Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Lady Gaga and the Pop Industry

I don't like pop music. Or pop stars. Or pop rhythms. Or pop fans. Or pop the drink, for that matter.

Pop music is over-produced. The melodies are cheesy, written solely to be catchy. The lyrics are shallow. The singing sounds completely impersonal; the sheer amount of processing applied to the sound guarantees it. And don't even get me started on the presentation of women in pop music. The majority of pop stars are women, to be sure, but like the rest of the music, they are merely a product, something to be listened to, looked at, and thrown away in the next craze. If you will, the voice in the song doesn't sound like the woman in the video. She's a sex object, and the voice is the sound engineer's voice. And the sugary sweetness of it only makes it more horribly ironic.

And yet I often find myself listening to, and enjoying - well, let's just say (for the sake of my ego) individual pop singers. Madonna, Cher, P!nk, and others. I guess I'm just a big faker!

Really, though, there is a distinction to be made. Which brings me to Lady Gaga.

Lady Gaga is the latest, and potentially weirdest, in the grand tradition of what I'm going to call 'crazy pop stars'. It started (I think) with Madonna, and includes P!nk and some others I can't think of at the moment.

Yes, they're highly produced. Yes, they're highly sexual. Yes, their songs are silly and simplistic (Just Dance? That's a great idea!). It's still music for mass consumption.

But they're, well, strange. Madonna might be sexual, but she's so in-your-face it actually makes you think critically about it, hence the Sex book. P!nk's a baby butch who isn't one, and occasionally lapses into amazing cleverness (in the case of So What) And strange means different, means you pay attention, means they aren't just sex objects anymore. It means they're in control.


Or rather, vs. their producers...
But can you tell from the pictures?

Gaga might just be the weirdest of the bunch to date. Hypnotic robotic dancing, infinite costume changes (up to and including plastic bubbles), incredibly jerky camera movements in her videos, endless songs about being rich and famous (entire first album), and the occasional obscene lyric (usually, one should note, about her doing something to someone else).

It also doesn't hurt that she's her own songwriter. But judge for yourself:

Aguilera - Genie In A Bottle

Gaga - Poker Face

(Embedding was disabled, sorry! Also, I'm not trying to single out Aguilera - she's just a typical example)

So what's the difference? Is there a difference? I think it's this: With Lady Gaga and other 'crazy pop stars', there's less focus on the woman herself, and more a focus on what she's doing. And that makes all the difference.

But perhaps I'm just being arbitrary: what do you think?


Unknown said...

I think that Lady Gaga is extremely talented. She is classically trained in jazz and actually sings live at all her concerts. Not only that, if you actually go to one of her concerts, she totally rearranges and changes up her songs. She plays piano. She's a trained musician Check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nwdXnlvUe3I

And beyond the fact that she writes her own songs, I think that some of her lyrics are more profound than you're giving her credit for. Yes, she writes songs about being rich and famous, but listen to what she's saying. Especially in the song "The Fame":

We live for the fame fame baby
The fame fame
Isn't it a shame shame

I can see myself in the movies with my
picture in the city lights
Photograph my mind and whatever else you'd
like to shoot you decide
All we care about is, pornographic girls on film
and body plastic
Give me something, I wanna see television and
hot blondes in odd positions
She's saying that it's a shame that people in this society live for fame and fortune. She's saying that she wants to be in the movies and be famous and she's willing to do whatever it takes to get there (naked pictures). She mentions porn but also makes the statement that they're plastic. There's more to that song than just "I want to be famous." It's actually a statement on fame in our society. And many of her other songs have similar messages if you look for them.

Also, I'm not sure that lumping Christina Aguilera in as the example of "typical" pop music is really fair. First of all, Christina is a VERY talented vocalist. She helps write her music, as well. I think she is immensely talented. The song you used as an example of hers is from 1998 when she was 17 years old. The stuff she's done since then has been totally different. Her last album, she recorded an entire disc of old school style jazz songs, even using the older equipment and mikes so that she sounded like she was from that era.

Someone like Britney, on the other hand is a product of her producers and her image and machines in the studios. She doesn't sing live and she just dresses up sexy and girates on stage. Jessica Simpson as well. There is a difference between people like Britney and Jessica, that are purely an image, and people like Lady Gaga and (yes) Christina Aguilera who are talented musicians and would be talented musicians making relevant music with or without their package. Whether we'd be listening is a different story, but they'd still be talented.

Brianna J said...

You're right, of course - but that's just my point.

I wasn't aware that Aguilera had stopped singing pop (I happen not to like her voice, and don't follow her at all), but don't you think she stopped because didn't want to be absorbed into the pop machine? Yes, she's a very good singer, but you couldn't know it from her early work.

For that matter, Spears and Simpson are talented too - perhaps not at singing, but definitely at being insane celebrities (I know I couldn't pull it off!) 'Talent' is relative, anyway.

But to drag this back to feminist thought: the common factor is that when you listen, they all are (or were) impersonal pop products.

Which is why Lady Gaga is interesting - she makes the pop system work for her instead of trying to escape it. Yes, The Fame is a bit subversive, but I'd hesitate to call it profound. But the fact that it's still pop music is what makes it interesting and unique.

What's better: To escape the system, or to defeat it and control it for your own purposes?

Unknown said...

To my knowledge, Christina is largely absent from the scene now because she and her husband are devoting time to their son, born in 2008.

Also interesting to note, strangeness aside, is how intelligent all of her videos are. Once you move past the glam and lingerie you find countless examples of occult symbolism...especially those associated with Illuminati and the Free Masons. Why her (or her producers) use the imagery is up for debate. But it takes some brains to incorporate them that seamlessly