Critic Camille Paglia No Fan of Lady Gaga

Photo of Lady Gaga Before and After "Fame"
Camille Paglia has had a very interesting life as a social critic, author, and college professor. While she proudly identifies herself as a feminist, she is seen by some as an “anti-feminist feminist.” She’s expressed views that have raised some eyebrows, such as supporting Ralph Nader in the 2000 election and engaging in verbal fisticuffs with the likes of Gloria Steinem, NOW stalwart Patricia Ireland, and Betty Friedan.

However, there is no question that Paglia is an intelligent, educated woman and as such, her interpretation on various things is generally thought-provoking.

Her latest target? Lady Gaga.

Paglia’s basic beef with Gaga is that the former Stefani Germanotta is, in her eyes, essentially a hypocrite.

From The Sunday Times:

Although she presents herself as the clarion voice of all the freaks and misfits of life, there is little evidence that she ever was one. Her upbringing was comfortable and eventually affluent, and she attended the same upscale Manhattan private school as …

Paris and Nicky Hilton. There is a monumental disconnect between Gaga’s melodramatic self-portrayal as a lonely, rebellious, marginalised artist and the powerful corporate apparatus that bankrolled her makeover and has steamrollered her songs into heavy rotation on radio stations everywhere.

Okay, so Lady Gaga is a poser … but come on, onetime girl magnet Lance Bass is gay, supposed doting dad Alec Baldwin verbally berated his daughter in a telephone message, and Jodie Sweetin was once saying, “How rude!” instead of scoring crystal meth.

Celebrities are an image. They’re a brand. Their entire claim to fame is so tightly controlled by PR reps that it’s ridiculous. What is it that makes Paglia attack Lady Gaga so vehemently? I mean, does she agree with Reverend Fred Phelps that Gaga is nothing more than a talentless whore?  Where’s the grudge?

Nah, it’s more like she’s stuck on the ever-changing image that Gaga has cultivated with the obvious intent to be garnering as much attention as possible in the process.

The Gaga of world fame, however, with her heavy wigs and giant sunglasses (rudely worn during interviews) looks either simperingly doll-like or ghoulish, without a trace of spontaneity. Every public appearance, even absurdly at airports where most celebrities want to pass incognito, has been lavishly scripted in advance with a flamboyant outfit and bizarre hairdo assembled by an invisible company of elves.

Okay, maybe she’s got a bit of a point here … it’s hard to concede legitimate talent to a celebrity seemingly obsessed with making a spectacle of herself at every point (although that path has been well worn out by names like Madonna and Spencer Pratt).

Speaking of the Material Girl, by the way, Paglia is evidently miffed at what she perceives as Gaga being a Madonna wannabe.

Gaga has borrowed so heavily from Madonna (as in her latest video-Alejandro) that it must be asked, at what point does homage become theft? However, the main point is that the young Madonna was on fire. She was indeed the imperious Marlene Dietrich’s true heir. For Gaga, sex is mainly decor and surface; she’s like a laminated piece of ersatz rococo furniture. Alarmingly, Generation Gaga can’t tell the difference. Is it the death of sex? Perhaps the symbolic status that sex had for a century has gone kaput; that blazing trajectory is over…

You know, I had a very intense philosophical discussion about the religious symbolism in the “Alejandro” video with my sixteen-year-old daughter. It was freaking amazing, and I’d thank Lady Gaga if I could for making that possible.

Is the song Madonna-like both in terms of music (listen to “La Isla Bonita”) and video themes (“Like a Prayer”)? Sure. Is there something wrong with a new generation being exposed to this? I’m thinking no.

Oh, and she furthermore has it in for Gaga lyrics.

Compare Gaga’s insipid songs, with their nursery-rhyme nonsense syllables, to the title and hypnotic refrain of the first Madonna song and video to bring her attention on MTV, Burning Up, with its elemental fire imagery and its then-shocking offer of fellatio. In place of Madonna’s valiant life force, what we find in Gaga is a disturbing trend towards mutilation and death…

Oh, and the idea that Lady Gaga should be “pretentious” enough to aspire to fill the shoes of an Aretha Franklin or a Janis Joplin is yet another point Paglia attempts to make.

