Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 16, 2010

Lady Gaga

Filed under: music — louisproyect @ 7:04 pm

Last night I caught about an hour’s worth of a show about Lady Gaga on cable TV that included some of the pop sensation’s music videos. For those whose taste in music revolves around Paul Robeson, Pete Seeger and the like, she might be something of a cipher excluding the references to her you’ve probably caught in the mass media. With her clever product positioning and her talented press agents, she is the biggest thing in pop music in a long while.

Perhaps Lady Gaga has caught Madonna in a compromising position with a Great Dane like the ones in the video above, because that would be the only explanation for her not having filed suit for theft of intellectual property. Lady Gaga, an Italian-American like Madonna (born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta in 1986), has bleached blond hair like Madonna as well as the same clever persona, one in which celebrity and wealth are mocked in the lyrics while being pursued by the artist in a carefully managed career. It is like spitting out your cake while eating it too. Twenty-five years ago Madonna came out with a hit song that practically defined her:

Living in a material world
And I am a material girl
You know that we are living in a material world
And I am a material girl

All that Lady Gaga has done is repeat this over and over again, as in her “Money Honey”:

That’s M-O-N-E-Y, so sexy, I
Damn I love the Jag, the jet and the mansion
Oh yea
And I enjoy the gifts and trips to the islands
Oh yea
It’s good to live expensive you know it but
My knees get weak, intensive
When you give me k-kisses
That’s money honey
When I’m your lover and your mistress
That’s money honey
When you touch me it’s so delicious
That’s money honey
Baby when you tear me to pieces
That’s money honey

Lady Gaga professes to be unlike the image conveyed by these words, practically claiming to be monastic. Earthtimes.org described her as “homeless”. Since I am not privy to the pop star’s finances, I suppose I will have to take her at her word:

Lady Gaga claims she doesn’t own a home because she spends all her money on her stage sets.

Lady Gaga doesn’t own a house.

The ‘Poker Face’ singer claims to be so dedicated to her career, she uses all of her money to fund her elaborate stage sets and improve her musical skills.

She said: “I live right here in the moment. I live on stage. I don’t own a house, I don’t spend money on those things.

“I live out of a suitcase and I make music and art and I spend every dollar that I make on stage – that’s it.”

The star is so focused on her work, she rarely takes time off but says her idea of a treat when she isn’t working is a bowl of pasta.

Also, like many other pop stars from Sting to Bono, she is deeply involved in raising money for good causes like AIDS research and more recently Haiti relief. While I cannot honestly attack such artists for doing charitable work, I sometimes wonder if their labor and money would be better used to help shore up the anti-capitalist movement worldwide, starting with fund-raising efforts for Cuba and Venezuela.

Also, like Madonna, Lady Gaga is all about sexual transgression, making the point frequently that she owes everything to her gay fans helping her to achieve fame. She is also proudly bisexual as Madonna was at one time in her career. My guess is that bisexuality is much less of a hindrance to one’s career than being exclusively lesbian.

All in all, Lady Gaga is the kind of pop star who would appeal immensely to the writers and editors of the Village Voice in New York, a free weekly whose antennae are finely tuned to pick up on cultural trends in line with their own postmodernist brand of faux rebellion.

An article by Rich Juzwiak in the 1/19 Village Voice could have been written by her press agent:

Last year’s constant chatter both from and about Gaga has introduced so many contradictions, her rhetoric is less “fake it till you make it” than “make it till you have to fake it.” Besides some weird stuff about feminism and her conflicting views on aiming for hits even though her career is allegedly “not about record sales,” her least coherent thoughts concern what she talks about the most: celebrity. Andy Warhol she ain’t. She speaks of “inner fame” as if celebrity isn’t entirely determined by external forces.

In many ways, Gaga is the prototypical Village Voice reader. She attended nearby NYU for a semester and absorbed just enough higher education to distinguish her from someone as trashy as Brittany Spears. Gaga is on record as stating that Rilke is her favorite philosopher for what that’s worth, going so far as to sport a tattoo likeness of the German “philosopher”.

As a symbol of hipness, she has been embraced by the current occupant of the White House who needs all the help he can in compensating for the impression people have that he is in the back pocket of Lloyd Blankfein.

At a white tie banquet for the Human Rights Campaign last October, the two celebrities paid tribute to each other, as reported by Politico:

It was President Barack Obama versus Lady Gaga at Saturday night’s 13th annual Human Rights Campaign Dinner — and Obama quickly surrendered.

