For the past month, I've been in the American mid-west and it was lovely. The event that tempted me over there was Lollapalooza,a festival with one of the best line-ups I had ever seen (on the Sunday, I saw Yeasayer, MGMT, The National and Arcade Fire one after the other. Yes, that good a line up). But one of the headliners caused much more of a hubbub than the other bands. Lady Gaga. Gaga played on the first night of the festival, to a crowd so huge, it's doubtful there was anybody left to go see the Strokes headline the other stage and her performance left me pondering her. So I figured, since Pop Justice are trying to mark this Bank Holiday has "Bad Romance Bank Holiday Monday" (or "Bad Romiday") then I figured now was as good a time as any to ponder my thoughts at other people.
Lady Gaga is one of the few recording artists working today who is pretty much unavoidable. She is well known for, well everything. There are just as many people who love her music while hating her image as there are who love her image whilst not caring for her music.
I seem to be in the minority of those who find some of her songs enjoyable, some not so much (though they are always catchy) and her outrageous behaviour to be sometimes righteous, sometimes misguided.
However, few can argue that Gaga hasn't positioned herself brilliantly within the musical sphere. She writes pure pop. In a time where being a "popstar" has only recently become an okay thing to be- not so long ago female singers had to wear t-shirts and be 'kooky' and 'alternative' in order to get a record deal (Nelly Furtardo might want to forget those days, but we shan't)- but she wears it, not like a badge of honour, but like a lobster hat, tilted disdainfully against the boring, as that is one thing she can never be described as.
And seeing her perform live at Lollapalooza certainly was not boring, oh no. There were outrageous sets, a writhing wall of dancers for seemingly every song and outfits that would, until now, have been considered architecturally impossible. Not to mention that with a live band, it became even clearer that Gaga simply does write good songs, and not just good singles, I enjoyed songs that I'd never heard before. And not just me, God knows it kept a very large crowd, very entertained.
However, where Lady Gaga's live show fell down, was when she wasn't performing her music, but was performing the act of being Lady Gaga. Seeing a lady with shoulder pads the size of guitar amps play a keyboard that is under the bonnet of a car, parked onstage is amazing (guitar amp shoulder pads are something she should consider actually. They would be awesome!) but hearing the same person wax lyrical about how she writes songs for people who are having a hard time in High School is not so good. With Lady Gaga's lyrics rarely straying away from the dancefloor or the bedroom, it was bizarre hearing who she aimed these songs at. Are kids seriously playing "Love Game" after a screaming row with their parents? (Gaga's 2007 Lollapalooza Performance... Presumably featuring less talking, more nudity)
Which is not to say she should shut up. Her comments on the overturning of Proposition 8, were of course timely, and appropriate given Gaga's position as a Gay rights spokesperson of sorts. However, a six minute monologue on how one of her dancers "likes American girls... AND AMERICAN BOYS!" (delivered while she was draped around his waist like a fleshbelt) was too far, and sort of treated a person's sexuality as if it were a titillating and risqué fact. She also added that that was why she liked him. Whilst it does serve the expertly media-savvy purpose of having the audience think she's sleeping with him- which is seemingly all some people care about- it also means that his sexuality is announced as his defining feature.
It also took up lots of time that she could have spent playing "Telephone".
To summarise, Lady Gaga's shortcomings and complexities are the same as pop music as a whole's. Pop music is disposable. Songs are created, packaged with a video, consumed and then supposedly forgotten when a new song, or singer, or band comes along- hence why longevity is so hard to establish. At the same time, a good pop song can define a time in your life. Can become a bond between you and a friend. Can alter the way you feel just as much as higher brow music and art. Yet hearing Lady Gaga give pop music the long, shouty tributes that it arguably deserves between songs just seems pretentious. She was almost acting as if she was changing people's lives. But pop music can do that, and who's to say that she wasn't doing precisely that at Lollapalooza?