Music

The Fame Monster: “A Star is Born” as Drag About Drag and the Self-Mythology of Lady Gaga

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shallowIt’s telling that Bradley Cooper begins his version, the fourth, of A Star is Born in a drag bar. A drag bar is, in not precisely insulting but at least somewhat paternalistic, not like other bars, even though, for his needs, it served alcohol. Queens in full face and wig line the bar, and then Lady Gaga comes out, her angular face also painted in drag makeup, as the one resident AFAB-queen. It’s commonly agreed upon that drag is about artifice, but it takes a little more thought, maybe more camp or irony, to get at artifice being a gateway to truth. So, Ally sings “La Vie en Rose” and Jackson sees the beauty and truth of her artistry not because or augmented by this drag, but in spite of it, an artistic purity that seems to be stifled by the fake eyebrows and harsh, accentuated faux contours. And when the well-worn star is birthed and begins to eclipse Jackson’s gravely country dulcet tones, via pop stardom, the movie, too, begins to view her genre stylings as just another form of drag. Read the rest of this entry »

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Find Your Jesus, Find Your Kubrick: Lady Gaga as Auteur

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(Author’s Note: The originally appeared on Sound on Sight, which became PopOptiq, which sort of became defunct. I think it’s from, like, June 2014. It has been heavily re-written.)

Lady Gaga was like a smack in the face at her career peak, from about 2008 to 2010. As if a Phoenix risen from the ashes of the global economic recession, she embodied the voyeuristic, post-reality show pleasures of an audience gaze and intentionally cobbled herself together, seemingly, from the consumerist detritus that got us into this mess in the first place. She was late capitalist performance art, all the garbage and joy, validation and indictment of the early 21st century as one pop singer, daring enough to let the audience hang her on live TV, and bring her back from the dead, a cycle of life and death she keeps repeating throughout her work. Though live performance is crucial for Gaga’s act, music videos are her medium. Gaga, née Stefani Germanotta, through her videos presents a vision, often of powerful women and the deconstruction of fame, through each of her music videos. For Gaga’s videos, the delineation between film art and music video threatens to disappear, but her auteurial hand is always present.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Mirror Has Two Faces: On Fame, Politics, and Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do” and Beyoncé’s “Formation”

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1219533Regardless of the accuracy of the claims of stealing from Beyoncé lodged against Taylor Swift regarding her new single and video “Look What You Made Me Do”, directed by the prolific Joseph Kahn, there is nonetheless a quick jolt of schadenfreude when someone quips, in quotes, “Okay ladies now let’s gentrification.” The riff on the chorus from Beyoncé’s single “Formation” sits atop one of the first images that appeared from Swift’s video, of the singer standing before a “squad” of dancers, in black. After seeing this teaser, before the video actually dropped, folks on Twitter ran with the vague similarities between that and a shot from the Melina Matsoukas directed “Formation” video, making a litany of variantly amusing jokes. But while the resemblance between the two music videos is arguably a stretch — the shots in question barely have the same blocking, never mind a difference in costuming, color palette, set design, and general scene composition, in context of the whole video or otherwise — there is a likeness between the tracks themselves that seems to have gone without much comment. It’s two women, under intense public scrutiny, answering the public in very different ways. Read the rest of this entry »

Eyes Wide Shut: The Best Music Videos of 2016

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worshipOnce upon a time in West Hollywood, a friend of mine dragged me out to paint the town red and make me stop using old timey phrases like that when I was visiting Los Angeles. He took me to a gay club called Tiger Heat, which was supposed to be like the magazine in the sense that the twinks there were just as seemingly depthless. But I found one of my first true loves on the dance floor that night: the music video. As I don’t drink often and was then disinclined to engage with anyone in that kind of space socially, I spent the night swaying back and forth to the music, bathed in neon lights, and I stared up at the monstrous screen playing random music videos.

Perhaps surprisingly, yes, there were other music videos released this year not by Beyoncé. And while one may be quick to quip, “And I’m not sure why they bothered”, the little pieces of pop art pleasure here are just as worthy of attention as the tome Lemonade. Read the rest of this entry »

Perform This Way: Lady Gaga’s “Joanne”

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01-lady-gaga-press-photo-cr-collier-schorr-2016-billboard-1548Over the summer, I briefly plunged myself into studying camp for a couple of pieces I did. Its definitions varied, one of the great conceptual terms whose definition is as elusive as the transient nature of what it may or may not describe. For some, it’s merely the love for kitsch; for others, it’s pointed exaggeration to subvert normative values in art; and for some others, it’s the enjoyable bad, where badness does a 360 and becomes good again in spite of itself. The common connection was the role artifice plays. It’s either tool or catalyst, coding in each second of a given text a kind of language recognized and shared by a niche group of people.

And then at some point, camp was mainstreamed, and what was once kind of secret became kind of populist, even if in a tangential way. Ryan Murphy, Madonna, Hairspray as a musical, and the grande dame, Lady Gaga. Read the rest of this entry »

Greatest Expectations: Sia’s “The Greatest”

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maxresdefaultThere are two things about Sia’s music videos: 1) they are a voyeur’s delight and 2) they are made to be projected upon. These two ideas intersect fairly often, so it’s curious that such a perspective should be at once reinforced as well as negated for her most recent track and video, “The Greatest”, which, the artist says, was made in dedication of the victims of the Orlando massacre in June. Such an assignation of purpose is a little frustrating, honestly. Read the rest of this entry »

Children Will Listen: 100 Favorite Songs

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Photo of Amy WINEHOUSEAmongst my worst qualities as a human being are my aggressive need to be right about the James Bond movies, my habit of impulsively buying food, and my disinclination to listen to complete albums. It’s not to say I haven’t done it (LEMONADE y’all!), it’s just that my taste in music, unlike my taste in people with whom I sleep and subsequently kick out of my room, is very high and finnicky. So, most of the music I listen to I’ve heard in commercials, trailers, movies, commercials and trailers for movies, the radio, and once in a while, recommendations from friends, enemies, and former lovers’ sister’s best friends. In honor and celebration of nothing in particular, here’s a list of 100 favorite songs that I originally intended on posting last year, but due to laziness and a bout of post-Mad Men depression, I never got to.  Read the rest of this entry »