Perfect Sound Forever


BY Tre McNeil
(October 2010)

Artistic styles tend to go in cycles, being reinvented, rediscovered, homaged and parodied, never more than now in the Post-Modern context. One of the main ways this is done is through what English-scholars, and other such tweedy types, refer to as pastiche. An unironic reinvention of an established style or mode, altering the context for a contemporary audience while keeping the essence of the thing intact. This is what happened when George Lucas took the Space Operas he grew up with in the 1950's and turned them into the extended Vietnam metaphor known as Star Wars.

This sort of re-construction is also common in the music world. Punk to parlor, swing to salsa, every musical genre goes thorough some sort of resurgence or reinvention at one time or another. Most of the time, this is done unknowingly, making the resulting art a form of pastiche. Sometimes, the re-texting is done intentionally with an ironic drive behind it, pushing such instances over the line from pastiche into parody.

The most recent example of this condition is the beauteous and baffling media-creature going by the name Lady Gaga. Born Stefani Germanotta, much of the fervor around Lady Gaga has less to do with her odd behavior or quirky dress sense than her musical ability (or lack there of) and if the latter accounts for the former. Does creativity account for eccentricity? Is Germanotta nothing more than a latter-day Club Kid? Is there nothing behind that extravagant exterior but a Warholian craving for Super-Stardom?

The first question has been posed since Mozart's time and cannot be properly tackled here. The latter two are matters of opinion and context. While her output seems somewhat slight compared to weightier fare, it is my contention, after a close listen to her second studio-album, Fame Monster, there are hints that Germanotta has some cards she is not showing. The melodic elements in many of her songs resemble a slightly more frantic version of those used by Electro-Pop pioneers the Pet Shop Boys. Set against this are lyrics which often belie the bouncy, dance-hall back-drop and have more in common with the moody, ethereal, dark-as-a-killer's-heart stylings of Depeche Mode. Nowhere is this more evident than in the virally popular, and much-mocked, single "Bad Romance." The soundtrack, particularly the sung intro, sounds like Pet Shop Boys circa 1992 (See "Go West" for an example) and the chorus "I want your love and I want your revenge/You and me could write a bad romance," is classic Depeche Mode style angst, particularly in their later Ultra days.

As to the charge that Germanotta is but a vapid, neo-Club Kid out for fame-for-fame's-sake, Gemranotta does admit to being part of that cultural group. Being in her early-20's however, she is far too young to have been part of the original Club Kid scene of the late-1980's and Early-1990's. Her only exposure to that culture was through an at least once removed re-imagining, meaning that her interpretation of it can be seen, at best, as a faithful pastiche, though I would argue that it goes further.

Much of what are seen as Germanotta's most outrageous antics in the Lady Gaga persona are, in all likelihood, an elaborate, calculated parody- executed with Andy Kaufman-like brilliance and subtlety- of the worst follies and foibles of the Club Kid Milieu. Much like Ludacris has done with the posturing in Gangsta Rap posturing and Voltaire has done with the shoe-gazing 'woe is me!' elements of the Goth culture. Even the title of Fame Monster, is a reference to the fame for nothing mentality, starting with the Club Kids and end culminating with YouTube virals. It is also likely a reference to the case of Michael Alig. The subject of the film Party Monster, Alig made a name for himself as one of New York's premier promoters during the initial Club Kid Phenomenon, only to have it all come crashing down with the drug fuelled-murder of wannabe Club-Kid and low-level drug-dealer Angel Menendez. As when the death of Sid Vicious in 1979 killed first-generation punk and the tragedy at Altamont in 1969 brought and end to the Hippie dream, the Alig-Menendez case brought an abrupt and effective end to the original Club Kid scene.

Not given to letting the party die, the Club Kid spirit rose from the ashes in the mid-'90's in the form of Ravers and Candy Kids, who took the aesthetics of the original dance-hall culture and made it their own, recreating it in a lovingly-ironic way, having great affection for the original while also having a sense of humour and the benefit of hindsight. It is this sort of self-aware, somewhat cynical, but still affectionate reinvention from which Lady Gaga sprung.

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