July 25, 2010

"No one in recent pop memory has been a greater enemy to the authentic than Lady Gaga."

No one? What about Madonna?
From the start of her career Madonna was a savvy pop trickster, using outrageous imagery as a distraction while smuggling ideas about religion and social politics into her music. Most of the Gaga generation, however, is interested in distraction as an end in itself.
As a 60s person, I'm highly amused by this presentation of the 80s as the standard what was once real in popular culture. Madonna was fake as a means to an end, but Lady Gaga is really fake, and fake is what's real now. To my 60s ears, that sounds like something Andy Warhol would say.
Lady Gaga has become successful by adhering to the belief that there’s no inner truth to be advertised, or salvaged: all one can do is invent anew.

It wasn’t that long ago when artifice appeared to be on its last leg. In the mid-to-late-1990s female performers especially were in a confessional place, a movement captured and branded by Lilith Fair, the summer tour package founded in part by Sarah McLachlan that ran from 1997 to 1999.
Wait. People took Lilith Fair seriously? 11-year-old girls, maybe. Seems to me it was mostly abhorred.
The last couple of years have seen the first wave of 1990s nostalgia, which might explain in part why Lilith was resurrected this year. But Lilith aesthetics haven’t aged well....
Do we say hasn't aged well about something that was never pretty?


Chase said...

The article was written by a Sarah McLachlan fan who is disgusted by Beyonce and Lady Gaga.

I am a fan of all of them - frankly - they are all just steps in the moment of music: fun, taleneted, and ultimately forgettable.

Lasting music is the kind that HD shows on his blog.

Anthony said...

What was abhorrent about Lilith fair? I was age 5-15 in the 90s and I'm a guy that didn't really listen to the female singer-songwriters of the 90s, so I'm ignorant.

Chase said...

HDHouse blog - here's lasting music

tim maguire said...

All Lady GaGa can do is invent anew? Really? Has this person ever heard a Lady GaGa song? When I hear one for the first time, I am unable to tell if it's her or Madonna. And not early, sometimes good Madonna either. Late Madonna, as repetitive and boring as house music.

Lilith Fair was important to a narrow segment, lesbians mostly, and irrelevant to everyone else.

NotWhoIUsedtoBe said...

Yeah, not getting the point of this article other than "I hate the music people dumber than me listen to."


DADvocate said...

It seems to me Lady Gaga is just having fun and girls just wanna have fun.

Tibore said...

"No one in recent pop memory has been a greater enemy to the authentic than Lady Gaga."

Nice weasel word "recent", Mr. Carmanica. You seem to have forgotten acts like Milli Vanilli.

Sure, Gaga's recent. But that doesn't necessarily make her the epitome of the inauthentic. It merely makes her the most recent in line.

Unknown said...

Nothing's been real in pop music since Buddy Holly.

That said, one of Lilith's favorite faces (IIRC), Melissa Etheridge, does invest her music with a singular passion that otherwise died a long time ago. I can't take a lot of her stuff, but once in a blue moon, she goes down well.

NotWhoIUsedtoBe said...

The big missed point is that "popular" music is actually much less popular now than it was in the 80s.

There's fewer people who listen or care, and a lot that listen to other music.

The Crack Emcee said...

"Fake is what's real now."

That explains why everything's going so well - in music and out of it. Yes, indeed, it certainly does.

Fred4Pres said...

What about Jane Austen?

Anonymous said...

Look on the bright side, the revived Lilith Fair probably attracts some hippie-chick types, who do not share the nearly universal passion for shaving. Yum, what a smorgasbord of flavors!


Jana said...

I was the perfect age at Lilith Fair's heyday to want to be a part of it -- late teens, a little bit angsty, very into music and culture, etc.

Man, but no one I knew wanted to admit they would go to that. In my world, it was a bit of a joke. It seemed TOO self-consciously feminist, angsty and, worst of all, snoozy. Listening to Jewel, Sarah M., Indigo Girls, etc, under the hot summer sun? Snore.

Hagar said...

Not quite on point, but you might be thinking of Oscar Levant's quip about Hollywwod: "Under all that fake tinsel, there's real tinsel!"

Anonymous said...

Quit wasting your time on this shit and listen to Hank Williams, Jr.

Fen said...

Lady Gaga has become successful by adhering to the belief that there’s no inner truth to be advertised, or salvaged: all one can do is invent anew.

Sorry, I love Lady Gaga, but Madonna became the archetype for reinvention.

Xmas said...

What about Ani DiFranco as a musician that keeps it real? I know some of her fans gave up on her when she went an married a man. But then, she's always played the line of pixie-ish, dreadlocked, lesbian/closet bisexual pretty tight.

I do miss Kay Hanley and Letters to Cleo, but she totally sold out when she did the singing bits for the "Josie and the Pussycats" movie.

Opus One Media said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Opus One Media said...