“It is a privilege to be here tonight to open for Lady Gaga,” Obama said to applause, kicking off his remarks at Washington’s Convention Center. “I’ve made it.”

As they took the stage before a black-tie crowd of about 2,000, even the cast of the hot new television show “Glee” weighed in on the evening’s most anticipated guest.

“Lady Gaga! Chris Colfer, a cast member yelled into the microphone before two other co-stars bellowed, “President Obama!”

But Lady Gaga saluted Obama later in the evening when she told the crowd: “I think we can all be very excited for our future because it seems as though we have a president that’s just as historic and legendary that can really make a change for us.”

It should be added that the Human Rights Campaign is an inside-the-beltway gay rights group that is almost as debased as the Congressional Black Caucus in terms of their feeding at the corporate trough. In exchange for payoffs from the criminals at Chevron, for example, they name it as a gay-friendly place to work—as if this compensated for leaving Ecuador with a toxic mess that it will take billions to clean up.

The story of corporate America’s love affair for the hip transgressor is a very old one. In the 1980s a magazine called Baffler chronicled the evolution of William S. Burroughs doing commercials for Gap Jeans, etc. The magazine eventually went out of business, perhaps because it had run out of ways to make this obvious point (apparently it has been revived, but I have not seen a copy.) Its folding did not have that much of an effect on its editor Thomas Frank who went on to a successful career advising the Democrats on how they can win elections.


  1. You have perfectly articulated my feelings towards Miss Gaga. (I think).

    I have always thought of her as a fraud. More establishment than the establishment.

    Comment by Steve — February 16, 2010 @ 7:22 pm

  2. Lady Gaga spoke at the National Equality March on October 11, 2009. The Human Rights Campaign did next to nothing to build for this. Here’s video of her speech – which is quite good: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mRNsl_0AZOs

    Comment by Dan DiMaggio — February 16, 2010 @ 7:30 pm

  3. Fraud in what sense? Check her pre-Lady Gaga years and you’ll a young woman that can compose, play piano, and dance very well.

    Comment by Erik — February 16, 2010 @ 7:49 pm

  4. Lady Gaga makes me feel aged.

    I get that she has some talent and some vision, but I’m not sure she has taste. It seems like empty spectacle to me. I say this as a gay man having loved some very superficial musicians, including Madonna, over the years. I’m just not getting what all the fuss is about.

    If you’re despairing of good in new popular music, check this out. Left of center (metaphorically speaking) orchestral hip-hop.

    Comment by ish — February 17, 2010 @ 12:17 am

  5. I saw Lady Gaga on her recent stadium tour. I commented to my wife that every gay and artsy kid in town must have been there. I felt comfortable in the crowd because the majority seemed like intelligent, artistic people. Any political movement would be lucky to have such a following.

    Her stage show featured creative costumes and experimental-style video playing in the background. I’ve attended a lot of concerts and this was well outside the mainstream. You could tell that a lot of creativity and talent went into it. For what it’s worth…

    Comment by Mark — February 17, 2010 @ 3:06 pm

  6. SO, you don’t like Lady Gaga because….I’m not sure, some kind of intellectual distrust, i think.

    Lighten up!

    Comment by yvette — February 17, 2010 @ 8:53 pm

  7. Actually, I don’t mind Gaga in small doses. As opposed to, for example, 90 percent of hip-hop and college radio station alternative rock. But all in all, popular music is pretty bad and totally derivative. Some other time, I might try to explain why this is the case. All that being said, I was far more interested in the star-making machinery than I was to Gaga’s music per se.

    Comment by louisproyect — February 17, 2010 @ 8:57 pm

  8. Totally out of thread but I’d like to thank Louis Proyect for clarifying why protesters were “heckling” Ambassador Oren’s recent speech at UC Irvine, which was the subject of an “Inside Higher Ed” piece (www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/02/17/heckle) and comment thread. Nobody really mentioned the underlying reason for Oren’s visit to UCI (post-Gaza hasbara) until Proyect brought up that Israel bombed a university in Gaza; half of the comments were on the inviolability of free speech, the other half racist gibbering about how Muslims can’t behave themselves in public (in the thread’s mind, everybody who booed or spoke out was a Muslim, which also meant they were “brownshirts”, “hooligans”, and “thugs.”) If the uneducated mind is supposed to be a barren place, then the educated mind resembles a cross between a Klan meeting and a tract on the Bill of Rights.