Gaga is in way over her head with her avant-garde pretensions… She wants to have it both ways – to be hip and avant-garde and yet popular and universal, a practitioner of gung-ho “show biz.” Most of her worshippers seem to have had little or no contact with such powerful performers as Tina Turner or Janis Joplin, with their huge personalities and deep wells of passion.

I’m no hardcore Lady Gaga fan (although she’s on my iPod, not gonna lie), but I think Paglia is demonstrating unnecessary roughness here. I’d never buy my baby a Lady Gaga Halloween costume, but I also think she’s definitely earned her place as, at the very least, a pop culture icon.

Lady Gaga changes like the tides. She molds herself to fit into an open niche, and while Paglia writes that off as opportunistic, I like to think of it as adaptable … and proof that she’s in touch with a generation who lives their life through Facebook, Twitter, and text messages.  And doesn’t that really cover the gamut of being a successful entertainer?

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11 thoughts on “Critic Camille Paglia No Fan of Lady Gaga

  1. I love Lady Gaga because she’s 100% image and performance. I’m not expecting anything real or relatable from her. Ever. And I wasn’t around for Madonna, I think this Camille is just pissing and moaning about “them darn kids and their music. We had real music when I was younger! And get off my lawn!” I love Gaga’s voice, heavily synthesized or not. I just wish she wouldn’t talk…she gets very pseudo-philosophical and it’s rather irritating.

  2. I agree with Erin. This lady needs to chill. Gaga’s an entertainer, and she succeeds in being entertaining. That’s pretty much all I care about.

  3. Let’s not forget that Paglia was a tour-de-force in feminism two decades ago and managed to screw up her darling status by cowtowing to mainstream feminism. I’m guessing this is her attempt to legitimize herself as feminist again.

  4. Gaga only grew on me after a time. I didn’t get it at first. I’m not saying I get it now but I’ve gotten comfortable with seeing it as performance art – on stage and off. Everything she does is orchestrate to illicit a response, make people talk, and buy what she’s selling. I’m fine with that. I like seeing artist push the envelope. How many times did David Bowie reinvent his image?

    It seems to me that people can take things too seriously. Mainstream pop music is not the place to look for authentic people/images. In fact, it seems like *trying* to act like there is integrity between public and personal life can drive some stars crazy (ahem Brittney). It’s not like she’s walking around trying to be “Lady Stephanie”.

  5. The fact that someone can look at an artist named “Lady Gaga” and attempt to disregard the very moniker which has dual obvious sentimental and intellectual links and get that interpretation from her is pretty funny.

  6. Lady GaGa looks like the love child of Penny Marshall and Dee Snider from Twisted Sister. She is a fu fu fu fugly ass fu fu fu fugly ass!

  7. While I don’t care for her music, I have nothing against her. But I will say it always strikes me as odd that in the beauty obsessed pop music world a woman with face like that can be so successful.

  8. When you grow up with Madonna, Lady Gaga may not resonate with you as she does with her fans. But to the people who adore her, she is a meaningful pop culture icon. In 20 years someone of my generation will compare a new pop starlet with Lady Gaga in the same way.

  9. I have to agree with her about Madonna. My son thought that L.G.G was SO original and cool. I sat him down and went through some Madonna videos and then compared them with L.G.G videos. He like Madonna’s better and decided that L.G.G wasn’t so unique after all. It just burns me that she’s making bank off of youngsters ignorance. Doesn’t seem like she’s put too much effort into being artistically daring or creative. She’s just focused on her image. She just leaves me cold. It’s a shame because I love her voice.

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  11. I think you’re missing Paglia’s point… She’s not reacting to Gaga herself, but to the concept of everybody thinking that she’s not just an entertainer but this incredibly authentic artist. Madonna has taken some incredibly challenging decisions in her career and she expressed herself about women, sexuliality, homophobia when nobody wanted to listen and paid a very high price for it. She paved the way for a Gaga who comes now like a revolutionary in a time when speaking about gays or sex is totally ok.
    Her music is just basic dance music, fun but nothing amazing… Oh yeah she plays the piano, but she’s not Tori Amos or Elton John…
    Paglia wouldn’t react that way if people weren’t making such a big deal out of her “art”… I personaly think Gaga is a cash machine who sells extravaganza, nothing more…

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