Wednesday, 15 September 2010


"In her line of business, Lady Gaga has a hard time being 'over the top', and wearing a dress made from cuts of dead cows is offensive enough to elicit comment, but someone should whisper in her ear that more people are upset by butchery than are impressed by it – and that means a lot of young people will not be buying her records if she keeps it up," - Ingrid Newkirk, PETA

I read that yesterday and laughed my arse off.  It's one of the most spectacular examples of missing the point that I have ever read.  Firstly, Lady Gaga doesn't strike me as someone who has a hard time being "over the top".  She doesn't even strike me as someone who is trying particularly hard to be "over the top", but rather as a very young artist who, by virtue of being actually rather good, has got a lot of exposure and is in the enviable position of being able to express herself however she wants.  Secondly, I don't think the meat dress elicited comment because most people found it offensive - the majority of people I spoke to about it actually thought it was kind of funny.  Between 4 and 10% of people in the developed world consider themselves to be Vegetarian.  The vast majority of the rest of us would probably find little to regard as offensive in that dress.  Thirdly, and on a related note, what is the meaning of the phrase " more people are upset by butchery than impressed by it"?  That's clearly nonsense.  Most people choose not to think about the process of butchering animals, but they are more than happy to consume the results of it as long as it comes packaged and made to look pretty.  Rather like Lady Gaga's dress was.

So, yeah, Ingrid Newkirk, as in most things, you are completely, spectacularly, ignorantly wrong.  And I won't waste any more time on you.  Here's what I thought.

It was a Tour de Force.  It worked on so many levels.  It worked as a brilliant subversion of the idea of the red carpet dress - beautifully tailored like the finest couture pieces, but by far the most arresting and unsettling thing seen at that event.  It worked as a kind of comment on the objectification of women (and, indeed, men) as pieces of meat (it was a clumsy comment on all that, but sometimes clumsy is just what's needed for mass consumption).  It worked as a statement on the whole idea of fashion itself.  Oscar Wilde described fashion as "a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to change it every six months."  Fashion, by its very nature, is fleeting and impermanent, but its been cheapened in recent years by being constantly regurgitated.  Over and over again.  Gagas dress could never appear in any thrift shops - it would probably start stinking badly the day after she wore it.  It's a one off event.  And I genuinely believe that that meaning was intended.

Thing is, you can say what you like about Lady Gaga, but if you just say to me "she's rubbish" without being able to qualify that, then I will dismiss you out of hand.  I was walking home today, thinking about what I was going to say in this blog, and comparing her in my head to all the other prominent young female artists that are around today.  She stacks up well.

I'm not sure where Lady Gaga fits - but I do know that my 8 year old niece likes her easily as much as I do.  And my 65 year old mother likes her as much as my 19 year old nephew does.  There are not many artists these days who can achieve that.  And I also know that I would take her over Florence and The Machine (yawn), Marina and The Diamonds (Aaaaargh), or Paloma Faith (meh) anyday.  And I would much rather listen to her than Delphic, Mumford and Sons, or any other generic indie and/or "folk" band that seem to be chart bothering these days.  She has depth.  There are genuinely interesting concepts in her songs.  There's something surprising in all of them.  But they are also unashamedly fun.  The guardians of all things that are artistically superior tend not to like things that are unashamedly fun.

So there you are - Lady Gaga fits in the panoply of music just fine as far as I'm concerned.  True, she hasn't written a song as wonderful as Bachelorette (yet), but Poker Face, Bad Romance, Speechless, Telephone, The Fame and Paparazzi are all infinitely better songs than, for example, Big Time Sensuality.  I leave you with that comparison to illustrate why this, rather than Ingrid Newkirk's, is my quote of the day:

"If you think Bjork is better than Lady Gaga, you haven't been keeping up!"