You're lucky you are in Wisconsin. She wants to live around here....

NotWhoIUsedtoBe said...

Music as identity...

The Crack Emcee said...

Shouting Thomas,

"Quit wasting your time on this shit and listen to Hank Williams, Jr."

I'll stick with Hank Williams, Sr., myself, but I get you point.

Phil 314 said...

Back in the day....

Kirby Olson said...

Lady Gaga has a beautiful voice but an ugly face, so she has to hide that face under a lot of masks and make-up so we don't notice.

That's what all the fakery is about.

All her songs are ok, especially Telephone.

As long as you don't have to look at her ugly face, she's wonderful.

The Crack Emcee said...

John Lynch,

"Music as identity..."

That's funny: yesterday, my friend, Pete, and I were talking about music as identity and how, while he and I now, as adults, can't stand to be around his older brother (my former best friend) who we can only connect with two bands over his lifetime - Jethro Tull and U2 - Pete and I (who listen to everything, as long as it's good) still get along great.

Can you imagine being in a relationship with someone who takes Lady GaGa seriously?

The Crack Emcee said...

Kirby Olsen,

Even Lady GaGa admitted her music sucks. Why nobody else takes her at her word, or could see that for themselves, is the puzzle.

"It's all about money/ain't a damn thing funny/you gots to have a con/in this land of milk and honey."

He left out the suckers to go along with it.

Trooper York said...

"The last couple of years have seen the first wave of 1990s nostalgia, which might explain in part why Lilith was resurrected this year. But Lilith aesthetics haven’t aged well...."

Well, lots of grey hair under your arms is just not sexy.

gbarto said...

When I think back on the '80s and "authentic" musicians, I can't help but think about Billy Joel, John Mellencamp and Bruce Springsteen making the big bucks singing about the little guy.

Everybody says they want music with a deeper meaning. But do you seriously want advice about love and life from these people? Maybe you could have Billy Joel help you pick out an investment counselor while you're at it.

I liked the early Madonna. Bubble gum pop, they called it, and that was perfect. As if "Love, love me do" was a philosophical revelation the world had never known. My biggest hope for Lady Gaga is that she doesn't go the Madonna route of trying to become an artiste. If I'm in the mood to stretch my brain or expand my consciousness, I can always read a book. Entertainers who give you the tools to let your mind go blank are underappreciated.

jr565 said...

Kriby wrote:
All her songs are ok, especially Telephone.

As long as you don't have to look at her ugly face, she's wonderful.

Long as you don't
Long as you don't have to look at her ugly face she is wonder ful.
Her ug-ug-ugly face her ugly face.

The Crack Emcee said...

"Bruce Springsteen making the big bucks singing about the little guy."

The little mixed-up guy who left his wife and kids. The Mexican who suffers being "Born In The U.S.A.", etc. Very authentic, if you're looking to be a creep.

I think, if there were artists who were (what I'll call) conservative cool, it would be a breath of fresh air, and we would welcome a few "Stop, hey, what's that sound?" type songs in the mix.

The Obama era certainly screams for them. Instead, we get GaGa saying, well, "GaGa".

Incognito said...

Does Jon Caramanica somehow not know that we're living in the world of Milli Vanilli? The biggest names in the pop music biz have their voices redigitized. "Concerts" are now gymnastics events with lip synch. Madonna helped pioneer all of this--if she were ten years older her career wouldn't have been possible (the necessarily technology didn't yet exist).

From all I've heard and read, Lady Gaga seems to be a bona fide talent. Her voice isn't doctored. Among pop divas performing today that might make her unique.

The Crack Emcee said...

A genuine talent? O.K., prove it:


Inspiring, life changing, artistically superior, stuff she's got there. Or something for the little guy.

Or nothing at all.

Like I said - even she admitted it sucks - why can't y'all?

Oh, wait - I get it:

Like anyone who's been conned, the hardest part is admitting it to yourself.

Carry on.

jr565 said...

The problem with the lillith fair is that it was so damn lesbian/feminist for it's own good. No cock and balls in the music at all. All this earnest acoustic guitar and or piano music with beatiful plaintif melodies that you might put as background music to a commercial about animals being neglected, but ones that you listen to while it's raining outside or while you're contemplating killing yourself, not when you want to rock out or even simply have fun.It's all mopey feminist ballads. Suzanne Vega? Lisa Loeb? The Indigo Girls? THey might have enjoyable songs in a few cases ,but not one after the other. It's just too much estrogen for anyone's good.

jr565 said...

David Bowie did the whole constant reinvention thing a lot better and more artistically. Plus he looked prettier in a dress. Slam!

LonewackoDotCom said...

Speaking about Lilith Fair (that's from over a decade before she headlined it). What she does doesn't fit the stereotypes in the post and comments: plenty of soft stuff but nothing soupy.

