Saturday 23 September 2017

Redefining sex appeal

Say what you will about Lady Gaga, with her drag-queen permanent bad-hair-day look, radioactive tan and pale-pink frosted lipstick, but she certainly lives in the realm of the senses...

"I can feel the rain, when it's not raining," the Italian-American, born on March 20, 1986, once told a New York writer, adding: "I don't know if this is too much for your magazine, but I can actually mentally give myself an orgasm. You know, sense memory is quite powerful."

Doubtless another famous Italian-American by the name of Madonna had her sense-memory working not too powerfully when she heard Gaga's Born This Way; the similarities between it and Madonna's 1989 classic Express Yourself were somewhat striking.

Asked recently by ABC News's 20/20 what she thought of Gaga's general take on her, Madge used the word "reductive". ("Is that good?" interviewer Cynthia McFadden replied. To which Madonna responded icily: "Look it up.") Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta -- alias the brassy and overdramatic Warhol-like self-creation Lady Gaga -- has had just about every accusation thrown at her, Madge-plagiarism chief among them. She seems to take it all on the chin, or some place thereof.

"They've tried everything. When they start saying that you have extra appendages," she told Rolling Stone last year, referring to the exponentially growing internet rumour, based on a grainy video, that she is, in fact, a hermaphrodite, "you have to assume that they're unable to destroy you. I've got scratch marks all over my arms, and they say I'm a heroin addict. It's from my costumes. When I pass out onstage, they say that I'm burning out, when I have my own a) personal health issues, and b) it's f**king hot up there and I'm busting my ass every night."

And how. Lady Gaga, who will be performing live at the Aviva in Dublin on September 15, is the new high priestess of raunch, singing on Boys Boys Boys: "I'm not loose, I like to party/Let's get lost in your Ferrari." And then on Love-game, she is ordering her lover thus: "Let's have some fun, this beat is sick/I wanna take a ride on your disco stick."

The queen of the disco-stick, Lady Gaga, as most people in the western world will be aware (whether they want to or not), is no mumbling, stand-offish, wallflower low on self-confidence. She once said she didn't like Los Angeles: "The people are awful and terribly shallow, and everybody wants to be famous, but nobody wants to play the game. I'm from New York. I will kill to get what I need."

The last line is one with which no one who has studied Lady Gaga's career path will disagree, perhaps. And who could argue that she is now one of the biggest pop stars in the world, effortlessly controversial, breathlessly global (she reached No.1 in 20 countries with her single Poker Face)? Not even Madge, I'd imagine, could dispute her global reach. Not bad for the gawky girl with the pronounced nose and bad posture whose nickname at school used to be Big Boobs McGee.

She is definitely more than the alt.Madge. "My ideas about fame and art are not brand new," she has said. "We could watch Paris is Burning [Jennie Livingston's 1990 documentary about New York drag artists], we could read The Warhol Diaries, we could go to a party in New York in 1973 and these same things would be being talked about. I guess you could say that I'm a bit of a Warholian copycat. Some people say everything has been done before, and to an extent they are right. I think the trick is to honour your vision and reference, and put together things that have never been put together before. I like to be unpredictable, and I think it's unpredictable to promote pop music as a highbrow medium."

Like her hero Andy Warhol, Lady Gaga likes to wind up the world. She proclaimed on her MySpace that she's into "drag queen divas and hot groupie chicks". Gaga has opinions and is not afraid to express them. Her polemic appearance on the cover of Japanese Vogue, dressed in a raw-meat bikini in September 2010, caused cultural analysts around the world to stroke their chins and wonder just what exhibitionist feminist icon and pop superstar Lady Gaga was saying. The misogynist treatment of women in the 21st Century? Pieces of meat etc?

She told US TV host Ellen DeGeneres that she had come to the MTV Music awards ceremony with four former servicemen and women who had been ordered to leave the US military because of the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" bill. "If we don't stand up for what we believe in," she told DeGeneres, "if we don't fight for our rights, pretty soon we're going to have as many rights as the meat on our bones."

Outspoken US feminist Camille Paglia dubbed Gaga a "ruthless recycler of other people's work" -- meaning in particular Madonna, and of course David Bowie, Grace Jones, Marlene Dietrich and Elton John. Worse, Paglia added, unfairly: "Gaga isn't sexy at all. She's like a gangly marionette or plasticised android. How could a figure so calculated and artificial, so clinical and strangely antiseptic, so stripped of genuine eroticism have become the icon of her generation? Can it be that Gaga represents the exhausted end of the sexual revolution? Marlene and Madonna gave the impression, true or false, of being pansexual. Gaga, for all her writhing and posturing, is asexual."

If anything, as Lady Gaga has said herself: "I think I'm changing what people think is sexy. I don't feel like I look like the other perfect little pop singers."

Lady Gaga plays the Aviva in Dublin on September 15

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