Bored This Way: The Loss of Lady Gaga's Relevance in Pop Culture

Sophia Dorval

 

When Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta burst onto the mainstream pop world five years ago in the fall of ‘08 as the electropop maven Lady Gaga, she had just finished a stint opening for the New Kids On The Block and her debut single “Just Dance”, released the previous spring off of her first album The Fame, was just starting to gain some traction not just in nightclubs, but on radios across the country.   The biggest hitmakers of that year were undeniably Beyonce and her new husband Jay-Z, Rihanna and her then beau Chris Brown, Katy Perry, Kanye West, and Miley Cyrus as Hannah Montana.  Save for Mr. West, the aforementioned were symbolic of a record business that was not only in steady financial decline but also awash in mediocrity.  

 

Armed with a series of blonde hairstyles, nary a pair of pants and a wardrobe straight out of a pop art coffee table book, Lady Gaga shamelessly presented herself as a breath of postmodern fresh air through her then aloof persona in interviews, attending award shows with her tabloid BFF Perez Hilton, and naturally through her music videos, which were bacchanalian displays of youth, sexuality, consumption, and her and America’s favorite obsession: celebrity. 

 

Flash forward to the fall of 2013, when she has bestowed her fourth album Artpop onto the record, ahem, singles “buying” public.  It sells 75 percent less in its first week than its predecessor Born This Way.  It was upon the release of that album that the once insatiable fascination between Gaga and the public began to wane. 

 

During the days of The Fame Monster,  neither press nor average Joe or Jill could seem to get enough of her outrageous outfits, her equally outrageous soundbites, and her ‘90s pop cultural references that hearkened back to that era’s other extremely famous pop provocateur:  Madonna.  It seemed that Ms. Germanotta had rightfully picked up where the former Mrs. Ritchie had left off.  She gleefully referenced “Vogue” in the video for her ode to Ace of Base, “Alejandro.”  She took another page out of the Truth Or Dare book and courageously chose to lavish as much attention on the LGBT contingent of her “Little Monsters” as her heterosexual fans.  

 

Whatever her motivation, at a time where conformity is still very much the name of the pop game, she ushered in an era of techno-flavored pop, EPs passing for albums, and combining the visual and the aural for her fans in ways not seen since the days Maddy, Janet, and The Gloved One.  Yet even she felt the need to start off her performance of Artpop’s initial single “Applause” at the 2013 Video Music Awards by referencing the loss of her relevance.  It would appear that the Fame Monster she intentionally created has inadvertently or inevitably swallowed her whole, chewed her up, and spit her out of the pop cultural scene.  And even more importantly, nobody seems to care enough to notice.  True to fickle form, the public has simply moved on. 

 

And just who has stolen Gaga’s impermanent hold on the musical landscape?  The very folks she tried to wrestle it from:  Katy Perry, Rihanna, Kanye West, and most notably a resurrected Miley Cyrus, who ditched the Disney wigs for a look reminiscent of Rated R era Rihanna and allowed photographer Terry Richardson to film her licking a hammer in order to rise from her once ashen career this year. 

So where did it all go asunder?  In the November 11, 2013 Salon.com article “Post Lady Gaga, Is Warholism Dead?” Daniel D’addario writes, “When she burst onto the scene in ’08, Lady Gaga was the perfect match of pop star and moment; magazines treated her every utterance as though it weren’t just deep but entirely fascinating and new...(sic.yet) merely observing that fame is a concept in the world is far less novel in the entrenched TMZ era. 

 

“Whatever one makes of Miley Cyrus’ 2013, it’s proof that, at the present moment, merely observing that we live in a fame-driven culture is no longer novel…When you live for applause, you have to keep upping the ante, but Gaga’s naked publicity stunts feel somehow more desperate than other stars’, because they’re just about themselves, referring to nothing.”

 

In his November 27, 2011 article for whatculture!, Trevor Gentry-Birnbaum writes that “…Lady Gaga is so accidentally important.  She represents modern storytelling…She no longer provides the audience with the opportunity to fill in the blanks for ourselves.” 

 

While it is an unwritten rule of pop culture that some kind of metamorphosis is required to even hope to achieve any kind of long-term relevance, the same listeners who have seen Ms. Cyrus “evolve” as it were from a country pop Disney icon to a twerking rabble rouser have also come to expect and grow tired of Gaga’s endlessly ability to shapeshift. 

 

Race and class were barely apart of the mainstream feminist conversation when Madonna and Cyndi Lauper were releasing Ms. Magazine-approved albums 30 years ago.  Hardly anyone batted so much as an eyelash as Madonna co-opted Latin pop, R&B, trip-hop, and black gay male dance culture to sell records.  Yet in a far more globally conscious society where everyone’s points of view are seemingly a Facebook status update or tweet away, Gaga may be more hemmed in by race and class than her forerunners, possibly at a detriment to herself. 

