Today’s question: You know that one pop singer who is massively popular right now? She shot up in a sudden phenomenon and is now everywhere you look. Blonde, young, big nose, fucked up outfits? Once said that she has a little penis down there? What do you think of her? I have been gnawing on the question of how I feel about her for months. I have found myself spending sort of a lot of time researching the woman (a great justification for hours worth of music video watching) and talking about her more than I would really want to admit. Usually I find myself unable to come up with any solid conclusions and I have to just change the subject.

On that note, I have developed a system of categorization for music videos, which I enjoy applying as I wade through my research. I typically sort videos into three categories: GOOD, COOL, and forgettable. The list of videos that I think qualify as GOOD is very short. The list as I can remember it at the moment (in no particular ranking):

Going On Gnarls Barkley
Pass This On The Knife
Sentimental Journey Yuki (directed by Nagi Noda)
Boys Keep Swinging David Bowie
DVNO Justice

A video qualifies as good if it does something more than just make the singer/band seem appealing. For me it has to contain some kind of an idea, or a really strong feeling, or a challenge, something more than just images to go with the sound. The videos that I call good have each done a little something to change me. This category might more appropriately be titled “IMPORTANT.” It’s a lot easier for a video to be cool than to be good. Examples of COOL videos:

My Old Ways Dr. Dogg
I’m Not Your Toy La Roux
1,2,3,4 Feist
Shut Up and Let Me Go Ting Tings
Single Ladies Beyonce

Some videos are so cool they are almost good. I will admit it’s a slippery categorization. (Single Ladies could maybe bump into GOOD, just because of how many times I have watched it, and how many times I have wanted to watch it.) With a video that I find actually good, there is just something there. It’s not easy to put into words what the something is. I guess that’s why they invented the word “something.” I think that the adjective that I am looking for, at risk of using an unfashionable word, might be “meaningful.”


A complicating element in my attempt to determine my opinion of The Freaky Blonde Singer, is that I find myself frequently in the company of gay men, whose input I of course highly regard on most matters. I’m starting to wonder if gay men have any critical abilities when it comes to Lady Gaga. (ALERT!: 2020 Khaela has looked back at what I wrote here a decade ago about “gay men as a category” and let’s just say my understanding of gender and sexuality have gotten a lot more nuanced since I wrote this. Also, like, stereotypes of what a gay man might be into. But I’ll let it remain, with a dash of shame, because it’s who I was and what I thought then.) Each of my gay male friends whom I have asked about her has turned to me with the eyes of a hypnosis patient and blurted like a robot, “I LUUUUUUUUHHHHHHHVE HERRRRRR.” It’s not that I don’t respect their opinions, but I do think that she has some kind of special dog whistle that specially penetrates a broad range of gay male frequencies and forces their allegiance. Or maybe it’s a more overt strategy, like how in her ‘Bad Romance’ video she wobbles around a bath-house in a pair of absurd Alexander McQueen shoes singing, “Walk, Walk! Fashion! Fashion! Walk, Walk! Fashion! Fashion!” Add to that her heavy use of bondage imagery and her belting broadway voice and I guess the majority of gay men don’t really stand a chance.

The gays and I, however, are in complete agreement when it comes to, for example, Grace Jones. I think that she is the real thing, and they seem to agree. There were certainly a lot of them out at her concert last summer, at any rate. There is a video of Grace Jones singing, “Living My Life”, which looks like it was maybe a television appearance, but which makes an amazing music video. She sings, “You box me, you box me for living, you box me for living my life.” And later, “As hard as I can, as much as I can, as Black as I am, living my liiife.” It’s so intense. And the thing is, there is just so much something there with Grace Jones. My perspective on it is that she didn’t get the option of just passing along quietly in society; she was going to be viewed as a massive, dark, imposing person no matter what she did. It seems like she was offered the choice between being miserable and being fabulous. And to me she is a beacon of support for being whatever something you happen to be.

