Lady Gaga has been making her own rules for as long as she’s been around. From her meat dress to her Grammy-egg entrance to her defense this weekend of her performance at the SXSW Festival in Austin, there’s been no way to categorize what Gaga has been doing-not until “artpop.” Even if Gaga’s self-created genre is taken seriously, though, the fact remains: the Fame Monster is producing neither entertaining art nor good pop music, no matter what you call it.
Earlier this month, the ever-controversial singer collaborated with “vomit artist” Millie Brown on stage, inviting her to throw up on her while Gaga sang “Swine.” Brown jammed her fingers down her throat, until she began to gag and spew lime green liquid all over Gaga’s practically naked body. Near the end of the song, the two mounted a mechanical bull, Brown chugged a liter of black slime, and, again, began projecting a strange, vile liquid out of her mouth and onto Gaga.
Stained and breathless at the performance’s conclusion, Gaga embraced Brown, yelling, “F-k you pop music. This is artpop.”
Artpop, indeed … There’s obviously no other way to describe that, and when you can’t make something fit existing rules, the only thing to do is to redefine the rules yourself-at least that’s what Gaga thinks. The problem with that method, though, is that your definition needs to hold. Gaga’s doesn’t.
On Friday’s Today Show, Gaga tried to explain her and Brown’s actions, saying, “Artpop is about bringing music and art together in the spirit of creative rebellion, and for us, that performance was art in its purest form … we don’t make things for any intention in particular other than in the spirit of entertaining the crowd and really for the moment.”
So, according to Gaga, artpop is about fusing a sense of highbrow art and catchy pop music for the sake of “entertaining the crowd.” While it’s not possible to speak on behalf of the entire audience present at the show, there’s no denying that the majority of the online community was far from entertained. Some people were even insulted.
X-Factor judge Demi Lovato criticized Gaga almost instantly, tweeting, “Bottom line, it’s not ‘cool’ or ‘artsy’ at all” and “Putting the word ART in it isn’t a free card to do whatever you want without consequences.”
Lovato, who has struggled with an eating disorder for some time, interpreted Gaga and Brown’s performance as “glamorizing” bulimia. She argued that calling something art doesn’t make it art.
And Lovato’s right. Although it is true that an artist has freedom of expression, it’s not true that an artist, including Gaga, should be allowed to act without discretion.
Offending people through art is not in and of itself wrong, especially if it incites productive dialogue, but there is a time and a place for crossing that line and a way that it should be done. Gaga didn’t seem to consider that, acting, instead, without taste.
The irony of the situation rests in Gaga’s justification of her SXSW show being about entertainment, not bulimia. Even Brown insisted, “My performance is not a statement about eating disorders in any way.” She claimed that it was meant to exhibit “beauty from the inside out.” Regardless of their intentions, however, their work didn’t say anything meaningful about eating disorders or offer any significant artistic value-Gaga’s definition of artpop collapsed on itself.
Gaga’s concert conduct doesn’t seem much different from Shia LaBeouf’s recent controversial exhibit #IAMSORRY-both seem to point to a larger issue: that celebrities feel that they need to separate themselves from the entertainment world they inevitably are a part of. Because famous people like LaBeouf and Gaga are trying to define their personas by establishing their own rules, through misinterpret-able and sometimes distasteful performance art, the public fails to understand them and the significance behind their stunts.
Having someone puke on you on stage is not amusing-it’s not artpop-just like sitting silently in a chair with a brown paper bag on your head constitutes neither an artistic exhibit nor an effective apology.
It’s difficult to take much away from the behaviors of LaBeouf and Gaga, but if anything is certain, it’s that the more today’s artists stray from the rules, the less artistic they become. They may be making headlines, but they definitely aren’t making art.