Let me declare something: I like Lady Gaga. She’s one of the few pop artists I like (whilst sober, if inebriated play a bit of Bewitched and I’ll bust out my Year 4 Irish dance moves.) I also like The Smiths, Bowie, Lil Kim, Kate Bush, CHVRCHES and Rinse FM. My music taste is pretty wide ranging, but there’s something I’ve noticed with pop recently.
In a world pre-Gaga, pop was becoming stale. Artists were taking off more and more clothing, dating each other as often as possible and flirting with bisexuality as a PR stunt (remember ‘I Kissed a Girl?’).
With the explosion that was The Fame however, pop stars began to change their acts. Rihanna hired a director to make the ‘We Found Love’ video into a short film, Beyonce was caught driving a ‘Pussy Wagon’ and Katy Perry began wearing plastic cubes on her head for seemingly no reason at all. Lady Gaga revolutionised the way costumes were worn and what they said about her music. She became a walking press article and shot to fame for her mix of performance art, design and interest in Andy Warhol as much as for her hit singles.
But this is where the problem now lies. At what point does someone’s personality become more important than their music? When does an outfit speak louder than the lyrics themselves? The marketing agencies caught on to Gaga’s popularity and pop music jumped on the ‘freak’ bandwagon only to head straight for the cliff edge. Whereas her original outfits interplayed with her sound to create a wider penetrating message, the new breed of ‘pop outcasts’ simply wore whatever they could to get attention. Their threads meant nothing more than a very loud “LOOK AT ME.”
This has inevitably started to affect the Lady herself. Despite the release of upcoming album, ARTPOP and some amazing sounding singles such as ‘Applause’ and ‘Venus’ having already dropped, critics have largely given up commenting on Gaga’s sound in favour of her appearance. Articles flood the internet about the size of her hats, the length of her dresses or the next colour that she has painted her face. If celebrity is to overtake music, then the artist’s work is reduced to no more than the sum of their outfit. And if this becomes the case then pop will once again become stale. Sound won’t matter as long as image prevails, and this is where the danger can be found.
Artists can erase their true identity in order to promote a single. Despite being a rather conservative woman from a very Christian upbringing, Katy Perry can keep dressing up as a ‘goth’, a ‘weirdo’ or a massive plastic blob and people can ignore that her singles are becoming flimsier and flimsier. And with an artist like Katy Perry, it is all mass marketing. Her true identity no longer matters, as long as her singles reach the top of the charts then she can be as divorced from reality as plastic cubes will allow. But if there is no meaning to the outfit, no political message (we can debate that another time) behind the meat dress, then the image becomes vacuous and just another means of promoting a single; just another stale PR stunt.
In a world post-gaga we need a new revitalisation: one that takes pop away from clothing and concentrates more than ever on sound.