Uncovering Lady Gaga

Curator's Note

One might be right in thinking that no modern celebrity has disrupted the hierarchy of respectability quite like Lady Gaga. If D-listers are E! and Bravo stars and A-listers are people like Tom Hanks with prestige-awards and brimming charismas, then Gaga disrupts such classical celebrity hierarchies entirely. The peaks of her career have harnessed visual potency and viral mass media in ways that show her firmly within and above the fray of scandal-ridden celebrity culture. Others might not even begrudge her such credit. Perhaps, this is because her career’s dialectic has oft-depended on toggling between provocateur and postmodern auteur. For some, Gaga is pop queen or self-schilling D-lister but hardly ever both. Her oeuvre—if we so dare call it—becomes tasked with answering questions of originality and authenticity from disinterested and fascinated publics seeking resolution of her disparate parts. Is this woman who she claims she is, as an artist, as a person, or a woman at all?

Gaga’s celebrity resists neat classifications and thereby disrupts classical celebrity hierarchies.In her early days, public appearances appeared as though they were designed to contest the authenticity of Gaga as eccentric. Her celebrity interviews featured constant flashes of a petite teacup purposed as a prop of eccentricity. Yet, this discourse, both forwarded by her and public media, distracts from potentially more productive inquiry within her work. She is neither merely the commercial product nor the Warhol virtuoso promised by her initial rise. A certain D-list, self-schillingness is obvious with the existence of her public escapades, yet that she readily performs ‘conventions’ of the D-list celebrity appears part of her pop-art project. And however wittingly, Gaga as celebrity becomes a meditation on the very performance of celebrity itself. Her past few albums have showcased modern celebrity’s debts to the mythic tradition. In Born This Way, she highlighted the divinity made out of celebrity, and in ARTPOP she showed celebrity caving underneath the weight of its own fame, however self-aware the album ultimately was. Long ago, Gaga, herself, insisted she knew the secret to the art of fame. The backlash over 2013’s release ARTPOP shows her celebrity fueled by her own perceived demise—another scandal in the fame machine. Even in slight infamy, Gaga is here to stay. The pop-machine is a church of desire and outrage, and few play one of its patron saints better than Gaga.

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