Lady Gaga, by contrast, is all distance and transgressiveness. She shows up in our lives, but only as close as her commercials for Google allow. (She’s the only pop star big enough to negotiate with Google.) Gaga has her own way of being family-friendly, which makes the idea of Sasha Fierce seem like a halting crayon sketch. At the after-party for the Council of Fashion Designers of America awards, two weeks ago, having been presented with the Fashion Icon Award, Gaga danced with her father, Joe Germanotta, in a bodysuit that was only a millimetre or two away from being transparent. Even when Dad’s in the room, Gaga has no interest in playing to the middle. Her body-distorting outfits and avid embrace of the gay community don’t scare many: “Born This Way,” released on May 23rd, sold 1.1 million units in its first week, the most since 50 Cent’s “The Massacre,” in 2005. But in the second week the album’s sales were down drastically, by eighty-four per cent, placing her next to Adele, who was sticking close to the same chart position she has maintained in the seventeen weeks since the release of her record.
The familiar question—how trangressive are you really if you’re also very popular—applies with particular force to Lady Gaga. For me, it’s hard to escape the impression that she is actually very boring, both in persona and musically.
Her music generally sounds recycled from the eighties or seventies with stale synthesizers, etc., and it’s not as if the lyrics are particularly interesting or novel. But then again I doubt the Lady Gaga phenomenon is about the music: it’s about the persona. Gaga’s persona is a comfortable trangressiveness for the mainstream to embrace: few people are ready to admit to anti-gay prejudice or indeed prejudice of any sort and therefore Gaga’s anti-prejudice stance is not particularly bold. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing that Gaga believes these particular things, it’s just that you should forgive me for being uninterested when someone proclaims she wants to be bold and produces actions few people actually disagree with. The other plank of her calculated outrageousness is her fashions, but does that matter? Like, at all? Isn’t that the stuff of slideshows and instant impressions and just-as-instant forgetting? If your brand is based on transgress, at least transgress an interesting norm or two.
So—what, exactly, is the point of Lady Gaga again?