Saturday, July 16, 2011

Gaga's Monster Hall (and Microwave Jenny)

The text read: "Hey. Up to anything this evening?... I'm here for gaga. Had a spare ticket if you were able to use it(?)"

um. OKAY.

Which is how I ended up witnessing Gaga's take over of Sydney Town Hall for her 'Monster Hall' (geddit?) show. It wasn't ticketed- if you wanted to go, you had to compete for a ticket by taking a photograph of yourself in your best 'little monster' costume and sending it into a radio station. 
Which also explains the visual feast on display that night. I saw people who had papier mâched their hands into claws, who had sewn dolls heads onto the shoulders of their Eighties-inspired jackets, and every shade of biker Judas, disco queen and Gaga video clip permutation. I'm talking faces stitched up with tulle, thigh-high boots paired only with red lace lingerie, and bows made of hair stretching to the heavens. It was magnificent. 
And I say that as someone who gets a kick out of observing what people wear. I don't think I've ever seen people as costumed as this in an everyday context before. It was like being dropped into an alternate reality, a Halloween meets dead-of-winter commuter drag kind of thing as monsters staggered out onto George St post-show, misting the frigid air with glitter eyeshadow and feathered wigs.

 How was she? She was bitchin'. I am pleased to report that her voice is as ballsy as her attitude, and that I heard most of the songs primarily through the soles of my feet, such was the smarting reverb through that old mosaicked floor. She worked the word 'Australia' into at least three of her songs which drove the crowd wild, as did the moment of mass hysteria when she told us we looked 'so fcking brand new.' Don't even get me started on the reaction when she apologised for being away for so long before promising never to stay away from Australia for such a long time again. Cue screams and an instant forest of 'monster hands.'

Since that night I've had so many conversations with people who have criticised her for being so derivative (listening to her songs can be like playing Eighties Musical Icon Bingo) and who say they don't get anything out of her music. Well, sure. I never really got the mania either. I loved dancing to a few of her early hits in my bedroom (don't even pretend you don't do this too) but all the furore over her iconicity and how 'avant-garde' she apparently is kind of irritated me. 

Isn't an essential part of being 'avant-garde' that you're beyond commerciality? That what you're striving for as an artist is a kind of pure expression of artistic vision that shouldn't be sold because that would undercut the artistic integrity of what you're attempting to do? So Gaga's schtick- a very commercial and widely embraced brand of pop- could be seen as self-defeating, as well as a very public attempt to have her cake and eat it too. 

But what makes Gaga intriguing is her utter commitment to her own show. I'm not just talking about what she puts onstage, though that's definitely a huge part of it- she says that she is bankrupting herself by spending all her money on staging spectaculars, that there's nothing else she wants to spend her money on. I'm talking about the show of being Gaga. Everything she does contributes to her own myth: the symbiosis she evokes between herself and her 'little monsters', her costumes (the meat dress, the de Castelbajac kermit dress, the corset that shot sparks from her breasts), her entrances (the Hussein Chalayan egg at the Grammys, for one), and the messianic prose she spouts to explain who she is and what she does. 

It's this incessant myth-making, wearing as it is, that makes her avant-garde. It's not that her music is so ground-breaking, but the way that she does "superstar". She does not operate on the fringe amongst artists but at the centre of the red carpet, in sold-out stadiums, all over her music videos on MTV. She is the site at which the machine of pop music and the bizarre, discomfiting, esoteric heart of avant-garde art intertwine. She is the 'monster' born of the matrimony of these phenomena, and standing amongst a sea of fans lip-synching along to her (fairly banal) power ballad 'Edge of Glory' as if their lives would cease if they stopped, I began to understand that maybe it's not about the music for them either, but it's about what she does with it*. About the spectacle. And, let's be real, it's outrageously fun to watch.

* No blogpost is complete without a reference to 'The Castle.' 


  1. I always feel like she's trying too hard to come across as 'weird' or 'bizarre' or 'mysterious'. Those that are truly worthy of such description never have to try that hard for those labels.

    She's a driven woman with a strong voice (but nothing spectacular) who has the knack of taking other people's ideas (musical or otherwise: think Madonna) and marketing them as her own.

    Good on her for making money in a way that doesn't involve a degree, a desk job or relying on your superannuation fund. But I'm personally sick of the 'look at me!' tricks she pulls, whether it be emerging from a giant egg, wearing a meat dress or the "messianic prose she spouts to explain who she is and what she does".

    Though I've never been, I'm willing to believe her shows are spectacular. However, the constant self-importance act is uncomfortable to watch by those not convinced that she is somehow more special, more different or more worthy of attention than any other jack of trades.

  2. You know, I'm inclined to agree with you. I guess part of the thrall of her for me is that she gets away with it? The show was pretty fribbing good though- it certainly gave me a kick as a "performance scholar" (wanky thing to claim of myself?) She manipulated the pants off those little monsters and they loved every minute.