My introduction to the creature known as Lady Gaga was through a sixth grader named Greyson Chance whose YouTube cover of her song Paparazzi stormed from the Internet and into the great wide world. If I'd heard a Lady Gaga song before last week, I couldn't say, and in fact I was one of the people who judged her as a no-talent hack without even listening to her music or watching her music videos. Greyson's Paparazzi cover haunted me. I listened over and over, reminded of Tori Amos as a child, belting her heart out while pounding away beautiful noise on her piano. I forced my husband to listen, over and over, and while he was impressed, he was curious about what the original song sounded like. A Google search later, we had before us Lady Gaga's uncut and explicit Paparazzi music video. Like with Greyson, I was captivated.
The extended Paparazzi video is far more akin to a short film set to music than a music video. True Blood hottie Alexander Skarsgaard plays an overzealous Gaga fan who, in his desire to be captured on film by her paparazzi, assaults her and then tosses her over a balcony where she splatters onto the marble floor. Being an avid horror fan and seeing scary movie written all over the video, I was mesmerised. A Hitchcock-style Vertigo interlude opens the actual song, as we see Gaga descending into a spiral, free falling through the centre of her world and emerging in a cyber-style silver body cast, replete with silver crutches. "I'm your biggest fan, I'll follow you until you love me", she sings, as montages of Gaga's death by gunshot, hanging, drowning, strangulation and more punctuate her pin-up girl gyrations on a plush leather couch. In the story within the story, Gaga heals and re-invents herself into a new star. Skarsgaard, her "biggest fan", latches onto her fame once again. In the final moments, Gaga, dressed like a green Queen of Hearts, pops a fizzy poison pill into his drink. He sips and keels over, dead. "Gaga lives!" read the headlines, and show her being arrested as a cheeky Gaga takes smug mug shots in the final moments of the song, mocking the police (or very possibly the audience).
Intertextuality is the concept that no art or writing is unique in and of itself and instead is shaped by a number of other creative sources, thereby adding to the accumulated context of all the creations. Intertextiality can also imply the reinvention of a creation based on itself or on other creations, adding further levels of meaning among all of them.
Lada Gaga is a master of re-invention. While many critics compare her to Madonna, she is far more accurately likened to the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, whose friends would always wonder, "Who will Frida be today?" In every public appearance Lady Gaga is virtually unrecognisable, donning a variety of costumes, accessories, and make-up, that each tell their own story. Like Frida, each outfit is a personal and public statement demonstrating another or new aspect of herself.
Not only does Lady Gaga promote intertextuality in her appearance, it is the core of her music as well. Ironically, Paparazzi is written from the point of view of an obsessed fan, but in the video she is the object of obsession. The visual cues of death speak to the vampiric phenomenon of celebrity: The media and public suck them dry, many times to the point of death, be this through actual obsession (John Lennon, Jodie Foster, Nancy Kerrigan, Monica Seles) or the demands of constantly being in the public eye leading to alcohol and drug addiction (River Phoenix, Janis Joplin, Heath Ledger, Corey Haim). Her costumes are reminicsent of Bettie Page, Madonna, 1950s starlets, The Fifth Element, and the burlesque tradition, as well as leaning towards the fantastical Priscilla Queen of the Desert style.
My fascination with the Paparazzi video prompted me to Google live performances of the song, which she further re-invents for what seems like each show. Her voice, her costumes, are never the same and always invoke new and contradictory interpretations of her various selves, the song, and the broader issue of fame.
The most telling aspect of her intertextuality, irony and subsequent re-inventiveness, is that she inspires and encourages this trait in others. Grayson Chance's cover of Paparazzi is virtually unrecognisable from Gaga's, and in support of his unique vision Lady Gaga has given him a record deal through her label. YouTube is peppered with hundreds of "unique" interpretations of Paparazzi, each of them rooted in her song but entirely new visions of its production.
Above and beyond her song Paparazzi and its various incarnations, each of the songs on Gaga's The Fame album comes with it its own narrative that is then turned on its head in the music videos, and further mutated for stage performances in a dazzling array that transforms the Gaga package into a multi-dimensional carnival of the senses.
The beauty of Gaga's talent is in the multimedia combination of her music videos, her performances, her multiple personas, and all of the re-inventions she has provoked in others, combined with dozens of personal inspirations, that then results in a theoretical force to be reckoned with.
What's your take on Lady Gaga?