There's one for every generation: the shock rocker. For those of us who grew up in the '90s, it was Marilyn Manson. For our parents, it was Alice Cooper. For the current crop of young, impressionable minds, it's, uh, Lady Gaga, apparently. As reported (and poorly sourced) by notorious U.K. gossip rag The Sun, the queen of creepy outfits is apparently considering using dead bodies as stage props on her current Monster Ball Tour.
Yeah, you heard that right. Dead bodies. But let's add a couple of qualifiers to that statement: One, it's The Sun, so to be fair, it might be totally false. Two, said dead bodies, assuming (as we're somewhat irresponsibly going to) that it's true, will be the result of a collaboration between the Lady and Gunther Von Hagens, who is not a mad scientist, as you might assume from the name, but rather the guy who came up with Body Worlds, that Museum of Natural History exhibition with the plastic-injected dead folks.
What's kind of disturbing about all this is not necessarily that people who presumably dedicated their remains to "science" may end up unwitting participants in what amounts to Sam Ramie's nightmare interpretation of Fly Girls--although that's pretty disturbing. The really disturbing thing about all this is Lady Gaga's increasingly pathological need for attention and the damage it will do to her legacy.
But wait--isn't a discussion of Gaga's legacy a little premature? Nay. In a promotional climate like the music industry today, where we enjoy an unprecedented amount of access to an enormous amount of material, Lady Gaga's level of exposure is an anomaly. Think about it: Who was the last musician to garner the amount of both fan adulation and critical attention Lady Gaga does? Britney Spears? No way. We loved to hate her, but we didn't love her. Even the critics like Lady Gaga--at least a little. Justin Timberlake? Maybe, but not to the same extent. Probably it was Madonna, and that was at the height of her career 20 years ago.
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Like Madonna, Lady Gaga formulates her appeal with a mixture of dance tunes and spectacle. And Madonna was no stranger to controversy: There were the early-career nude photos, the giant conehead breasts, and songs like "Like a Virgin" had the Moral Majority hopping mad. Spectacle is okay--because what we like about Madonna is not the French kiss with whatever tartlet is making it onto VMA right now (it's a little desperate, but we'll forgive it), but her tunes, which, if not exactly brimming with substance, are still classic.
Gaga's got the same thing going on right now. She's got solid tunes that traffic in the kind of electronica-heavy production that will later come to define what we're listening to in this early half of the '10s, and her image, if creepy, is still pretty compelling. But there's a critical mass to spectacle: At some point you cross the line into ridiculous territory either personally, like Lindsay Lohan (and Gaga's getting close; Jerry Seinfeld recently called her "a jerk" for showing up to a Mets game in a bikini and flipping the bird at the team), or professionally, like Marilyn Manson. And then, whether sooner or later, you become just sad.
Manson, of course, calibrated his career on shockery. Gaga's trajectory is more similar to that of Alice Cooper, who started out a normal, credible musician and then just kind of fell into the doom-vaudeville theater that came to define him as a performer. That's all well and good, and it can generate record sales for a while. But eventually, the shock wears off and it becomes lame.
Do you listen to Cooper or Manson? Yeah, neither do we--and it's not necessarily because they weren't good in their way; it's because they're, well, they're embarrassing. And the thing is, Lady Gaga doesn't even need it. She's at the top of her game right now, and she can be the absolute center of attention in the industry--let's face it: she is--without showing up to a Mets game in a bikini or using dead people as backup dancers. So cut the shit, Lady Gaga. We like you already. Don't make us have to hide your records ten years from now.