Going Gaga Over The Lady – #2
There’s a quantum leap in the production values between Lady Gaga’s first video, Just Dance, through to the more recent efforts like Telephone and Alejandro. Just Dance is obviously done on a shoestring budget, and shows it, where the latest videos have cost millions.
Just Dance has the same feel as Madonna’s Borderline. The lavish production of the latest videos are like something out of the Like a Prayer incarnation of Madonna. It took 12 months for Gaga to get there, five years for Madonna. It says a bit about the speed of the internet age.
Another thing that Gaga took less time to do was to put out a video that found itself banned or restricted for daytime viewing. Love Game pushed the boundaries in the same vein of as 1989’s Justify my Love. But what should really be noted are the subtle differences in the message of these videos, and Lady Gaga and Madonna in general.
It’s hard to believe it’s been a quarter of a century since a firm parental hand directed my prying tween eyes away from a poster for Madonna’s Like a Virgin album. Some social commentators like to refer to Gaga as a Madonna clone and/or wannabee.
There are certainly similarities because Madonna is probably the last pop personality to rise to such a position of prominence through a combination of catchy tunes, outlandish fashion and media notoriety.
However, I think there are subtle differences between the image of female sexuality peddled by Madonna and Gaga. Madonna’s was an assertive, brassy femininity. As a woman out and proud about her sexuality and her promiscuity she gave lyrical voice to the 1960s sexual revolution.
But Madonna still had an alluring quantity about her – think of the lacy lingerie and bedroom pose on the Like a Virgin cover, replete with Boy Toy belt for instance. Amidst all the moaning and groaning of Justify my Love was the come hither message “wanting, needing, waiting, praying, hoping for you to justify my love”. Madonna might have been a seductress, but she was still there to *be* seduced.
Hold me and love me
Just want to touch you for a minute
Baby three seconds is enough for my heart to quit it
Let’s have some fun
This beat is sick
I wanna take a ride on your disco stick (Love Game)
Lady Gaga’s femininity borders on predatory, callous and dismissive. Boys are a commodity to be chased, used for entertainment and discarded.
Boy, we’ve had a real’ good time
And I wish you the best on your way
I didn’t mean to hurt you
I never thought we’d fall out of place
Eh eh, hey ey (Eh Eh, Nothing else I can say)
There’s a fairly frequent refrain that Gaga will not be tied down. For Gen Xers it will be reminiscent of the hooker played by Julia Roberts in the cult movie Pretty Woman who refused to allow her “customers” to kiss her lest it made their relationship anything more than a transaction.
Oh, oh oh
I’ll get him hot, show him what I got
Can’t read my, can’t read my
No he can’t read my Poker Face
(She’s got to love nobody) (Poker Face)
Gaga doesn’t waste time asserting her sexuality, or even her dominance. She assumes it.
Yeah we’re going nowhere fast
Maybe this time, I’ll be yours you’ll be mine
c-c-c-crazy, get your ass in my bed
Baby you’ll be, just my summer boyfriend
Gaga’s femininity and sexuality might best be described as the reaping of what Madonna sowed. There’s an interesting trajectory. Joni Mitchell and her generation first gave lyrical voice to the feminist movement rising out of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Blondie and her cohorts took the baton in the late 1970s with a bit of shock horror sexuality that seems so tame today.
Madonna became the poster girl (as well as a polarizing figure) for the movement and ran the race for fifteen years before she was consigned to grandmotherly status. A song like Material Girl comes close to the Gaga cast-off femininity, but even there Madonna was willing to surrender to a sugar daddy, it was the poor boys who were expendable.
Elsewhere Madonna urged her sisters to express themselves” – What you need is a big strong hand, to lift you to your higher ground, make you feel like a queen on a throne, make him love you till you can’t come down. Phew, guys are good for something.
Sometime in the late 1990s an interesting new message emerged. Led by Alanis Morissette, Tori Amos and Ani DiFranco a new generation of female feminism arose, giving voice to the ‘horrors’ of love. In “Me and a gun” Amos describes her experience of being raped. Morissette was constantly wailing about being dropped and Ani didn’t like being left for a Pretty Face.
As Madonna faded from the scene it seemed the new generation was trying to express some of the consequences of what had started thirty years before and gathered momentum. The excitement of in-your-face burlesque and casual love had not necessarily given rise to a generation of women who felt cherished or protected. For a brief moment it seemed that free love and raunch culture was not all beer and skittles.
This makes the rise of Gaga an interesting development. Rather than viewing it as a return to a Madonna message from 1984, I wonder if it isn’t more about a position statement of today’s young woman in reaction to what the turn of the century singers were telling us about the terrors of love.
Touch me touch me baby but don’t mess up my hair
Love me love me crazy
But don’t get too attached, this is a brief affair (Vanity)
So much of the Lady Gaga content seems to be about self-protection. The greatest risk in life is to risk love. The whole premise of love is built on risk. Love is about being vulnerable, because it is impossible to demand love. It must be freely given.
Where Gaga differs from Madonna is that she seems to suggest that love just isn’t worth the risk. And because of that one must keep things casual – in corporate speak, harm minimization. But is it a recipe for life? Can we all go through life with a calloused veneer put up to protect us from further pain and disappointment?