Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Pop Culture Couture: Lady Gaga

I've always had an insatiable appetite for two things: food and pop culture.

When I was little, the combination of being an only child, not athletic and utterly unchallenged by homework turned me into a total TV addict. Never question my authority during 80s Trivial Pursuit. I'll own you.

When I got a little older, our family of three went to the movies every Sunday afternoon - rain or shine. It was our weekly religious experience - feeding my love of words and glamour and drama.

As a teenager, I graduated to glossy magazines. They are still my crack. Subscribe to nearly a dozen though I'm trying to wean myself off the bad stuff.

In college and grad school, the advent of the 24 hour news cycle and the Internet changed everything. The need to fill this vast space with "news" fueled the tabloid culture and gave rise to reality TV - both of which were music to my ears.

And now with blogs and Twitter, fuggetaboutit! I can obsess over what everyone's talking about, what's over, and what's next every minute of the day.

When you stop to think about it, of course fashion would play a major role in the psyche of someone who loves all things pop. Fashion like the world of pop culture can be a very disposal universe. It's always racing ahead, to the next thing, to what's new and hot.

And today, you'd be hard pressed to find ways the worlds of pop culture and fashion DON'T intersect. Big business has figured out there is a magic synergy there and is cashing in - god help us all.

So I figured another new blog feature will cover how these two worlds collide and why each is meaningful to us as individuals. After all, I think both are rooted in the basic things that make us human: art, expression, inspiration, desperation and desire.

Will cover whatever is catching my eye in TV, movies, magazines, music, pop lit, etc. Calling the feature Pop Culture Couture. Hope you'll indulge me since I really don't want to have to go back to school and write a thesis to get this all out of my system ;)

Lady Gaga is post-everything. And I love it.

Like any gay man trapped in a straight woman's body, I've sung along to Lady Gaga over the last year. I've enjoyed dancing to her heavily engineered pop beats in clubs. Sure, I've added her to my gym iPod playlist which features other pop blondes made for sweaty workouts like Madonna and Britney and Gwen. But beyond that, I haven't given her much thought.

Well, that's not true.

I've heard peeps who know what's up (like the aptly named FashionIntel) say she is genius. Not a genius. But genius.

I couldn't see where they were coming from to be honest. I just couldn't get past her image. She's like this hypersexualized anime character right down to her moniker and the whole no pants thing. And don't even get me started about people who never show their eyes...

She is cartoonishly childish, T&A vulgar and S&M freaky - all at once. She's destablizing. Especially to a woman like myself that thinks she's cool but in the end mostly colors within the lines.

I now realize I didn't want to really look at Lady Gaga because I was afraid of what she said about me. So instead I dismissed her as gross and attention whoring and manufactured - another passing pop music parlor trick. That's always easier than dissecting how our pop icons so often are a reflection of us or a cultural moment.

Then late one night when I came back from Cancun and Mr. Diabolina was away on business, everything changed. I became a Gaga fan(atic) - hook, line and sinker. It started with her new video, Bad Romance.


I have not watched something so visually stunning and forward in DECADES. Like Lady Gaga herself, it is horrifying and bizaare and stylized and referrential. It is this strange balance of restrain and excess, of human and alien. It manages to be overtly sexual and antiseptically asexual at the same time. It's like a peep show in a morgue. It is Lynchian. It is genius.

The head to toe avantgarde McQueen that I've been loving for months definitely added to the appeal. The drag queen in me loves a woman who can WERQ a sequin platform.

That week that the video came out Gaga was all over the Interwebs. And I was right there devouring everything I could like the pop culture vulture I am:

  • Learned about the genius behind her fashion and visual aesthetic, her stylist Nicola Formichetti and the video's nods to Micheal Jackson and Hitchcock in this great article.

  • How before she became a crotch flashing lady she was Stefani Germanotta.
    Found a video from her days at NYU
    where I was flabbergasted to find out that (as Jean Bean quipped) "she was almost the next Norah Jones instead of the greatest living artist of our time."

  • Watched Beyonce fail miserably at being as cutting edge as Gaga with the strangely retro and vanilla Video Phone. And squealed when Gaga performed on Gossip Girl - the best teen TV show musical performance since Color Me Badd performed at the Peach Pitt After Dark.

But an article titled Lady Gaga and the Dead Planet Grotesque crystallized it all for me. Jean - also a new Gaga convert - called it "an overexcited and over-educated cultural critic’s intellectually masturbatory exegesis of Lady Gaga." God, I love my friends' big brains.

The lines that struck me most were:

She is the newest model android from the MTV fembot assembly line. She is the latest and greatest Terminator. She is Skynet. She is self-aware...Female sexuality inverted into male sexuality and weaponized. Did they build her in an underground laboratory, like the one featured in this video? They must have, for what other perverse, mutated perfection of the human form could be better equipped to succeed in this most horrible of world climates?

The article made me realize exactly what the genius of Lady Gaga is. It's that she has created a persona that is POST post-modern. She is the poster child for coming generations that are post gender and post sexuality and post race. So fittingly she is post pop star.

Think about it. In an era when starlets pretend to be horrified by paparazzi capturing their vags, she puts hers out there in bejeweled panties so you have no option but to stare. She is female sexuality post feminisim and AIDS and Madonna. She is the embodiment of so many of our fears.

Certainly, she is a pop tart that has been groomed and molded into a star but unlike alot of these other little blondes, she's in on the joke. She's not the joke.