    Comment by mr. mike — February 18, 2010 @ 1:24 am

  9. Are Cuba and Venezuela really more important than AIDS research? Really? I think they’re doing just fine by themselves.

    Comment by Jenny — February 18, 2010 @ 2:23 am

  10. Jenny, don’t take me so literally.

    Comment by louisproyect — February 18, 2010 @ 2:25 am

  11. Okay, I just can never tell with your passionate love of Cuba, you know..

    Comment by Jenny — February 18, 2010 @ 3:38 am

  12. Haw-Haw Haw! I was at my local bar tonight and we discussed Our Lady of the Haus of Gaga & Paul Robeson…Music has no bounderies…

    Comment by Julie Kirby — February 18, 2010 @ 10:24 am

  13. Haw-Haw-Haw! I was at my local bar tonight and we discussed Our Lady of the Haus of Gaga & Paul Robeson…Music has no bounderies…

    Comment by Julie Kirby — February 18, 2010 @ 10:25 am

  14. It seems music has no bounderies…Tonight at my local bar we discussed Our Lady of the Haus of Gaga & Paul Robeson…

    Comment by Julie Kirby — February 18, 2010 @ 10:27 am

  15. Oopps my 1st post didn’t seem to go through…you got my message however I meant it at least! 🙂

    Comment by Julie Kirby — February 18, 2010 @ 10:33 am

  16. The affection of all the twentysomething, leftish people I know for Lady Gaga as some kind of “transgressive” radical is nearly enough to drive me off Facebook. I’m tired of hearing how wonderful she is, so thanks for this post, Louis.

    I put her success down to lowered expectations: play people enough music by performers barely smart enough to speak, then feed them someone who namechecks Warhol and they’ll think she’s a genius.

    Comment by Nick — February 19, 2010 @ 5:59 am

  17. Gee Nick, sorry to hear you’re so angry about someone’s musical taste…Oh well this 50 something has seen a lot of people come and go, I think Gaga is something special, who knows if she’ll be a shooting star that burns out quickly or a solid pop rock…

    Comment by Julie Kirby — February 19, 2010 @ 6:06 am

  18. I would’ve thought there was an internet rule, called “deLong’s law of postmodernism” or something, about people who win arguments by saying “gosh, don’t take it all so seriously.” But I just checked and there isn’t.

    Comment by Nick — February 19, 2010 @ 7:58 am

  19. Also, like many other pop stars from Sting to Bono, she is deeply involved in raising money for good causes like AIDS research and more recently Haiti relief. While I cannot honestly attack such artists for doing charitable work

    Bono and the rest of U2 are talentless neo-liberal scum.They moved their business from Ireland to the
    Netherlands to avoid paying Ireland’s higher tax rate.Bono is a pompous,Gael-force blowhard who is a venture capital investor in a private company that makes weapon simulation systems to train the US military.He once sai about Jesse Helms-“I love this man”.
    I could go on and on about that phony jerk the Edge as well.Like his plans to build on a hill overlooking the Pacific “eco-friendly” 10,000 sq. ft. mansions.Who the fuck could possibly call a 10,000 single family dwelling “eco-friendly”.
    The dipshit drummer in the groupLarry Mullen,Jr recently chided his fellow Irish citizens for verbally abusing some Irish property developers,the same douchebags whose shenanginans have driven the country to the brink of an IMF SAP, with all the attendant austerity for the Irish public.

    Comment by paul whalen — February 19, 2010 @ 5:11 pm

  20. She’s clearly talented and writes good music, but you’re judging her politics as if she is some kind of mass leader. Why is it a surprise when petty-bourgeois artists have petty-bourgeois politics, petty-bourgeois pretentions, and carefully managed corporate careers? You act like she’s Bono.

    Comment by Binh — March 5, 2010 @ 9:04 pm

  21. I actually enjoy Gaga in small doses. I am far more interested in the star-making machinery.

    Comment by louisproyect — March 5, 2010 @ 9:09 pm

  22. I just think Louis is head to a bad romance with Lady Gaga.

    Comment by Erik — March 17, 2010 @ 2:44 pm

  23. I think Gaga was very clever to have an album called “Fame” then “The Fame Monster”…She invented herself as a celebrity… Almost unknown & she writes about the effects of fame before she was famous… The video “Paparazzi” says I will kill for notoriety & rather go to jail than become yesterday’s news..

    Comment by J Kirby — July 14, 2010 @ 10:06 pm

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