Going Gaga Over The Lady #3

It’s worth posting some brief reflections on some of Lady Gaga’s other themes and why they seem to have such resonance and penetration with her target audience.

Paparazzi is the song Lady Gaga performed at the 2009 MTV Music Awards, where later she took the podium to accept an award for the best new talent. The night cemented a mainstream status for her as “weird”, given she accepted her award in a red-crowned dress with her face covered and finished her concert performance with fake blood streaming down her front.

In some respects it was a crossover moment for her, a broadcast event watched by millions where she was the second most notable part of the night (behind Kanye West storming the stage to protest an award given to Taylor Swift). In the age of blogs, social media and free-flowing digital photos images of Lady Gaga in various guises quickly hit the hustings and perfectly set her up for the release of her second “album, effectively an EP appropriately titled “The Fame Monster”.

I’m your biggest fan

I’ll follow you until you love me, papa-paparazzi

baby there’s no other superstar

you know that I’ll be your papa-paparazzi

promise I’ll be kind but I won’t stop until that boy is mine

baby you’ll be famous, chase you down until you love me

papa-paparazzi (Paparazzi)

Most celebrities seem to war with the army of photographers who follow their every move with telescopic lenses, though one wonders if some celebrities would be privately aghast if they lost their pursuing paparazzi pack because it would surely mean their career had jumped the shark.

Gaga’s Paparazzi spoke of an opposite extreme – a transparent little ditty of a young woman willing to flirt with the glare of publicity and the paparazzi. It’s an acknowledgment of the mutually beneficial arrangement that comes from the paparazzi who can generate immense publicity with a candid shot and the stars they follow who can generate big dollars for the right photo.

Little doubt some of Lady Gaga’s recent antics at New York Yankees games, where she appeared in various states of undress and hammed it up for watching cameras, was a sop to paparazzi culture as clear as her song. Gaga would not be alone in selling her soul for a second on the evening news.

Now she’s crossed the line from wannabe to major star, it will be interesting to see how Gaga’s relationship with pursuing media continues. She may not have to sell her soul so much, because she is noticed and is the story. But how will she remain fresh and relevant – will she rely on ever increasing shock tactics to keep herself in the public eye and her music selling?

I can’t help myself

I’m addicted to a life of material

it’s some kind of joke

I’m obsessively opposed to the typical

all we care about is

runway models, cadillacs and liquor bottles

give me something I wanna be

retro glamour hollywood, yes we live for the

fame (fame) doin’ it for the fame (fame)

’cause we wanna live the life

of the rich and famous

fame (fame) doin’ it for the fame (fame)

’cause we got a taste for champagne

and endless fortune (Fame)

It’s worth commenting on the “fame” Lady Gaga enjoys. We all know technology is developing fast, and perhaps Lady Gaga will be remembered as the first true social media superstar. Her rise as occurred at the same time social media shifted from early adapter to mainstream status.

It means the pace of Lady Gaga’s notoriety has been accelerated far more than we’ve seen in the past. Arguably Gaga has been able to reach levels of fame, global reach and financial backing in one third of the time it took for some of the 80s superstars like Madonna, Prince and Michael Jackson.

I’m basing this on the 18 months from the release of Just Dance to the big budget Bad Romance, a similar step taken by Michael Jackson as a solo artist from Off the Wall (1979) to the Thriller phenomenon of 1983. Madonna from the First Album (1983) to the release of Like a Prayer (1987). Prince took a little longer to go from his self-titled debut (1977) to Purple Rain (1984).

The shortening timetable is a commentary on the global reach of saturation media, but what it doesn’t betray is that the age of social media gives today’s star the ability to have a direct line with their fan base. As of today Lady Gaga’s Facebook page has over 16 million followers. On Twitter she’s followed by nearly 6 million people.

Perhaps the recent example of Lance Armstrong provides the best insight into the possibilities for celebrities to reach their audience through social media. His return to competitive riding after a three year break was primarily about promoting his charity to combat cancer, Livestrong. That he mainly did this through social media was instructive, but it was a sidelight that gives the best indication of the power of a natural, organic connection to celebrity.

Though he has never tested positive to drug use, Armstrong has long been followed by suspicion. Through twitter he was able to catalogue directly to a wide audience his every drug test whilst he remained competitive (finishing on the podium at the 2009 Tour de France at age 37). Armstrong has long had a combative relationship with mainstream media – Twitter gave him the last laugh.

Got no salvation (no salvation)

Got no salvation

Got no religion (no religion)

My religion is you

Take a bite of my bad girl meat (bad girl meat)

Take a bite of me boy

Show me your teeth

I’m a tough b*%&# (Show me your teeth)

Gaga is also very savvy with social media frequently updating her “monsters” with news of her whereabouts, and airing her views and opinions freely. For example, within minutes of the voting down of California’s Proposition 8 banning same-sex relationships she was on Twitter to boast of the landmark decision to a flurry of hundreds of thousands of returning “likes” and comments.

Traditionally celebrities have been somewhat filtered in their comments and attempts to manage their image and message by the powerful global media conglomerates. Not so in the Facebook era.

“The Monster Ball is by nature a protest: A youth church experience to speak out and celebrate against all forms of discrimination + prejudice”.

That’s a tweet from Lady Gaga, posted in response to protests out the front of a concert from the rabidly notorious church Westboro ‘Baptist’ Church. In the face of such unhelpful fundamentalism Gaga was able to fire back her message of tolerance and inclusion to a fan base of many millions, the majority of whom are on her side.

Unfortunately many of them won’t draw the distinction between the committed follower of Christ from hate groups masquerading as Christians from the bigot fringe.

So we have Lady Gaga painting herself as the new “youth church”. In some respects she’s right if we’re to consider the origins of the word church as “ecclesia”, meaning community. But it’s an ecclesia far removed from the traditionally understood forms of the word. When Lady Gaga toured Australia with her Monster Ball tour the shows served up a smorgasbord of blood, sex, gore, profanity and eating disorders – pity the parents who took under-twelves to the show.

It’s pretty clear that celebrities are increasingly becoming an influencing, and at times contrasting voice, in people’s world view. I wonders how accountable they feel for the consequences of their views when they’re being directly broadcast to tens of millions?

After fifteen years of living in mission communities in rural NSW, Andrew Grant has recently commenced as the Director of Camping for Queensland Conference and Camping Centres, a ministry of Queensland Baptists.  He is publishing the development and growth of the QCCC camping ministry on his blog at www.andrewgrant.me.