The Gaga Brand
At first unimpressed by Lady Gaga's catchy, but typical, dance hits, I was later impressed to see her perform live, acoustic versions of her work. They showcased not only her ability to sing and play the piano (especially in my favorite, raw style), but a bittersweet side to her seemingly superficial beats. When she performed "Paparazzi" at the VMA's, I was floored. For about a year I was obsessed with deconstructing her various references to culture and art as a means of expression. What I was most pleased by, was the construction of her public identity in such clear parallels to previous fallen icons. It wove beautifully with the concepts explored in her first two albums, and established a rather unique narrative of her fame.
Love is a Brick
By taking on platinum locks and directly addressing the tragedy of fame in her music, Lady Gaga has placed herself in comparison to Marilyn Monroe in such a way that implies she is taking back control of the female body. Having gained it, she martyrs herself for complete consumption, but somehow under her terms. Within this film I aim to show a series of clips and quotes which deconstruct both Monroe and Gaga’s careers to expose the structures that transformed Monroe into an icon and how Lady Gaga is tapping into these realities for her own gain.
Monroe’s status as an icon has been developed in response to her image’s synthesis of victimization, ignored talent, and self-awareness. This is exemplified ironically in a role before she was even a sex symbol. In All About Eve, her ditsy façade masked an understanding of how to work the system, a quality she is now famous for. Monroe was also exposed to the public in a way that both elevated her career and led to her tragic death.
Gaga’s references to Monroe establishes an image of control1. Her ability to point to Monroe and herself as art is power in itself, but her attempt to accept all that comes with fame, even what Monroe hated, is bravery. It is also an expression of her intense obsession with fame, a fact that comes through in both Bad Romance and Paparazzi (not to mention many interviews). Yet she shows signs of wisdom in how she develops her relationship with her fans. Manifesto of Little Monsters Interlude, and countless anecdotes about private, life changing moments with fans backstage keep her strongly connected to her fans. She doesn’t even stop there. In almost every interview she mentions how it was her fans that got her where she is today and states another bold truism about staying true to ones self. This relationship points to Gaga’s understanding of fans’ agency in the creation of an icon.2
"I'm already crazy. I'm a fearless person. I think it creeps up on you. I don't think it can be stopped. If my destiny is to lose my mind because of fame, then that's my destiny. But my passion still means more than anything."3 Lady Gaga makes it explicitly clear that she would die for the fame. Whether or not that is mere lip service, it wraps up how ever her career unfolds into a story of a carefully choreographed performance. Good or bad, it was what she intended—dreamed of. “Love is like a brick. You can build a house, or you can sink a dead body.”4 We will see which she ‘chooses’.
Gaga’s career is an indication of an overall shift in identificatory practices. It’s no longer enough to fantasize. Fans must become stars, even if for just 15min through found footage films. Youtube offers a chance to be something more as Justin Bieber demonstrates. Gaga herself sites in one interview that Myspace was a major factor in developing her grass roots following. Her image of control thus has another layer: I was once a fan and have made it to the other side. So can you!
1 Blonde wigs, white sets, raspy voice, specific quotes, etc all point back to Monroe’s aesthetic and career.
2 "My new album that I'm creating, which is finished pretty much, was written with this new instinctual energy that I've developed getting to know my fans. They protect me, so now it's my destiny to protect them." -Lady Gaga
3 Lady Gaga
4 Lady Gaga
The Fame Created Me
Prompted by the anecdote of how Lady Gaga earned her iconic name, I began researching the intersections between her and Queen. This swiftly shifted to a comparison between Gaga and Freddie Mercury, one of, if not the most charismatic front man of music history. Unlike the references to Monroe, Gaga's influence from Freddie was most prominent in her interviews, in which she adopted a confidence humbled by intense professionalism and recognition of her origins. The similarities are uncanny, but Gaga's career has already taken a very different course. Her readiness for interviews, focus on the gay community, and in particular her Mac AIDs campaign, all address serious criticisms of Freddie's unwillingness to expose his personal life to the cameras. This approach is what separates her and the nature of being an icon in today's music world. The internet, MTV, and countless other innovations in the field have changed it more than even the transition from radio to video as addressed in the Queen song "Radio Gaga". Stars rarely succeed in keeping their private life away from the world, and if one tried to at the level that Freddie did, they would be ripped apart in the tabloids. This brought me full circle to one of the first Lady Gaga quotes I read in which she stated that it wasn't she who created her fame, but rather "the fame created me". Being famous today really is an entirely new monster.