More thoughts on “Alejandro”

Every so often I head over to Fatshionista and check out the back posts.  I love that blog–I think the fat acceptance movement’s work is incredibly important for women of all sizes and shapes (because let’s face it, our culture makes nearly every woman feel that her body is not acceptable in some way or another and that’s well, not acceptable).  Also, Lesley Kinzel says really smart things about pop culture.

Observe: her analysis of “Alejandro.”  I originally thought Gaga’s video was kind of boring, at least compared to some of her other work, but Kinzel’s reading of it through a feminist lens, and her comparison with Madonna’s videos/persona, was really thought-provoking.

Tavi’s post on “Alejandro” just made my day

So, I’ve been a little monster for Tavi Gevinson for a while, and just when I thought she couldn’t get any better, she writes this post (click through or get out of here) on Gaga’s video for “Alejandro” that sums up my thoughts exactly.  (Btw–now that I’m in Chicago, Tavi and I are practically neighbors!  Let’s hang out!  Despite my entrenched dislike of fabric products formerly owned by other people, I would go thrifting with you or whatever!)

On the heels of a whole bucket full of interesting or at least provocative videos from strong and important female artists (more on that later), “Alejandro” was a let-down, especially for Gaga.

Latex nun habits–boring; probably sweaty.

I can’t believe that I live in a pop-cultural world where a whole lot of people would agree with the above sentiment, but hey.

I did think that the song itself was a lot more listenable minus visuals this time–something I can’t always say about La Gaga–but much more thematically disconnected from the visuals.  Still, boring.

Thinking about the “Telephone” video

As anyone with an internet connection probably knows, Lady Gaga (or perhaps more accurately, the Haus of Gaga?) dropped the video for “Telephone,” featuring Beyoncé, last week.

First, take ten minutes of your time to watch it, if you haven’t already:

The narrative of “Telephone,” of course, picks up where “Paparazzi” left off:

First, I’m really intrigued by the prevalence of female musicians who have been victimized by men in a real or imagined way (Rihanna by Chris Brown, Gaga in these videos) turning the tables in a very violent and stylized way in subsequent music videos.  I don’t know that revenge is the best way to solve such issues, but it is nice in a way to see women taking control of the narrative of abuse.

Second, this is the first time I’ve seen such a mainstream music video that includes lesbian desire as such a prominent part of the storyline, especially when it’s clearly not intended for male excitement.  There’s an interesting interview in Out with Heather Cassils, the woman who played Gaga’s girlfriend in the prison yard scene, about queer representation in mainstream media and lots of other stuff.  Along those lines, I was also pleasantly surprised by the range of types of female bodies among the prisoners and guards; that’s also not something you see much of in mainstream media of any type.  (Of course, the real breakthrough will come when body diversity isn’t just to reiterate the dirt and grittiness of a group of people we’re supposed to consider problematic–I look forward to the day when Gaga’s backup dancers and the like represent some kind of diversity…)

Third, the layered references to Kill Bill (pretty overt) and Thelma and Louise (vaguely less overt) both reinforce the woman-scorned-taking-violent-revenge theme.  They also reinforce “Telephone” and “Paparazzi”‘s claim to be something more than a music video: a narrative in their own right with a preordained soundtrack as opposed to just something to look at while the music runs.

That’s what I am most interested in here: the growing independence of the music video.  The videos for both “Paparazzi” and “Telephone” are a far cry from simply being dramatizations of the song lyrics or a dance routine or something gimmicky (hey, OKGo!)–which even the best recent music videos, like Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies,” can be.

Instead, the visual and aural narratives intertwine in confusing or novel ways–for example, when Lady Gaga’s prison phone call is a lover annoying her while she’s in the club, does that mean we’re supposed to equate prison with a club? the club with a prison? are they at all related anyway? is she just lying about where she is? Any of these narratives, and more, might be plausible, and the banal and conventional lyrics of the song are suddenly much richer for their interplay with the images.

I wonder if a case can be made for viewing complex narrative music videos like “Paparazzi”/”Telephone” as the new form that functions like 18th- and early-19th-century opera: high/low mass art that plays on the themes of the day and spotlights the performer, accessible on multiple levels and a way of displaying technical virtuosity (here, in fashion and video editing) for the delight of the audience.  Pretty exciting that this kind of art now premieres on a web site accessible around the world for only the cost of digital infrastructure (admittedly a barrier to many, but better than buying opera tickets…) and endlessly repeatable.

My thoughts here are admittedly disjointed and fragmentary–just a few initial reactions that bear more dedicated thinking.

A few interesting links

Here are a few articles I’ve been interested in over the last few days:

  • The delightfully scathing Guy Trebay analyzes Lady Gaga’s fashion choices.  I like the comparison to mashups.
  • JDub and Nextbook announce a new partnership.  Interesting for young Jews who like Jewish things that aren’t kitschy, and for me given that both of the artists that I’m using as case studies for my thesis have been nurtured by JDub (note, I promise to discuss this at some point–I’ve been spending so much time on the research itself that I don’t ever feel like writing a blog post about it.  But blog I must.)
  • Check out this NYT lookback at how the rules of the music business have changed over the last 10 years (including an amusing story about the author’s first MP3 player, in 1998).  It’s a bit strange for me to read things like this, as my (and my peers’, of course) musical coming-of-age has coincided with all these crazy and unprecedented changes.  My preschool had a record player, which I used a lot, mostly to listen to Mahalia Jackson and Chubby Checker (!); after that I just rocked out in Suzuki violin training for a while until I developed musical tastes of my own in late elementary school or so.  In between, I was at the mercy of adults’ musical picks (from my 4th-grade teacher’s Concrete Blonde albums to my 5th grade teacher’s inexplicable love of 98 Degrees to my parents’ Paul Simon and Motown) and technological knowhow.  By the time I figured things out a little bit, iPods were ubiquitous (though I did have a well-loved Discman for quite a while).

