Or perhaps she’d be Nicki Minaj.
But she isn’t.
She invented something that got her attention. If she hadn’t, given where the world is these days, she’d simply be Stefani Germanotta performing at the Bitter End. (check youtube) Which would be fine with me. I’ve always been a sucker for the singer-songwriter gals – from Joan Baez to Carole King to Joni Mitchell on up. But the sixties and seventies were a different time. You could be just that then and impact the world grandly - her admitted goal. You can’t do that anymore. And good for Stefani for recognizing it.
She wouldn’t be world famous successful and couldn’t get her message of tolerance out – of love; of sex; of equality — and of something more than tolerance for something that is different than the way that you grew up - were she not Lady Gaga. The fact that she didn’t grow up poor (but she was by no means ultra-rich for a person who grew up in Manhattan, she just went to a school for rich kids) shouldn’t be held against her. She got bullied, she was different (she certainly looked different than the rest of the rich girls at the Sacred Heart Convent School, which included uh, Paris Hilton). She was significantly an outsider in a closed, privileged society of uber uber-peers. In other words, she didn’t fit in.
And if you think all it takes is not being poor, or non-white or having enough money to attend a good school in N.Y. to not be bullied within an inch of your life in Manhattan as a child – well, you haven’t spent much time in Manhattan or any of the other boroughs of the city. It might not be the obvious torture to some because she wasn’t living on the streets and wasn’t in peril of getting lynched. At least not on the surface, for the latter.
But the deep pain is the same of being marginalized and erased.
Would being date raped or murdered by the sons of one of those rich privileged .01 per centers by trying to fit in make her any less of a poser in some people’s eyes? Probably not. How do you quantify ostracism? Hate speak? The pain of being browbeaten by your peers and told in any way possible daily by still others that you are nothing? By all accounts, given her fierce dedication to ending the accepted adolescent habit of school bullying, all of this and more was not unfamiliar to her. Yes, it happens in cosmetically nice places, too. And it ain’t pretty. Would that make her any less of a poser? Would that make her daily suffering more real? Oh please.
Of course, much art is created by pain and the healing of the pain part is where the music comes in. Creativity is often an expression of who we are inside – of the who that is rejected and in many ways torn down by the world at large.
Her songs “Bad Romance” and “Poker Face” are about standing up for yourself, turning the tables, female empowerment. They’re also about being an outlaw, passion, moments of glory (sometimes literally – e.g. “Edge of Glory” written for her dying grandfather) and grace. She wrote what is the ultimate defense (as if it needed it) about being gay and different: “Born This Way.” Perhaps it wasn’t all about her. Even though the starting lyrics are the words of advice her own mother told her each day.
My momma told me when I was young, we were all born superstars…
Her family had its own issues but overall she was fortunate in that she was supported by her parents. Hence the lyrics she was able to shout out to the world:
I’m beautiful in my way, cause God makes no mistakes, I’m on the right track baby, I was born that way.
They speak to what she had to go out and deal with by not quite fitting in. Or perhaps it’s about what she saw happen to all her gay best friends. Because as the gay best friend of more than one Stefani in my life, I can tell you that if it weren’t literally for people like her (and their love and support), people like me, who were also indeed born this way, very likely would not still be here. It wasn’t always popular to have a gay BFF. In fact, it was frowned upon. And still is.
Go to the Trevor Project website (Trevorproject.org) and look up the countless cases of young teen gay bullying and suicides. Sorry if it feels tired to anyone. Or if you’re weary of hearing about it. Hundreds of kids all over the country are being bullied to death or killing themselves because of it and the Lady that is Gaga spends each day of her professional fame standing up for them because she felt bullied herself – not because she was bisexual, necessarily, but because she fell outside the personal norm. She wasn’t beautiful. She wasn’t demure. She wasn’t traditionally femmy. You don’t have to be poor to be hurt or marginalized or kicked to the curb over and over again, both literally and psychically. You just have to be human. As for money, there’s always someone who has more. A lot more. It’s ultimately not about that.
Of course, your politics and message can be great and your creativity can still be disappointing and unappealing. I’m not sure how you defend art to people who don’t like that particular brand of it. Perhaps you just listen to her performance on “Saturday Night Live” of “You and I.” (couldn’t find the one from SNL but this one is from “The View”).
Or you listen to her spectacular a cappella version of “Born This Way” that closes her HBO special.
She wrote both songs and does amazing vocals. I think they’re excellent and master class examples of how to be a compelling artist. One man’s opinion, granted.
Yes there’s the German-influence techno music; the over-the top fashions; the use of the self as the vehicle for the message. And there’s an industry that works at Haus of Gaga who keeps it all going with as many accoutrements as the market can bear. And the record company. And the touring. And the personal appearances. And, and, and….
But none of it would exist at all without the surprisingly petite young woman (only 25) at the center of it. And – her immense talent. At many things. But mostly as a singer-songwriter with something relevant to say and the stellar voice she uses to sing it.