If Lady Gaga walked into the room you’re sitting in right now, what would you do? Maybe you’d sit there, idle, rolling your eyes so hard they got stuck. Or! Perhaps you’d strip off all your clothes and streak the room buck naked, back and forth, back and forth. I’d just sit there, wearing a head-to-toe black sequin body suit, purple Nina Ricci heels and a black chandelier on my head. When I saw her, I’d peel back the black diamond curtains and wink.
From backlash to the ultimate in idol worship, there’s been a lot of Gaga chatter going on over the past couple years. But to me the most interesting thing to think about is how Gaga has changed popular culture. I’m only in my twenties, but I’m hard pressed to find a pop star from my generation who’s had this massive an impact on popular culture. I remember Britney Fever – I was a huge Britney queen back in the day – but I wouldn’t say that Brit Brit changed pop culture in any significant way.
As far as fame goes, you can’t be more adulated than Lady Gaga, and once you reach that level of praise, you start to change things. So here are five reasons why I love Lady Gaga.
1) She democratizes glamour.
Lady Gaga makes plain that we live in an Age of Glamour, and most of pop culture participates in it. What’s the Age of Glamour? Think about it: it’s the moment when access to glamour has been made widely available. But it’s not just that it’s available: the really fascinating thing is that huge numbers of people are signing up for a touch of glam. You know, it used to be that glamour was for the super rich – the Astor’s, the Vanderbilt’s, the de Rothschild’s. Glamour was connected to power, and the way you announced your power was to have a fabulous house on a fabulous street, with fabulous jewels and fabulous couture.
But nowadays, almost anybody can look glamorous. You can get designer clothes for sale on Gilt Groupe. You can buy really cheap – but fabulous! – bling on the Home Shopping Network. You can rent designer handbags and looks straight from the catwalk. And you can even get spotted by The Sartorialist or photographed at the hot hipster dance party. This is pop culture in the Age of Glamour, and you don’t understand Lady Gaga unless you understand how everything she does fits into this Glamour, ricochetting off and effecting other strands of culture.
2) She shows we are all part of the zoo that is paparazzi culture.
Part of being a megawatt superstar is having an intimate relationship to cameras and other image makers. That’s because we live in an image economy where you kind of fizzle out if you’re not constantly in a new picture. Think about all those shots we have of Gaga going in and out of a club, or in and out of an airport, or in and out of wherever. Her newsworthy outfits practically guarantee that we’ll talk about her, that she’ll stay alive, and that’s as much a theory of media and paparazzi culture as it is a commentary on our own obsession with cameras and images.
I mean, look, the phone you use everyday probably has a camera on it, and so does your computer. The office you’re in and the stores you frequent are all laced with cameras, watching you. We love being photographed, posing for pictures, making sure the camera gets our good side, being immortalized on film and uploaded to the Internet. Gaga’s embrace of paparazzi culture comments on the celebrity relationship to cameras, for sure, but also on our connection to pap cult in our daily lives.
3) She makes fashion an explosive event.
Lady Gaga turns high fashion into an event, and the whole event is the outfit. Nobody waits on Beyoncé to see her outfit – though I would probably wait to see what weave she put on that day. But with Gaga, everybody’s anticipating the ensemble – she is the outfit – and once it arrives, you snap a picture of it, you upload it to the Internet, and the cycle re-continues. The brilliant thing is that Lady Gaga is so obsessively visual that you have to know what she looks like. It’s obviously a marketing strategy – does anybody know what Kelis (bless her soul) looks like?
One of the most amazing things about Gaga’s high fashion events is that other people feel compelled to dress like Mother Monster, using outrageous fashion to express themselves in a way that they might get laughed at in any other situation. Over-the-topness becomes part of the game, an element of the fun – participation.
4) She parodies pop culture.
So many people have said that Gaga is nothing more than a master copycat, that she lacks any and all depth, any and all originality. But what these people don’t get is that this is exactly the point! In some ways, Gaga has emerged to become a pop culture uber-text: empty, shallow, full of surface and spectacularity, predigested and on and on. But this is the way of pop: a hit song is nothing but the last hit song with different words, but it’s the same three to five notes. Do you think there’s any substance to The Real Housewives of… orJersey Shore. No. There. Is. Not. And at the same time that Gaga participates in pop culture as an icon, she’s also a total crystallization of what pop culture means, what it is. And, I’m sorry, but nobody has done this since Andy Warhol.
5) She seriously takes celebrity unseriously.
Right now, the only celebrity news that people care about is how many mistresses emerge out of Tiger Woods’ golf cart. But Gaga adds an element of humor to celebrity culture. Her life is like a comedic movie that we are all watching, everyday. Tune in next week to the Lady Gaga Show! My favorite thing about Gaga is that even as she participates in and benefits from celebrity culture, she throws a huge wrench into it by giving an interview with a lampshade covering her entire head, wearing a pair of crooked sunglasses during an interview, or going through the airport wearing a pair of gigantic deer antlers. Do you have any deer antlers? Imagine you’re at the Whole Foods in Union Square and you saw some chick rolling around with a lampshade covering her whole face. I guarantee you’d smile, you’d be fascinated by that person. And in that moment, you’ll realize how boring everything else is.
Showing how boring everything and everybody has become is Lady Gaga’s greatest gift to pop culture.