Ideological Earworms

Apr 20 2011 @ 11:33am

Lady Gaga's new song declares she is in love with Judas (and has some identification with Mary Magdalen). The video is scheduled for release on Easter Sunday. This, predictably, has thrilled enriched empowered angered some professional money-grubbing two-old-white guys-with-a-fax-machine Catholics – especially (I hope you're sitting down) . John Marks contemplates the "the strange and hypnotic power of the pop superstar":

Their authority doesn’t come from scripture or votes or force of arms or money. It rises out of the way that their music envelops us, gets past our natural defenses, before we’ve had a chance to hear the argument it’s making. This is as true of Hank Williams, Sam Cooke, Patsy Cline, Bruce Springsteen, Prince, Madonna, and Kurt Cobain as it is of the latest diva.

I get the general point. The song, "Imagine", for example, has two equally strong effects on me. On the one hand, it makes me ill by its glib, utopian, cloying levels of smug. On the other, there are times when its sheer musical genius swamps my resisting frontal cortex. The combination of the two usually results in some kind of sputtering, angry, pffft.

But I am simply not going to discuss Lady Gaga in the context of Cline, Springsteen or Lennon. This latest "diva" is a costume in search of musical innovation. And what's dismaying about this latest stunt is not its bravery (ha!) or its wit (please) but its dumb derivative barrel-scraping predictability. Madonna was sometimes prey to this, but a song and video like "Like A Prayer" actually did assert a form of spirituality that challenged a church grown stale. It had its moments. Gaga is a pale, plagiarizing echo of this. There's a particularly irritating appropriation of gay culture for general consumption, perhaps guiltily over-compensated by Gaga's crashing every gay rights event known to man. Perhaps this happens with every civil rights movement. In the end, the outsiders raid the insiders and give it back to them at 0.99 cents on iTunes. And I sure wouldn't stop anyone on this well-trodden path.

But sometimes, it gags. I mean: "Born This Way" was daring – even moving – when sung by Valentino and Carl Bean in the 1970s. Gaga makes everything she touches profoundly, commercially safe.

And no, Ms Germanotta. Ciccone you ain't.