Lady Gaga cures what ails me

2 May

by Laura

I used to be Into Music when I was younger — not quite to High Fidelity levels, but I played various instruments, I had a lot of musician friends, and I was a fangirl of the (rock) musicians I liked. I was Into Music because it brought me joy, but that joy was mitigated by the fact that it was a very serious endeavor to be a music fan: you had to like the right music, for the right reasons, and your taste in music said something real and lasting and true about you. This idea — that fandom was a way of advertising your true self — is an entirely apolitical view of art: something about the music must speak to you, man, because it resonates with something deep within your very soul. That’s why you had to be a serious fan: if you weren’t, it meant you were influenced by crass things like marketing, and hype, and peer pressure, and that meant your very soul was empty.

So yeah, obviously, this all took place when I was a teenager and thus most susceptible to marketing, hype, and peer pressure, and also desperate to prove to myself and others that my lack of coolness by mainstream standards was secretly the biggest sign of coolness by other, better standards. It was an atrocious lapse of judgment to admit to liking major pop artists, among my crowd of music dorks; you may as well wear a t-shirt that said “I sold my soul” (when, as we all know, a proper t-shirt says “Corporate magazines still suck”).

I’ve been thinking about this dynamic recently for two reasons: 1) Silvana’s amazingly great Tiger Beatdown post on Dude Music, and 2) Lady Gaga. I should probably write about Silvana’s post, since that would be the more intellectual way to go — she writes wonderfully about the way that certain music fans “just happen to like” only music by white dudes, which was (I realized much later) the unwritten rule of the above crowd. A band could get as hugely popular as could be and not ruin your cred, as long as it was fronted by alienated white dudes, but an even slightly popular artist who “just happened” to be a woman or a POC or, god help her, a WOC was beyond the pale. So to speak.

Instead, I’m going to talk about Lady Gaga. Because, seriously, look at this fucking woman:

She is a national treasure. Not since Madonna and Prince has a pop star embraced the total fucking weirdness you can bring to superstardom, the way you can take your artistry seriously while not taking capital-A Art seriously. Lady Gaga writes catchy pop tunes, and she turns her fame into a kind of nonstop performance art. Remember when rockers used to be afraid of selling out? (We fans used to argue about it endlessly, in the Nirvana days.) Gaga has taken selling out to the maximum level: she says, yeah, I’ll put your cell phone in my video, along with the queerest thing you’ve ever seen on MTV. She knows that being a thin, nearly naked blonde is the quickest path to stardom, so she dances in bikinis but then has you watch her make out with the butchest lady in the prison yard.

I find this positively inspiring. In my late twenties, I came to a startling realization: I like pop music. Not all of it! But not none of it, either. Most of my favorite artists still probably fall under the indie rock category, if you are into categorizing that sort of thing (I am not, anymore). But when I stopped playing music myself, and stopped hanging out with musicians, and stopped caring about what cool boys and their cool girlfriends thought of my taste in music, I found that I liked a lot more pop music than I’d realized. In fact, in general, I liked a lot more art just because it made me feel good, and not because it spoke to my very soul. I didn’t care about being a proper fan because I didn’t have time to, but the result was that I no longer felt that fandom was part of my identity, and I no longer judged other people by their iPods, either.

It’s not that music doesn’t move me anymore — it does — or that I don’t go gaga (forgive me) over new artists occasionally — I do. It’s just not identity-constitutive anymore. Some music delights me, and other music does not. The aspects of music culture that I thought were important seem not only irrelevant but illusory: I don’t understand them anymore. Why did we all think it was so important not to get caught humming Shakira in the shower? Why did we think that some bands — some products — were somehow unmarketed when all other bands were total sellouts and industry fakes? Why did what t-shirt you wore seem so telling of your character?

Part of it is the tribalism of the young, no doubt. But much of it was a cultural elitism that is still perpetuated by the type of rock industry dudes Silvana writes of in her post. I knew several girls who were in bands back in my music days, but I didn’t know any all-girl bands. It wouldn’t have made sense to anyone, including me. Pop music is for dumb screaming girls or slutty dancing girls. Serious rock music is for serious dudes and their girlfriends who keep their mouths shut, who could sing sometimes maybe.

It’s such a relief not to be inundated by that pernicious bullshit anymore. Let’s make a sandwich instead.

Not for serious dudes

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2 Responses to “Lady Gaga cures what ails me”

  1. Jess May 5, 2010 at 9:55 pm #

    I think the way the young deal with music genres is simultaneously about tribalism and differentiation, if that makes sense. Like, it’s really important that you listen to music that represents who you are AND decry or disdain music that represents who you aren’t. Hence why alterna-puppies are always drawing lines about what’s acceptably and unacceptably poppy, and why baby goths are very focused on what’s goth and what’s industrial and what’s EBM and so forth, and why kids these days have more genres to their music than I can rightly keep straight. It’s the same with fashion. You’re both declaring your allegiance and differentiating yourself from the Other. Which explains both why the youngsters are so obsessed with it, and why people our age cannot be bothered.

  2. Laura May 6, 2010 at 9:41 am #

    You nailed it, yes — at that age, who you *are* is completely dependent on who you *aren’t.* To use a minor example, as a grownup now, I wear makeup sometimes and don’t at other times. But as a teenager, I did not wear makeup (except maybe some mascara and lipgloss for prom?) because I was, definitively, not a Girl Who Wears Makeup. Music worked the same way: either you listened to Radiohead *or* you listened to, I don’t know, the Spice Girls, but there was no way in hell you were allowed to admit to both, no matter what camp you were in.

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