artistic unknowns by Chris Matarazzomusic

The sheepdog’s eyes: Lady Gaga’s empty theatrics

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If it weren’t for Lady Gaga, many of the points I have tried to make in this column would have been so hard to illustrate. She consistently delivers. She constantly examplifies the things that, in my opinion, are the unnecessary and even damaging trappings of art, from the element that I have called “artistic weirdness” to plain-old insincerity. At the recent MTV video awards, dressed up and acting like a dude, as “Jo Calderone,” Gaga physically illustrated the pitfalls of insincerity in art — the problems that are caused when “show” overshadows art.

This is not about her music. She is a half-decent pop artist. She’s no Paul McCartney; she’s not even Madonna, though she clearly wishes she were. She’s just “okay”.  But even if her work were great — if she were, say, a painter of the quality of Monet —  it would be as if she chose to display her canvases in a room with a fog machine, lasers and strobes. Too much fur around the sheepdog’s eyes, if you ask me.

I have said before that I think sincerity is the most important thing in art. (Many have read that as “the only” important thing in art, which, of course, is ridiculous.) Some disagree with me on this, though, honestly, I can’t, for the life of me, think why.

On the radio this morning, all of the lines of art and reality criss-crossed when I heard her, as Jo Calderone, reading a tribute to Britney Spears. So what we had was Lady Gaga pretending to be someone else (as if “Lady Gaga” is who she really is, in the first place) reading a “heartfelt” tribute to Britney Spears. If that isn’t warped, I don’t know what is.

Did she mean it? (Does she ever mean it?)

If an actor is playing a role, he should become the role. If an actor is playing Iago, he shouldn’t do it with a voice like Mickey Mouse. If an actor is telling his mom he loves her, he shouldn’t do it as Iago. (Or Hamlet, for that matter, but that gets even more confusing.)

Gaga took the short speech that was, probably, written for her and destroyed its impact by speaking from the mouth of a half-baked character she created who just had to mention that “he” used to touch himself while looking at Spears’s posters. Very sweet. (One radio caller said she looked and sounded like she was auditioning for a bad community theater production of Grease.) If the speech was a spotlight meant to show the video and pop music community’s respect for Spears’s achievements, it was dimmed by Gaga’s flamboyant, self-serving, second-rate theatricality.

I can’t think of a better illustration of the damage that ego, premeditated weirdness and insincerity can do to the impact of either artistic communication or of a simple message; in this case, a tribute to a fellow pop musician.

In the speech, delivered by the Jo Calderone character, Gaga even tried to take the power from people, like myself, who are critical of her facades. The Calderone character criticizes Gaga and tells us that Gaga said, to “him,” at one point: “I’m not real; I’m theatrical.”

Therein lies the problem. Theater is artifice meant to open the curtain, literally and figuratively, on reality. It shows us, in some way, what lives inside all humans. Theater is not layer upon layer of artifice meant to put distance between the audience and the human experience; it is the use of artifice to pull us in — make us lean forward and peer through the absent fourth wall.

Elton John is Elton John, whether he is in Armani or in Donald Duck suit. But Elton never needed the crazy outfits. Even he came to realize that. And one feels ever so much closer to the heart of a skinny kid in glasses, jeans and a T-shirt sitting at a piano playing “Your Song” than one does to a guy dressed up as Marie Antoinette, singing the same song.

At least, I think so.

At any rate, a personal request: If you ever tell me you like my work or if you ever want to spin me a heart-rending yarn of love and betrayal, I’d rather you not do it dressed as a cheeseburger. Just a personal preference.

Chris Matarazzo is a writer, composer, musician and teacher of literature and writing on the college and high school levels. His music can be heard on his recent release, Hats and Rabbits, which is currently available. Chris is also the composer of the score to the off-beat independent film Surrender Dorothy and he performs in the Philadelphia area with the King Richard Band. He's also a relatively prolific novelist, even if no one seems to care yet. His blog, also called Hats and Rabbits, is nice, too, if you get a chance...
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5 Responses to “The sheepdog’s eyes: Lady Gaga’s empty theatrics”

  1. Chris, very good post … it reminded me of a shorter observation often used out here … “more sizzle than steak.”

    Well, this IS Texas, after all :-)

  2. Thanks, Jeff. I think I will have to bring “more sizzle than steak” to New Jersey. I like it!

  3. A lot of people seem to be disturbed by Lady Gaga.

  4. Lunamoth, apropos of the Kris Kristofferson thread: I just secured a press pass to the Kristofferson/Merle Haggard show next week here in Portland. I may have to write a blog post about the experience…

  5. I’m so jealous… (:
    Watch out for hand signals

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