the life and times of stefani germanotta
That’s what I would have said if, in 2004, you had shown me an 18-year-old Stefani Germanotta and told me that in the next few years she would grow to become a multi-million dollar pop star known as Lady Gaga. I cannot for the life of me understand her success. What is Lady Gaga? I mean really, what is she? Is she anything? If so, what? She’s earning enough money to feed an African family of 25 for several millennia and transport them to the moon and back on a fortnightly basis, so she must be doing something right. But what makes Stefani Germanotta so special?
Firstly, speaking as a man of the superficial persuasion, she’s not a stunner. Like it or not, celebrity these days is largely based on someone’s physical appeal and after you chisel off enough make-up to actually see her face, it’s not that Lady Gaga is particularly unattractive, it’s that she’s just normal, like someone you’d see on a bus or a cashier at a bottle-o. Certainly not what you’d expect from an international pop sensation. Furthermore, her video for ‘Alejandro’ borders on off-putting (don’t bother YouTubing it, it’s just the typical dark club-music fare, mixing the usual bumping and grinding with some dull symbolist imagery of religion and fascism – to me, trying to discuss subjects like religion and fascism through a pop video is like trying to discuss the Renaissance with a Mona Lisa shower curtain).
She can’t really sing. Or rather, I’m sure you could lob a rubber ball into a shopping centre and hit a girl who could sing better, and would be satisfied with one tenth of a percent of her record sales. And her fashion sense isn’t exactly wondrous either, Kermit the Frog dresses and all. It’s too on-the-nose to be very provocative, making Madonna’s pointy cone bra seem subtle by comparison. Every time I see Lady Gaga on stage or at a press event, she looks like someone going to a costume party as Lady Gaga, but who has had to make their costume out of bits of other costumes.
But somehow she’s everywhere; top 40 radio, style magazines, I saw her on the news – yes, the NEWS – giving the finger to photographers at a New York Mets game (this was at a time when, of less significance, thousands of gallons or oil were pouring into the Gulf of Mexico). And yet, technically, she’s not really everywhere. She’s just somewhere. Those old, indisputable laws of physics, whereby an object can only be in one place at any one time, applies to pop stars too, platinum albums or not. Because most of the time it isn’t even Lady Gaga you’re seeing, it’s other people talking about Lady Gaga. I’ve never been to a Lady Gaga concert (couldn’t get tickets). I’ve never seen her interviewed on TV. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve heard her speak. I can only name two Lady Gaga songs, ‘Poker Face’ and ‘Alejandro’, and both of those I’ve picked up through cursory references in sitcoms.
Ah, but there’s the rub, perhaps! Maybe she’s not so much a musician as a topic of conversation. And maybe we trendy cynical knob-heads need a comedy reference, a shorthand personification of everything tacky and vacuous and populist that we deride, in a role N*Sync held before her and that squealing mop-haired ventriloquist doll they call Justin Beiber will no doubt hold for the aeons to come. After all, celebrity isn’t really about music, is it? It’s not really even about looking good. It’s about having enough people pissing on about you. And here I am being all post-modern and pointing this out whilst writing a freaking article about her.
I may, in fact, be precisely the sort of person contributing to Lady Gaga’s success. If I really wanted to undermine her celebrity, maybe I should just delete this. But the truth is the world, and I, need the cultural reference point that is Lady Gaga. She’s like language, a single word that does what all words should do, which is allow me to concentrate my bitterness and loathing for society into a single, focused laser beam. And let’s face it, if it wasn’t her, it’d be someone else. There’s always going to be one of these pop culture icons in the headlines. Their music, looks, or talent is more-or-less irrelevant, they just happened to be on way up when last month’s poor celebrity sod was on the way down.
So I say well done Stephani! Keep up the good work. Here’s this week’s cheque for eight bagillion dollars. You’ve earned it.
(Image credits: 1.)
Read Christine Campbell’s pro-Gaga stance here.