Plus she ends every award show acceptance speech with my favorite line possibly ever: "Bless God and Bless the Gays." It's like even on one of the biggest cultural divides of this moment, she exists in a post-hate space, somewhere over the rainbow where God and gays co-exist in perfect harmony.

AND let's not forget that practically every spring runway was showing pantless looks. Gaga effect or coincidence?

Like any musician or fame monster, Lady Gaga isn't for everyone. But as women I think it's important to look at - really look at - the women who capture and hold the culture's attention. The ones that make the world gaga - sorry I had to do it. I think when we do look a little closer we might find a little of ourselves staring back.

Next Pop Culture Couture:
Why I've Became A Twi-hard: Edward Cullen is Helen of Troy.


sarahwl said...

I know you've had some thoughts about changing your blog format-- and I have one thing to say about that: if this post is indicative of the new Diabolina I LOVE IT! Although I do enjoy the pictures you choose, it's your writing that really makes your blog one of my favorites. So keep it up! And more words = more better! (obviously, I do not have the gift you do :)

WendyB said...

I fucking LOVE Gaga. I must say I never found her to be T&A. To me, she's more of a flashback to the '80s club days when people might have dressed skimpily at times but it was all about the fashion. The fashion was way more important than sex. It was a great night if you made your outfit (I knew people who'd spend all day putting together their feathers and sequins in original designs -- no Forever21/Zara/Topshop Balmain knockoffs then) and went to Area or wherever and you had the best outfit there. It wasn't about getting laid even though people liked that too. It was about getting the attention and being the most spectacular. I wasn't one of the spectacular people but I loved seeing them. Fashion was more exciting then to me than it is now. Gaga is the first person who has captured that vibe in a long, long time.

Also, I am going to see her at Radio City in January and I can't WAIT!!! Was just setting up my day-after post NOW! I'm even making special jewelry for the occasion.

xgf said...

Seriously, you just voiced the evolution of my love for Lady Gaga so perfectly in this post. I, too, went from thinking that she was a Christina Aguilar wannabe one hit wonder to total obsession and it started with the Bad Romance video. When I first discovered it, I must have watched it at least 10x back to back. Then I dl'ed it into my itouch so I could watch it while working out. Then I read her wiki page. Then I listened to the other songs on her album. Her voice is so amazing. She goes from sounding like Norah Jones (I saw that video clip too!!), to Gwen Stefani, to Fergie.

BTW, good for you for deciding to evolve this blog. Change is good. I'll read whatever you write.


Rosemary Brennan said...

OMG, Color Me Badd at the Peach Pit! Good times. I cannot wait to read your thoughts of Twilight. I'm still chuckling over "New Moon in 15 mins" by cleolinda. Ha!!

Dina's Days said...

Very well researched post. Although I'm not a fan of Gaga- I can't be so quick to judge just based on her outrageous looks. Very interesting!

Rachee said...

I'm kinda all over the place because this post is AWESOME. Dude, I don't even know where to start so I'll keep it short and somewhat coherent. Ok, maybe it won't be so coherent. Just about died with GG/Gaga referencing 90210/CMB. Loves it! Going to see Gaga on the 23rd, it's going to be epic. So excited for these posts, cannot WAIT for Edward/Helen of Troy.

amber said...

I'm looking forward to your thoughts on Twilight.

Team Edward since Summer '08

Kate said...

Love the smarty smart Gaga love. I first saw her on So You Think You Can Dance when she performed Just Dance. Our whole family, including Will, was instantly smitten. To me she's a walking art piece. Every choice is so deliberate, so provocative. I experience her the way I do an art museum. I like what I see but I like wondering about why I like it even more.

I hear a lot of people dismiss her as just another Madonna or Britney. No, this is a whole other animal. You have never seen this before. Off the charts creative, talented, smart. I love her.

Adeleno5 said...

It was the video for "Paparazzi" that got my attention (Alexander Skarsgard in an eyepatch helped, but "Bad Romance" sealed the deal. Love her look, love her commitment to her persona, and especially her vocal support of the gay community.

fancypants said...

This is a wonderful post. So right on. That "Bad Romance" video sealed it for me, too. I immediately jumped online to find out everything about Lady Gaga. Her ability to awe and inspire me is unmatched. However, I will not be heading out of the house without pants anytime soon!

My Dressy Ways said...

GREAT post! And you're timing of giving in to the Gaga is the same as mine! Love your blog!

jmg said...

I've loved Gaga since Just Dance came out. I'd like to think, in this one instance, I was actually ahead of my time :)

Good post, and I think it's perfect to show the strong relationship between pop culture and fashion.

Thumbelina Fashionista said...

Awesome post. I haven't been able to get her out of my mind since I saw her on Gossip Girl.

Tiffany said...

D! I'm loving the new features and posts. You are brilliant. love this post. I am absolutely mesmerized by Lady Gaga and I'm not like that with any pop star/celebrity.

Rate Your Hairdresser said...

Agreed! I was a Lady Gaga fan as soon as I heard "Just Dance" and when I saw her "Bad Romance" video, I put it on repeat at least 5 times. I love her and her outrageous fashion choices.

Natalie / Fashion Intel said...

Thanks for the shout out!

"an overexcited and over-educated cultural critic’s intellectually masturbatory exegesis of Lady Gaga." PERFECT!


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