Until last year I thought pop was a completely spent force. Oh, there were some nice bands around with nice tunes and some nice haircuts, but pop as a total art form was pooped. Along with pop culture. It was just another Facebook app.
And then along came the New York songwriter-turned-singer that the press loves to dub ‘bizarre’. 2009 was indubitably The Year of Gaga, and not just because she had a string of blockbuster international hits, but because they were the instantly unmistakable product of a ‘kooky’ young woman who is actually completely in control of her work and vision. And her own aesthetic. Hence perhaps the wishful-thinking sightings of a penis. This chick doesn’t need a dick – she has a real one.
Last night at the Brits (where she performed acoustic versions of ‘Telephone’ and ‘Dance in the Dark’, styled by Miss Havisham saluting Marie Antoinette ) she won a rare three gongs. She deserved much more. And a much longer set. (It was rumoured to have been cut down by anxious Brits producers because she kept changing her plans.)
Gaga has, almost single-handedly, resurrected mainstream, High Street pop music – or at least made it seem like it’s alive again. She’s even made postmodernism seem almost… modern again. That she does it with a look and startling pop promos that play so entertainingly with the deathly, garish iconography of fashion and contemporary celebrity culture is all the more remarkable. Yes it’s a kind of galvanic motion – those promos often look like Helmut Newton zombie flicks – but boy, this is shocking fun. Besides, that’s the nature of the twitching/tweeting human subject in a mediated, hyper-consumerist age.
Sorry to go on, but Gaga manages to be truly pop, and yet is a true artist. She churns out crowd-pleasing dance-floor tracks that stomp on the competition, but there’s also a winsome melancholy and vulnerability behind the… Poker Face.
Some hasten to mention the ‘M’ word to put Gaga in her place. But aside from moments of hilarious brilliance such as ‘Like a Virgin’ and ‘Vogue’ I was never much of a Madonna fan, even before she found the Kabala and I’m-not-Gay Ritchie. Maybe it’s early-onset dementia, but I feel differently about Gaga. Rather than see her as a Madonna knock-off, I see her as a more fully-realised Madonna. She’s the Madonna Madonna wanted us to take her for (and legions of gays did).
And it’s not as if Gaga doesn’t pay homage. ‘Dance in the Dark’, which Gaga performed at the Brits, is probably my favourite track from The Fame. It’s very 1980s HiNRG – with a talky bridge that is a touching tribute to Madge’s Vogue. It’s actually gayer than Vogue, which is quite something. You can almost smell the poppers. And I don’t even like poppers.
Gaga, a dedicated follower of fashion, dedicated her Brits performance to her friend Alexander McQueen, who died last week. I don’t like eulogies, but I did rate his work. He was a genuinely free spirit, a gay bohemian of the kind that almost died out in the 1980s (and which Gaga is clearly inspired by). That he seems to have taken his own life suggests that it wasn’t easy fighting history, or fashion houses.
I never met Lee, but we did have a flirty fax correspondence in the late 1990s when I was still in my thirties. His opening gambit was ‘we met once in DTPM a couple of years ago’. DTPM was a London gay techno club where all the muscle boys went and took off their shirts and downed masses of drugs, dancing the night away, so of course I should have met him at DTPM – and forgotten about it. But I never did because I never went there. Or anywhere, really.
In the course of our thermal-paper correspondence (which I think I still have somewhere, now fading away into blankness) he asked me, in a handwritten scrawl on Givenchy headed notepaper, to marry him. I don’t know how serious he was, but I declined, pointing out I wasn’t really the marrying kind. This was true, but it was even truer that he wasn’t really my type. Which is a sad reflection on me, and perhaps on male homosexuality. I suspect Lee was often told by gay men he wasn’t ‘their type’.
Either way, I could have done much, much worse. And of course, I did.