I am very interested in fame.
Not so much for myself, although I do fantasize several times a week about being on Dancing with the Stars, but certainly as a concept and one that affects all of our lives regardless of what we think our level of buy-in to mainstream culture is.
Without a doubt one of the most interesting commentators on the subject of fame these days is Lady Gaga, not least because she has always made it explicit that she IS interested in commenting on fame through her image and music. (Some of my other favorite mega-famous women, like Katy Perry and Rihanna, are less obvious about it.)
Although in this day and age, it seems that everything is a comment on itself. I think that's why I appreciate when it's made explicit, because there's got to be a straight line to something in order for me to feel motivated to navigate the maze of meta-commentary.
There was a time (roughly 2009) when Lady Gaga was mega-famous the first time around and it was au courant to discuss which was your favorite Lady Gaga song. (Either it was au courant or I have some very indulgent friends. Or both.) Sometimes I would say "Alejandro" (which IS a really good song) but in my heart of hearts I always felt that this song was the alpha and omega of Lady Gaga, the one that would endure to show people what she was all about.
It's still too soon to make that call but at least in my opinion, this song holds up.
The song: Lady Gaga, "Paparazzi"; 2008
First off, ooh this song is still REALLY catchy is it not?
Secondly: "Paparazzi" links romantic obsession to cultural obsession by blurring the lines in the figure of the amateur paparazzo/fan who only knows she wants to possess, somehow, the object of her attention. It doesn't seem to really matter how. In this song, the song itself, Gaga plays the obsessor. In her life at the time, she was the obsess-ee.
Which is I find her latest single such an interesting follow-up to "Paparazzi".
The song: Lady Gaga ft. R Kelly, "Do What U Want"; 2013
Like "Paparazzi", this song compares the public (fame) with the private (sex). As such, like "Paparazzi", it works both as a pop song and a statement, depending on how deep you're in the mood to think when you hear it.
She pushed this song to greater heights in three ways:
- By collaborating with R Kelly, an artist whose image currently epitomizes (fairly or not) the washed-up. This is why I really believe and respect him when he says "we're laying the cut like we don't give a fuck", because I think not-giving-a-fuck is precisely what R Kelly needs to do right now. That's the only way back.
- By referencing Marilyn Monroe, the ultimate touchstone of poisoned fame. (For more on that, see this somewhat crazy post I wrote forever ago about Marilyn, Rihanna, Tupac, Kanye, and "Candle in the Wind".)
- By, in the opening lines, providing at least the illusion of a glimpse into her personal life. Lady Gaga has always been, for better or worse, a highly constructed celebrity. What she says about herself rarely has the ring of truth. But Lady Gaga has always been out to shock, and to engage in meta-commentary, and to provoke conversation. I believe she's reached a point of fame -- and what's more, that the culture has shifted such between 2009 and 2013 -- that the most shocking and provocative and au courant possible move to make is. . .simple honesty.
To me this song feels like mega-hit. I'm interested to see if it is.
(Writing this post reminded me of a relatively similar, although less cultural and more personal, entry about Eminem's songs "Lose Yourself" and "Till I Collapse". Read it here if you like.)