Another reason to love Lady Gaga

Apparently, according to Fred Phelps (of Westboro Baptist Church/”G-d hates fags” fame), the deity himself hates Lady Gaga.  Watch out kids, the “hussy’s pretentious prancing” could lead you into moral ruin.  Consider yourselves warned.

This is pretty predictable, given the intense social-conservatism-cum-insanity of Phelps and his followers (who, incidentally, protested at Penn Hillel a few weeks back!).  What I find more interesting is his choice of Lady Gaga to hate on, as opposed to other singers.

There are certainly other prominent artists who could conceivably raise his hackles: people like Adam Lambert, who’s unapologetically out and caused a stir in November with his homoerotically-tinged AMA’s performance (good for him!), or perhaps better yet, Katy Perry, who used to be a conservative Christian but now a) kisses girls and likes it, and b) dates skinny guys with long hair (!).  Or, you know, any pop artists who have overtly sexual lyrics.

Lady Gaga, however, is adamantly pro-empowered female sexuality, often explicitly assuming sexual control in her videos, evangelizing about masturbation, openly identifying as feminist, and doing a lot to challenge the normative male gaze/crazy amount of cookie-cutter sexualization that young female celebrities (and women, period) have to deal with.

I’m not sure how much her message comes through–I feel like a lot of people put her in the “crazy antics” box and don’t pay much attention after that–but I certainly appreciate what she’s trying to do, which is pretty unique and quite important.  And it seems to me that her ideas about female sexual power, more than the fact that she doesn’t often wear much beyond tights below the necessary bits (not that the two aren’t related), is what’s ticking off the good Rev. Phelps.

Quick hit: Lady Gaga’s new video, frame by frame

Dodai over at Jezebel breaks down Lady Gaga’s new video, for the song “Bad Romance,” and it’s pretty amusing.  This is why I like Lady Gaga as an entity: you can actually analyze stuff like this, and she probably meant to embed lots of those meanings.  Check it out.

My only worry is that 25 years from now, my kids will look back on it the way my friends and I look back on this classically wacky video:

Bonnie Tyler’s not quite as high-concept as La Gaga, unfortunately.

Best search terms used to find this blog

I checked out my blog stats just now and was really amused by how some people get here via Google.  A few recent highlights include:

  • “is it true lady gaga got 2 body parts”: Why, yes, I’m sure she has several.  A cursory glance at paparazzi photos show two arms (complete with hands), two legs (ditto feet), a torso (with however many subdivisions you’d like to make with that), a head with everything in its normal place, and generally a bunch of weave.
  • “joan holloway extraordinarily competent”: After saving the British exec’s life post-run in with the lawnmower, I would say yes (assuming this is a question).
  • “what is a pig’s life cycle”: Listen to this and you’ll find out.
  • “the masculinity of the taqwacores”: Sounds like a good title for an early-20th century British novel.
  • “creepy whitye supremacists” and “talk radio xenophobia”: Seem to go together pretty well.
  • “coulter dominatrix”: I assume this refers to Ann.  How terrifying.
  • “jay z needs to be a role model”: You should probably tell him this, not me.

This could be a good recurring feature.

Lady Gaga “will inspire a movement”

Lady Gaga goes on record with Ramin Setoodeh in this week’s Newsweek with more grandiosity: she’s not a singer, she’s a performance artist, and she “believes in a glamorous life.”  Her VMA performance will be

less of me singing a song, and more of a performance-art installation.

She also

hope[s] to say something very grave about fame and the price of it.

I might have to borrow a TV for this one, kids.

Dodai over at Jezebel breaks down precisely why Gaga’s so intriguing:

You might think Lady Gaga is pretentious, a phony.  But if she is, it’s as someone once said of Holly Golightly: She’s a real phony…She honestly believes all this phony junk that she believes.

That’s absolutely true, even if we’re veering into Holden Caulfield territory.  And that’s why Gaga’s great.

Quick hit: Musical architecture

Those are two words you don’t see together very often (except in the case of Lady Gaga’s avant-garde fashion creations…).  Today, Apartment Therapy highlighted the work of a Georgia architect-turned-luthier who got inspired to start building wooden instruments (including some old-school ones like the cittern) via his architectural work with wood and veneers.  The instruments are gorgeous–take a look!

Lady Gaga’s elephant weave!

You may have heard about Lady Gaga’s appearance on Japanese TV with an elephant weave, which I personally thought was fantastic (the weave, not Japanese TV).  Note that she is also covering the vicinity of her muffin with the standard article of clothing known as a “skirt” (and are those tights too?!).

Here’s a clip of her performing another acoustic version of “Poker Face” on the show–it sounds like she’s channeling Whitney Houston with her voice and the lovechild of Edvard Grieg and Scott Joplin on piano this time.  Japanese TV is so nuts.  Anyway, I’m impressed by her musicianship every time I hear her acoustic–she’s much better acoustic than on her singles.

I realized that one of the foremost things I love about Lady Gaga is the sheer joy she seems to take in performing.  Not too many artists exhibit that kind of uninhibited bliss onstage.  Check it out, and compare it to these versions:

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