Charity said...

Wow. Someone needs to get a life. You can't compare Lady GaGa to the performers at Lilith Fair, nor can you blame Gaga for the fact that no one wants to see the Lilith Fair reborn.

Gaga is about creating a show. She's not some feminist chick with a message and a guitar.

Not to mention, we're talking about two entirely different genres of music here.

That article was incoherent, at best.

The Crack Emcee said...


"Gaga is about creating a show."

For the third time - she said her music sucks.

I don't think what genre it is matters after that.

Bryan Townsend said...

Charity said it: "That article was incoherent, at best."

'Authenticity' is as big a red herring in pop music as it is in Early Music. As Richard Taruskin pointed out in a paper years ago, 'authenticity' really has to do with the perspectives of the performers and listeners and not the music. I happen to think that Lady Gaga's music--some of it at least--is good pop music. Calling pop music inauthentic, especially without offering some good reasons, is just a variety of name-calling. What we need are a couple of good music critics.

Ironically, Bad Romance, Lady Gaga's best song in my view, has a lot of baroque references starting with the electric harpsichord introduction and even some of the harmonies.

The Crack Emcee said...


I agree about the authenticity argument, but when even the artist says her shit sucks, I'd think that would be enough to make the rest of us go "Hmmmm".

I mean, could you imagine Louis Armstrong saying the same thing?

Bob_R said...

I like Bryan's point. I've always been put off by the "authentic" tag for any art. It's art; it's a human creation; it's an act. You are on a stage, singing a song. Unless you spontaneously break into song like someone in Broadway musical or an opera this is...well, artificial. If the song is good I don't give a damn if your man actually done you wrong or not. As the saying goes, "there are only two kinds of art: good art and the other kind."

Kirby Olson said...


Louis Armstrong wouldn't say that kind of thing, but Andy Warhol would say it.

Did say it.

She's more in the Warhol lineage.

But she has an excellent singing voice, just as Warhol had an excellent color sense and a powerful sense of composition.

You can say things like that when you know you have it.

Lady Gaga has a face that will make most people gag.

But she sings wonderfully.

She's the opposite of all the good looking songsters that can't sing.

She is a little like Britney Spears who has a bowling ball for a head. But with enough makeup Britney can pass.

There's nothing you can do with Lady Gaga but put a lot of creative spin on that face, the postmodern equivalent of a burkha would be best.

But never take an artist at their word. When she says her music sucks, she's thinking it so doesn't, that I can say anything.

Her music is even quite political, and quite feminist. The Telephone song is about a man who is choking the narrator of the song with his excessive vigilance as to her whereabouts.

Complaining about men to create feminist bonding is what feminism is about: scapegoating men. And Lady Gaga does that in the song.

So, her politics are just as ugly as she is.

But, she can sing! Lord, can she sing!

Republican said...

Saw Gaga at The Fabulous Fox, front row. It was the most enjoyable concert I've attended in years.

The kids around me were crying during her performance.

They love Gaga, because she represents to them, inclusion and acceptance for being different, unique, quirky, gay, straight, freaky.

Gaga reaches out to her fans, exposing herself to them-unlike Madonna, who became a self-absorbed arrogant bitch twenty-five years ago. Ick.

Republican said...

Gaga does not look like a makeup-less dyke, either.

That makes a big difference in her appeal to the GenX3.

The boys and girls LOVE makeup and drama and theater, and Gaga delivers.

Methadras said...

In essence, American neo-Kabuki.

John Bragg said...

Madonna wasn't authentic?

You mean she wasn't a skanky whore with 47 varieties of pubic lice?

jr565 said...

Let me say that despite the charge of having an ugly face, the few pictures I've seen of her aren't that bad. Then again, she's always in costume so it's hard to tell.And while she isn't a substantial artist, and certainly not an authentic one (what does that even mean by the way) I'd rather hear her any day that half the people on the Lilith Tour.
Which in know way means I actually want to hear much by Lady Gaga, I just REALLY don't want to hear the artists on the Lilith tour.
But one or two of her songs are catch. And what more do you want from pop music? And hell, she's bringing back the same absurdity avante garde faux artistic sentiment that you saw in a lot of the early mtv videos (back when they had videos) so a least give her credit for trying to not be the next Britney Spears.
Something tells me though that she's not going to be the next madonna. She's well into her 15 minutes of fame, and I'd be surprised if she lasts for two more albums.

traditionalguy said...

Lady GaGa's act reminds me of characters from The Three Penney Opera written by Bertolt Brecht in the late 1920s Germany. Their acts are non-serious because the world around them in chaos. Lady GaGa is displaying the proper reactions of a person in a culture and Nation State that is deep into chaos. Barack the Knife is back in town.

Cedarford said...