 

Miss Robyn Rihanna Fenty is a whirling dervish of identity politics, on account of her race, nationality, and the sad fact that second to Tina Turner, she is the most famous domestic violence survivor in the music business.  Ms. Germanotta’s pre-fame trials by comparison are leaving her closeknit affluent Italian-American family on the Upper West Side of New York City for a Lower East Side acquired drug habit and an eating disorder before losing a record contract from LA Reid all by the tender age of 20.  Sure Gaga can address identity politics in a lofty academic sense in her oeuvre (“Maybe we just like to read,” she snootily shoots back at her critics on “Applause”) but Rihanna undeniably lives identity politics everyday in a far less abstract or privileged way.  The Rihanna Navy connect to her perseverance much in the same way the Little Monsters do to Mother Monster; but once again class and race rear their ugly heads in each instance. 

A perfect case study of where Rihanna succeeded and Gaga failed to garner lasting attention is at the recent American Music Awards.  Ms. Fenty turned heads by wearing the “doobie wrap,” the Black haircare staple on hers.  Ms. Germanotta chose to arrive at the red carpet atop a white “horse” led by an unnamed African-American man and a “horse” that was powered by equally ignored humans.  It was Classic Gaga: not remotely out of left field for her, but it was also culturally myopic. 

 

She has also been bested by her former duet partner Beyonce Knowles Carter, who miraculously pulled off something this writer would have expected from the Haus of Gaga: a digital release of a 14-song album, along with 17 accompanying music videos, without any advance notice or leaks.  The content has unsurprisingly kept feminist fans and scholars alike busy since its release, most notably for the track “Flawless”, which features Queen Bee singing over author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TEDxEuston talk entitled “We Should All Be Feminists”.  In the Quietus’ December 14, 2013 review of Beyonce: The Visual Album Mof Grimmers writes that “…she’s taken the kookiness of Gaga and melded it with super modern soul and hip-hop.”  The empowerment that Gaga has failed to sell to the broader public is one that Beyonce undeniably embodies; all while living a fantasy life with the family and entertainment empire she and Jay-Z have created.  People, especially younger people have a much easier time digesting feminism and identity politics when it comes in an ideal “bootylicious” package. 

 

The priniciples that Gaga claims to embody also seem to be under attack on Artpop second single “Do What U Want,” an electro/R&B duet she nails with the help of R&B artist R. Kelly, a man who was caught on videotape literally urinating on the young teenage females that Ms. Germanotta claims to be a champion for.  Which no doubts begs the question:  Which “monsters” does she truly value and which “monsters” does she choose to ignore? 

 

Watching her perform her kiss-off to the press alongside Mr. Kelly at both the AMAs and SNL felt for this writer like observing the turning point when a star complete abandons the principles that got her fans in the first place.  There’s “evolving” and there’s, well, selling out.  There is still something truly unnerving about hearing an unabashed LGBT icon urge an alleged sexual predator to do whatever he wants with her body. (Though who better to ask perhaps.)  The day she was set to perform for the live finale of the hit NBC singing competition The Voice, the Village Voice’s Website featured the December 16, 2013 article “Read the Stomach-Churning Sexual Assault Accusations Against R. Kelly in Full,” which in addition to an interview between Rookie Mag Music Editor Jessica Hopper and pop music critic Jim DeRogatis who broke the story during his tenure at the Chicago Sun-Times, featured all of Mr. DeRogatis’ reporting regarding the allegations.  It was perhaps in light of the piece making massive waves on the Internet that Gaga changed course and performed the track with panel judge Christina Aguilera, another vocal talent who has been savaged by the press.  Watching the two supposedly nemeses actually hold hands and sing “Kumbaya” returned the attention to the song itself, rather than her choice of duet partner. 

Another sign of Gaga’s waning relevance is her weakening hold on the “techno boom” that she ushered in half a decade ago.  The global dance diva of 2013 is indisputably the English electro-folk sprite Ellie Goulding, who also sports classic California girl locks and gams to boot.  Her single “I Need Your Love,” which is produced by her follow Scottish compatriot Calvin Harris proved to be one of the biggest singles of the year and has dominated airwaves in the states nearly as long her initial global hit single, “Lights.” 

 

The current mainstream dance music market seems to be littered with future one-hit wonders from Icona Pop to Capital Cities, all of whom seem to be better received by the public as of late than Gaga.  This past fall the award for “unexpected breath of fresh air” went to New Zealand’s Lorde, who reached number 1 with her catchy recession anthem “Royals,” which nonchalantly rejected the excess that Gaga has fetishized almost from the very start of her career. 

 

When the cultural fascination with Gaga was at its height, she received high praise from Ms. Lauper, who became strictly an ‘80s icon not just through her powerhouse vocals and ballads, but who by her own admission, temporarily broke the stronghold that conformity held on the “greed is good” generation.  Again, it seemed that Gaga would also pick up and go farther in places where Ms. Lauper left off; but these days, it would seem that to young listeners, the mantle has been passed onto Hayley Williams, who along with her trademark crimson locks also possesses strong vocals, a loud fashion sense, and a recent successful solo collaboration with Artpop producer Zedd.  Unless Gaga does something drastic, it would seem that her career may go the way of Lauper’s. 

 

Author Bio:

Sophia Dorval is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine.

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