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.

Damning with faint praise

I’m surprised that Jon Caramanica even bothered to review Colbie Caillat and Ingrid Michaelson in today’s New York Times. His ornery review is, however, a refreshing change from most of the hyperbole that’s written about pop.

What Caramanica dislikes most about these artists–that their work is bland and seems destined for a TV show soundtrack–is a telling exposure of a choice that they and/or their labels have likely made deliberately.  Music with that economic power is bland on purpose to make it attractive to a particular market, one that desires unobtrusiveness for one reason or another.

It seems to me to be a waste of a soundtrack to play music that has no effect on the visual drama.  The best soundtracks either heighten an aspect of the scene, bring out a detail that viewers might not otherwise notice, or ironically subvert what we’re seeing in some way.  We might not always be consciously noticing the music, but it should certainly have an effect on our experience of the show or film!

Why I was hoping Paula Abdul would stay on American Idol

The point of American Idol isn’t the music.  If viewers just wanted to hear good singers, they have any number of options that waste less time and brain cells than watching Idol once a week: that is, albums, YouTube videos, concert footage, etc.

Why do people watch it, then?  For the bad music.  That’s why it’s amusing: we can watch people like Alexis Cohen (RIP), William Hung, or Sanjaya.  Yeah, we love Jennifer Hudson (speaking of Motown style) and Adam Lambert because they can actually sing.  But we buy their albums and see their films regardless of American Idol–that is to say, they have appeal that can carry them beyond their 15 minutes of novelty fame.  But the other ones would never come to public attention without the show.

Better entertainment than some of the truly horrific performances, though, are the judges.  I’m not talking about Randy and Kara.  I mean Simon Cowell’s snark and Paula Abdul’s absurdity.  This last is what Salon writers hated on a few weeks ago:

…Paula Abdul is a disaster in slow motion.  Every time the camera turns its focus to her, she smiles weakly and looks embarrassed, then searches wildly for something to say.  She stumbles on her words, giggles nervously, and trails off halfway mid-sentence, or is interrupted by an impatient Cowell.  It’s like handing a 2-year-old a Mr. Microphone.

From the few times I’ve seen the show (and from my little brother Donovan’s testimony, who loves it so much that he once told me to call him back in an hour when I called him inadvertently during Idol to say happy birthday), this is more or less an accurate description.

Americans by and large don’t watch TV for competence (with the notable exception of successful shows like Mad Men, et al.).  We watch the talking heads spewing what we know to be inaccuracies (i.e. Lou Dobbs and the Obama birther conspiracy), reality shows that make a point of sleep-depriving and inebriating their contestants for maximum argument potential, etc.  I’m not judging; I’m just telling it like it is.

And we don’t watch American Idol to see good music.  We watch it to see Paula make a train wreck of herself, hope at least a few contestants do the same, listen to Simon tear both apart, and when all that’s over with, perhaps hear a decent singer or two.

That’s why I’m actually sad that Paula’s leaving, unlike Salon’s TV staff.  The pop-music phenomenon that is American Idol is, in the end, much more dependent on Americans’ taste for spectacular failure and the rare burst of success against steep odds: that is, more dependent on our ideas about the music business than on our ideas about the aesthetics of music itself.  Without the quirks of the many personalities involved in making it, Idol producers won’t have a show, even if they keep sifting through the chaff of the American quest for fame and finding decent performers.

UPDATE: Speaking of Obama birthers…Salon thinks Orly Taitz should be the next Paula Abdul.  Orly Taitz is indeed an amusing nutjob, but I’m more partial to their suggestion of Sarah Palin.  It’s perfect for all involved: America loves to watch Palin self-immolate (the fake America, that is–the real America loves her non-ironically); Palin loves America’s attention; Palin will need a job once she realizes that she has no chance in the next election cycle.  Courtney Love is potentially also a good choice, but she seems less pugilistic than Sarah Palin, which means she wouldn’t be as funny.

“I have an endless muse-like vision of monsters and playgirls”

In case you weren’t aware, Lady Gaga is a hot mess:

I find it bitterly ironic that a woman whose complex persona would be impossible without the advances of the feminist movement–and a woman who is clearly very savvy about how her career fits into the trajectory of American pop music–is so simplistic in her thinking as to say that she can’t be a feminist because she loves men.

To quote my friend David’s earlier commentary on her:

WHAT.

La Gaga walks a very, very fine line between absurd profundity (or perhaps profound absurdity) and utter ridiculousness on the best of days.  Today she’s definitively fallen off the tightrope and crashed in a heap on the circus-arena floor…

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