Wrong In All The Right Ways: Should We Singalong To Pop Music’s Current ‘Weirdness’?

27 May

From Left: The cast of Glee celebrate their insecurities; Lady Gaga in a comparatively normal outfit.

In an endearing (but nonetheless undeniably commercial) advertisement for Google Chrome, Lady Gaga tweets to her little monsters: ‘This is our moment.’ And it sure seems she’s right. For anyone who doesn’t know what a trending topic is or doesn’t have a YouTube account, the term ‘little monster’ is a name attributed to a fan of Lady Gaga (herself being the ‘mother monster’). Is it a confirmation of their alternative group mentality in the face of adversity, or a brilliant marketing-ploy? Perhaps it’s a little of both. Either way, people buy it. Lady Gaga has 10 million followers on Twitter and was recently revealed as Forbes’ most influential woman. I should say now that I don’t like her music at all, Poker Face in particular left me cold.  But what does interest me is the general shift in pop music to celebrating the different, and not forcing its listeners into recognisable public form. I’m aware that Lady Gaga, as The Awl noted, has not invented every contemporary modern pop music factor. Weirdness itself is not an invention of the last two years. The existence of artists like David Bowie would deconstruct any such misconceptions. Even Gaga’s contemporaries are keen to embrace the weirder school cliques. To her ‘nitty gritty dirty little freaks,’ Pink sings ‘raise your glass if you are wrong, in all the right ways.’ But there can be no doubting that Lady Gaga well and truly shoves weird into the all-singing, all-dancing spotlight. In a meat dress. And a lobster hat. But what does this mean for pop music, and is it something we should regard with a cynical eye or truly ‘raise a glass to,’ as Pink suggests?

First, let’s start with a video history of Lady Gaga. Here’s the video for her first big hit, Just Dance. Okay, you’d be forgiven for taking a second glance at her on a street but she’s hardly Bellatrix-level insanity just yet. Platinum extensions? Check. Over-sized sunglasses? Check. Shoulder Pads? Check. So far, so emerging, ‘I promise I’m not just another Pixie Lott,’ popstar. Compare that to her headline grabbing Telephone. Gone are the extensions, in are the rusty Diet Coke cans. Gone is the typical, voluptuous popstar body, in is a worryingly skeletal frame. Gone are clothes, in is police tape. Lady Gaga has definitely amped up the weird factor to great success. Is this due to appreciative fans, who in a minority look up to, and embrace Lady Gaga as an alternative icon? Or is it simply the sign of a popstar perfectly understanding her niche and flogging it until clothes made out of fabric just won’t do. Perhaps, it doesn’t really matter. And whilst I wholeheartedly applaud her aims (whether they are driven by an alternative motive or not), I don’t think it’s right to hearld her as an icon just yet. This may anger Lady Gaga fans but I see little difference between Ke$ha and Lady Gaga (although I wouldn’t be surprised if the two popstars’ fans interlap). Both started off with unforgivably ‘Let’s party hard tunes,’ (Just Dance, Tik Tok) and both have shifted to creating songs that celebrate quirks. Lady Gaga with Born This Way and Ke$ha with We R Who We R. Yes, Lady Gaga may have gone about it in a slightly more avant-garde, grammatically correct (would vowels really hurt you that much Ke$ha?) way with less glitter but they are indistinguisable with their selling factors. However, as I’m sure Ke$ha is trying to work out, Lady Gaga garners more attention.

Spot the difference: From run of the mill to rather more ridiculous.

What I can thank Lady Gaga for is helping to turn pop music into something for young people to look up to. Too often pop music is written off by those too narrow minded to see its true benefits. Namely, its power to express a message in a big, big way. She hasn’t singlehandedly achieved this but through her Kermit the frog outfit and bubble-dresses, she has managed to thrust it into everyone’s faces. Like anything pop cultural in 2011, Glee is another great example. As a viewer of the show, I will admit to its flaws (misjudged covers and baffling story lines). However, as a bastion for highlighting school minorities; gay, lesbian, overweight and disabled students, it is admirable. It celebrates these groups, understands the difficulties but always says that it’s OK to be different. Recently, they featured a Gaga-centric episode with a finale where they sang in shirts highlighting their insecurities. As we saw shirts with slogans from ‘Likes Boys’ to ‘Nose’ (the character was aware of her larger-than-average nose) you couldn’t help but feeling that pop music is a pretty powerful cannon. My favourite part? That one of the students, a lesbian with a misspelled ‘Lebanese’ shirt, sat in the audience as she didn’t feel ready to come out. In a show of ridiculous twists and turn, this was wonderfully realistic. We’ve come a long way as a society but there’s an equally long way still to go and her on stage absence highlighted how a happy ending still hasn’t been reached.

Sitting this one out: Not everyone feels ready to accept Lady Gaga's sentiments.

As much as Lady Gaga can help minorities to feel comfortable, she’s not the ultimate solution and I’d be foolish to think that pop music is going to provide an answer. There are huge limitations to such a wide-reaching medium. It can often be broad-brushed and I wonder how many people, whether gay, lesbian or any other minority feel comfortable being labelled as a ‘little monster.’ Indeed  I think that Lady Gaga‘s greatest flaw is that she seems to think that ‘being yourself,’ involves being egregiously extroverted. I’m sure that there are many amongst the minorities that she heralds who do not have an urge to express themselves by writhing about a stage, covered in goo or fake blood. If Lady Gaga truly wants to break down divisions in schools and society, and she has an opportunity to make a significant dent, she needs to create a more nuanced persona and tone down the extent of her craziness. That may sound contradictory but it’s the view of someone who can recognise her potential, love her motives but finds her exploits alienating. At least drop the meat-dresses.

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6 Responses to “Wrong In All The Right Ways: Should We Singalong To Pop Music’s Current ‘Weirdness’?”

  1. LIZ May 30, 2011 at 1:26 pm #

    Agree with the sentiments – both GaGa and Glee encourage kids to express their individuality – as a fan of My Chemical Romance I would totally support this approach. The media wants kids to look the same, sound the same and behave the same. Both public and state schools also encourage this in teens by enforcing uniform and other regulations. At the same time they say they “encourage” children to develop as independent individuals. Can’t have it both ways

    So music gives our kids the chance to be different, whether by dressing like their favourite artist or simply by listening to the music. On line they can become part of worldwide families of those with similar feelings.

    Just temper their adulation with common sense and all will be well!

    • Henry Wong May 31, 2011 at 10:03 am #

      Thanks for commenting! I totally agree with music giving kids chances to be different, while other media contributes, I think that music is the most influential. Of course, I didn’t mention that pop music, whilst being able to spread a hugely positive message, can also contribute to traditional ideas of misogyny and homophobia. I wouldn’t want to blame any particular genre but the ubiquitous popularity of Eminem, whose homophobic lyrics haven’t really stopped, continues to shock and worry me. It does make you wonder about a media that is so ready to censor Rihanna for being overtly sexual but not a rapper for being obviously homophobic.

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