Please Tell Me I'm Wrong And That People Will Get The Satire

I keep hearing about Lady Gaga all the time and even reading articles about her in the New Yorker, like the one about the hat that superstar architect Frank Gehry designed for her. But I'd never heard any of her songs till this morning in the car when I happened to have the radio tuned to some crap mainstream station. timecode 1:51I knew it was her, just guessing based on the weirdness of it and the fact that part of the odd gobbledegook chorus was a repeated "ga-ga-oh-la-la" or something.  I was so struck by the track that when I got home I looked her up on youtube and found the music video. It was called "Bad Romance" and when I watched it I was so disturbed that I literally cried. I don't mean cry as some kind of metaphor for frustration or anger or whatever. I mean I actually was so sad and upset that I started to break down and weep.

Now before I explain why let me make clear that I think the song, musically, is something I kind of like and is enormously catchy, in a booty-beat clubmix kinda way, and her voice and the production and everything is awesome, as well as calculated to be a huge megahit. And I guess it is.  And amazingly, to me, she sounds like a cross between Siouxsie Sioux and Donna Summer with a C&C Music Factory backdrop.  It's disco, but gothic, and there's some french words, there's soaring refrains and pulsing synths. It's like this weird arty eurotrash pop masterpiece and I couldn't get it out of my head.

Nevertheless, the lyrics and the video are problematic. While obviously very clever and packed with ambiguity and satire and parody, I think overall it projects the good ol' postmodern depthless surface and a sense of despair - life in a sick, decadent hellworld, crossed with an atmosphere of meaningless dada fashionworld excess. What's more, I don't believe that most of the target audience will get that there's any smart commentary that may be intended in it.

There's a lot to deconstruct in the video, but basically, just to run it down for you, as you can see by watching it yourself and paying the least bit of attention:  It all takes place in a sort of antiseptic sterile white environment, like a space station or some underground bunker after armageddon.  We see Lady Gaga forced by a couple other women to drink something (and it is right before that moment, at timecode 1:51 in the video, where the look on her face is what first got me starting to choke up. This unambiguous look of helpless fear makes me think of that scene in "Thelma and Louise" when Louise says to the man who just tried to rape her friend, "When a woman's crying like that, she ain't having any fun."). Then she has to dance in front of a bunch of very macho thuggish men who wear a variety of ridiculous face adornments. We see a glimpse of some kind of computer terminals showing prices for her. The men are apparently bidding on her. We see the men drinking stylish Ukrainian vodka or something. We see Gaga in a variety of avant garde garments, and finally she approaches the winner of the auction and somehow sets him on fire in his bed. At the end, comically, she lies in the bed next to his charred remains, sparks spitting from her tits. She evidently immolated him with her breasts.

There's a variety of commentary out there about the video (some nutty occultist blogger even decodes the whole thing as a set of mystical/spiritualist symbols) and I realize that I'm now a couple months late to the game. Oh well. Anyway, on the youtube page itself thousands of people adore it, though some think it's "scary." Some slightly more thoughtful feminist (for some definition of feminist) bloggers also dig it and think it's a triumphant feminist statement because LadyG wins in the end, and is so scary yet so hot. Ok. I also found a "behind the scenes" clip explaining that the video is supposed to be set in a "futuristic Russian bathhouse with Russian mobsters." Someone on Twitter also claimed it was intended to be commentary on the Russian white slave trade. Maybe so. If so, that's admirable.

Let's keep delving and look briefly at some of the core lyrics of
the song. The chorus includes: "I want your love and all your lover’s
revenge/You and me could write a bad romance." The verses have LG
asserting various other things she wants, like "I want your drama, The
touch of your hand/I want your leather studded kiss in the sand/....I
want your horror, I want your design/‘Cuz you’re a criminal/As long as
you’re mine...I want your psycho, Your vertigo shtick/Want you in my
rear window, Baby you’re sick." She also asserts that she doesn't "wanna be friends" (which seems to be a common feeling these days).

