As I prepare to make my hasty exit from Los Angeles to grad school in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, I’ve been thinking about how to make sure that the people still get a steaming hot helping of Bollocks! every day while I’m learning to be a totally awesome social worker. Turns out, a couple of
rubes people I know have offered to become contributors on the same part-time, nonpaying basis that is the standard contract around here. So I’d like you all to say a big Bollocks! “Hello” to Justin Koeppen. Justin took really beautiful pictures of my wedding; you can see his site here. For his first post, Justin did something that no one else at Bollocks! HQ was willing to do: he reviewed, completely of his own free will, the new Lady Gaga record. Here are his thoughts:
One of the more difficult aspects of being a critic of a medium as diverse and fickle as music is shutting off the part of your brain that wants to play diplomat and meet culture in the middle. In my daily life, I pride myself on being able to consider all sides of an argument and try to understand others’ points of view. It works great for diffusing debate and easing tension during discussions of religion, politics and parenting technique, however when critiquing cultural media it’s rarely a gripping and entertaining read to have the critic say “It’s not really my cup o’ tea but I can see why some people might like this”. Therefore, it’s always been my pleasure to pretend that your opinion doesn’t matter when reviewing a record; I research the band or artists only enough to gain an idea of who they are, where they’re from and how their past releases compare or contrast the current release. Other than that, I don’t care. If I listen to a track and it sounds shitty then it’s shitty. If I like it even though it falls outside my traditional preference, then I like it. I might change my mind down the road but it’s unlikely that I’ll append a review to reflect that. As so many managers are wont to blurt “It is what it is”.
That being said, Born This Way by Lady Gaga is fucking horrible.
It must be said that I liked most of The Fame Monster. I took it as it was; an album that I normally wouldn’t listen to by an artist whom I personally find irritating at best and culturally destructive at worst. And I actually enjoyed it, I enjoyed it enough to cause those who know me to become worried and upset. I wrestled with this for some time; how can I keep coming back to this record when I think Lady Gaga is one of the most appalling and overblown contradictions in modern culture, rivaled only by the inexplicable popularity of The Jersey Shore and The Real Housewives of ____?
Well, I’ll tell you why, because The Fame Monster was everywhere, it was infectious and it spread quickly. You know what else was everywhere, infectious and spread quickly?
Fucking small pox.
I know I’m supposed to go on to talk about the tracks and give opinions on them and talk about the ways it’s different from her earlier music but after two listens, I honestly can’t come up with anything beyond, “Yes the title track is a glaring rip-off of Madonna’s ‘Express Yourself’ and why would anyone be surprised at that?”.
Look, Gaga is supposed to be the most controversial, most outrageous, most unique performer in music today but her songs barely pass for interesting and her lyrics reek of a dying mentality that equates raw, filthy sexual aggression with empowerment. You know the old tent pole that if men can fuck like animals and treat women like sex toys then obviously, for women to be “equal” they have to rise (or fall) to that level and act like horny men? Yes, women are sexual creatures but it’s not exactly a fine line that separates being comfortable in your sexuality from wearing sex like a bumper sticker on your forehead that says “Cum Dumpster”. The idea that a woman can use sex as a weapon is as old as life on earth, there’s no new liberating idea there, so find a different way to express yourself. (See what I did there?)
Lady Gaga wants so badly to be Madonna but she ends up coming off as Celine Dion with a yeast infection and a strip club’s worth of daddy issues. Every track on Born This Way tries to force lust, innocence, submission and domination into the same space with predictable results: a jumbled mess of conflicting personalities and ideas all constantly at war. Now I recognize that it’s very popular for popular culture to try and tell women that their default state of existence should constantly phase between mother, lover, whore, saint, bitch, child, sinner, saint, etc., but that’s just fucking wrong. Not even morally “wrong”, just completely incorrect. Especially from an artist who exclaims “be yourself, you’re perfect the way you are, we’re all superstars” all the while constantly morphing from one extreme attention-starved personality to another. The mark of a healthy mind isn’t trying to scoop every piece of shredded psyche into a bag and label it a “personality”. It might make you seem complicated as a performance artist but when applied to every-day life, you become a frustratingly unpredictable, narcissistic person that no one wants to be around. Yes, we get it, the juxtaposition of sex and religion is very edgy. Wearing something outrageous and shocking is absolutely a reflection of your true personality and not just a way to pretend you’re more interesting than you really are.
I have issues with the message of “you’re perfect just the way you are” being sold to teenagers, and it’s probably mostly my own bitterness and cynicism here, because we already have a big enough entitlement problem in this culture with our youth being fed a constant stream of encouragement and adoration as if they truly are perfect. It’s fine to have self-esteem but that comes from overcoming your issues and growing as a person and having to push through the bog of shit that is most of life to find yourself. Pop music can tell you you’re a superstar all day long but it’s a fucking lie. If everyone was a superstar and everyone’s perfect then there’s no need to try anymore! Why explore yourself and test what life can be if some meat-dressed turboskank on TV tells you that you’ve already arrived, that you’re just like her, that you’ve got what it takes to leave your old self behind, adopt a stage name, bury yourself under a pile of hype and distraction and take the stage to tell people you’re “real” and “free”? If our culture is at a point where we need Lady Gaga to tell us that we’re awesome then we’re already fucked.
Guess what kids: we all suck, we’re all messy and we’re all imperfect. There’s no reason to hate ourselves but for fuck’s sake, who the hell do we all think we are?
Also the cover image might as well be painted on the side of your creepy uncle’s van.