Chase said...
The article was written by a Sarah McLachlan fan who is disgusted by Beyonce and Lady Gaga

The whole thing about "true musicians" having a duty as entertainers to be pure original artists and never recycle or borrow heavily from others is some stupid 60s aesthete - and utter rubbish because movie actors, TV shows, comedians, athletes ALL RECYCLE AND BORROW!!!!

Sometimes, the lengths that an original artist will do to show how different they are is as stupid as a Chef proclaiming his greatness for inventing Green-friendly Russian-Tahitian cuisine. Got the Xhosan clincking language set to music and run through a post-barbershop quartet metal influenced synthesizer with a dance troup in wheelchairs and that makes you a musical genius because no one has done it before?? Stupid, pretentious!!

Lady Gaga is someone with exceptional talent. She was at Tisch school of performing arts and showed such promise and adeptness in learning even instructors concurred with her call to leave early and start making her mark in the real world. It then took her 3 years to go from coed to superstar.
This girl may not be as smart as Madonna, but is close and unlike Madonna is a first-rate singer and very literate songwriter with her own style.

The charge she is homely? No, she has a pretty pleasant set of Italian features. Not "strikingly beautiful" but still very attractive and has a rockin bod.

Her own style, which samples heavily from other acts but emerges as pretty unique. And when she sings, again, a most unique and pleasant and strange music with memorable lyrics and very original arrangement.

Of course the females with a Lilith Fair mentality "hate her". They want Raitt who recycles Joplin who herself recycled big fat black women in blues. Or Etheridge who "lesbianally" recycles Raitt recycling Joplin who had ripped off a pile of big fat black women who ripped off black gospel who in turn ripped off 19th Century white Age of Spiritualism religious singing...

LonewackoDotCom said...

Based on Cedarford's past comments I wasn't really expecting that.

gAgA definitely has talent and has had an impact. However, if wholesome is your metric then this cover beats her by a mile.

jamboree said...

Madonna was sneaking in deep thoughts to her imagery?

Hahahaha. Who writes this stuff?

The important thing about Lilith was that it was the first all-female tour to make money. That's HUGE. (The first year anyway.)

I like Gaga as far it goes, and I don't understand why she has everyone running around screaming with their dresses up over their heads when it comes to her.

But then I'm not watching that stuff 24/7 anymore. Overexposure does tend to drive one insane.

The Crack Emcee said...

"Lady Gaga is someone with exceptional talent."

Please, tell me:

Except for keeping the eye of the media trained on herself with outlandish get-ups - which any other celebrity can get by merely gaining or losing weight - what is this "exceptional talent" the rest of the music world should be on the lookout for?

bagoh20 said...

I'm glad I have no idea what good music is. It sounds pretty rare. I like a lot of music and would lose a lot of enjoyment if I was a better judge of it.

The Crack Emcee said...


"I'm glad I have no idea what good music is. It sounds pretty rare. I like a lot of music and would lose a lot of enjoyment if I was a better judge of it."

No, that's the cool thing about it - and what makes Lady GaGa's so bad:

It's not hard to do at all.

Unknown said...

"THE AUTHENTIC" in general is bullshit. It is impossible to talk about what's "AUTHENTIC" whithout actually meaning cheap power plays and cynical grabs for cultural capital. Which, of course, are the opposite of "AUTHENTIC". So the greatest enemy to "THE AUTHENTIC" is talking about "THE AUTHENTIC". It's sad that I have had to break my internet silence to say this.


This is why I love gaga, even though I cannot listen to her music.

yashu said...

Agree with Noah & others on the "authentic" fallacy re pop music-- such bullshit. See: Rockism.

ACravan said...

Ann: I agree with each of your comments.

Anonymous said...

Lots of people still listen to Lilith Fair type music -- "sensitive" or "confessional" female singer songwriters. Much of contemporary folk and acoustic music is along these lines.

For what it's worth, the "sensitive female chord progression" is also alive and well in popular music.



Bryan Townsend said...


"I'm glad I have no idea what good music is. It sounds pretty rare. I like a lot of music and would lose a lot of enjoyment if I was a better judge of it."

True, true, true! I want you to share my pain, because I've spent much of my life figuring out what good music is and while my enjoyment of good music is quite profound, most of the music I hear in public spaces makes me want to scream and run away. My shortlist of great composers is three: Bach, Beethoven and Shostakovich. Every one else I can live without. In pop music I'm a little looser: The Beatles, (long pause) um, I guess, Talking Heads? Prince? Lady Gaga is the first interesting pop music I've heard in a while... I tend to get involved in Beethoven sonatas and Shostakovich quartets and miss every other decade of pop music...

AST said...

What about Michael Jackson?

Elton John?

Marilyn Manson?

Rue Paul?

Lady Gaga may be the first android pop star. Her lyrics are mechanical and her choreography is heavy on striking poses. This could be the pop news story of the century so far. I will say this for her, she has a lower singing voice than Madonna.