I have heard Lady Gaga talk along these lines in various interviews. For sure she is attempting to let her freak flag fly, and as a longtime citizen of freakland (or maybe the allied territory of spazville) I am happy to see someone attempting this. How is it that I could not be excited about a woman dancing around onstage in bloody undies at the Music Video Awards? I think my main reservation about Lady Gaga is that when I see her performances, I don’t get that feeling of inspiration that comes with seeing someone who doesn’t give a shit what anyone thinks about them. She seems like she cares too much and wants it too badly.* And no matter how wacky a dress you stick that in, it doesn’t end up making me feel very inspired. I actually feel more when I see someone like Beyonce just being her beautiful good-girl normal self. She at least knows what she has to give and really knows how to give it.


It seems to me that Lady Gaga is usually doing more taking than giving. A friend of mine said that by the end of her concert at Radio City it felt like she had sucked all the energy out of the room and made him kind of tired.** But you know, she is young, and maybe with time she will get more confident and let us see more of what she’s got. Until then, she and I can both watch videos like this one of Fever Ray, and study up from the masters about how to get over caring what people think of you. (From that stance it seems like one can have a whole lot more fun with their time on earth.)
*This contrasts with the bloodthirsty Madonna, who wants it more than anyone, but appears to be too self centered to notice to what anybody thinks of her.
**It sort of confuses my data to admit that the friend who was at the Radio City concert is a gay male, though I admit it is a little comforting to know that there is some room for dissidence among the ranks.

February 4, 2010

  1. Garland Grey

    I know a few gay men who hate the Gaga, but yes, the Majority Whip has closed the ranks on Gaga in Gayland.

    I came at her music through a back door, then realized she’s doing the Amanda Palmer thing: a technically talented artist who intends to make a spectacle of herself. In some ways, Gaga makes a spectacle of spectacle. But her heart’s not in it, you can see she doesn’t have a plan B.

    She is definitely a shrewd woman – hearing her talk precludes “intelligent” – because she dresses like she does and says the things she says, and then goes on Oprah and talks about how thankful she is and how much she admires Oprah. She confronts them with a nightmare of feminine treachery from the billboards, then goes on the idiot box and tells them how thankful she is to God. All the blue hairs go away thinking what a sweet girls she is, and Oh! now they have something to talk with their kids about. Very shrewd move.

  2. Khaela

    Yes, the OK GO video is so cool it’s almost good. It’s a perfect example of that. It made my friend Scott cry big fat tears. I can’t decide whether the lead singer’s likeness to spazzy Andy from the television show The Office makes me like the video more or less. OK GO really specialize in the format”So Cool it’s almost Good.” This video of theirs is probably the quintissential example:

  3. Edward

    It seems like the ideas for their videos aren’t really related to the subject of the song. That doesn’t mean they aren’t interesting videos. The treadmill thing took some real creativity, but it didn’t help me understand the song better. I think that’s part of a good video, that the video presents an extension of the story told in the song that gives the viewer added insight. In the video Going On, the situation between the narrator and his sweetheart was played out mystically, which is always a cool way to illustrate relationships.

    I think OK GO has the ability to evoke lots of emotion and occasionally bring tears using only the one or two intelligible lines in each song. Not to say that the rest of the lyrics are frivolous. They serve to add imagery. As in the Cinnamon Lips song, they begin with kisses and powdering cheeks, and then at the cadence: “I’ve never felt this way before.”

    The Andy comparison is striking, they do have similar vocal rhythm. The big difference about Andy that makes me feel awkward/adore him, is his constant grabbing for attention. The OK GO singer already has the floor in his performances, he’s the lead.

  4. Liam

    YES, YES, YES.

    You summarised my feelings about Gaga perfectly. Although I have warmed up to her (apparently her gay-man dog-whistle has found its way to my ears) her simultaneous embrace and parody of the star-making machine seems rather disingenuous.

    I hope you put out another album sometime, Khaela – we totally need your pop music to balance out the pleasant stupidity of everything else out there.

  5. Pingback: 10 Queer Women (And Gender Nonconforming People) Who Are Better LGBT Music Icons Than Lady Gaga | Thought Catalog

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