Clearly there's a lot here and, as
with most songs that end up getting videos made for them, there's not a
lot in the lyrics to clearly match the supposed point of the video, and
enough to muddle the message of either (I actually had a lot fewer problems with the song before I saw the video).  But what do these words mean?
Starting at the end of the above excerpts, obviously the Lady is a
Hitchcock fan, and is having fun with those allusions, but the gist is
that LG is talking about a really negative situation. She's talking
about being with a scary horrible man, but wanting it anyway. She
can't get out, she's trapped, "caught in a bad romance." And in a way,
the man is caught as well - he's a criminal as long as he's with her.
He can't avoid being abusive to her as long as he's with her. She's "a
freak bitch, baby." (interestingly, some lyrics sites say that she's
saying "free bitch" - which is it? or is it one one time and one the
other? It's hard for these ears to tell, but does it matter? it's all
postmodern irony/sarcasm or not anyway)

If Bad Romance is a commentary, it's a very cluttered, mixed one.  One
friend I talked to suggested the video was possibly even an intentional joke
being played on fans who would never get it -  either way, most
mainstream people won't understand, they'll just think, once again,
reinforced by all the other videos and movies and pop culture, that,
oh, yeah, women are objects to be bought and sold, and they want to be
mistreated, they want "disease" and ugliness and badness from men. And men
should sit and stare at the women like commodities and look cool and drink vodka and pay for some
entertainment.  And finally, that the only way out of this trap is to meet the
oppression with violence after first pretending to play the game.

Overall, even if the Lady had the best of intentions and "Bad Romance" is really a sophisticated rejection of patriarchy and traditional relationships and domestic violence and the sex trade and every other evil, it likely won't be received as such by many.  I'm reminded of an interview I read many years ago with the Beastie Boys where they were talking about the time right after releasing their first album. Young guys would come up to them after shows and say stuff like "yo, you dudes are so cool, singing about doing PCP and beating up chicks, that is so cool! I wanna be just like that!" And the Bboys realized, oh my god, these guys don't get that we were joking. We better be more careful about our messages from now on. And they went on to become, indeed, very responsible and very politically engaged artists. That said to me (and other experiences confirm it) that satire and parody often don't work when we're talking about mass culture and the intelligence level of most americans, especially when it comes to issues of gender, race, and oppression.  It said to me that artists and popstars shouldn't be casual about what they say.

That said, I think Lady Gaga is probably really really smart and will end up being the new Madonna, a super mega star who controls her own little media empire and gets very rich, if she plays her cards right. But just as Madonna did, she will probably pull her punches and dilute the feminist messages to some degree at least, and choose slightly less threatening career moves in order to sell more records and not suffer cultural backlash. It will be interesting to see.

However, I am willing to be convinced otherwise on any of this. Are the 14-25 year-olds who her music is targeted at smarter than I think?  Will they "get it" as a clever, intellectual feminist jab at masculinity?  That would be nice. Convince me.

I agree with your analysis.

I agree with your analysis. As you suggest I think very few fans of this music will understand the embedded commentary, even though it may seem fairly obvious to anyone accustomed to critiquing media.

I wonder, though, if putting commentary in such entertainment is just a way to appease our brighter sides while still appealing to our baser drives.

Steev, I enjoyed reading

Steev, I enjoyed reading your analysis of Lady GaGa's song & accompanying video. Annie Heckman's commentary about this is astute and articulate:

The kids won't get it until

The kids won't get it until they learn about the feminist concepts and about the white slave trade and about all the other things you have to know to understand all the things you write about. In a way, you can't really blame the target audience for lacking the background unless you consider that the real target audience isn't the 14-25 year olds. However, I doubt Lady Gaga produces every last detail of her work. It's muddled because a lot of hands were on the steering wheel. As such, there probably are lots of audiences and different messages (or non-messages) for each.

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