Anchoress on Lady Gaga…on NPR!

It’s not a broadcast piece, but after reader Dick T sent me this video of Lady Gaga at last night’s Grammy Awards, NPR invited me to submit my thoughts on it, which they have published here. Check it out. Leave a comment, over there, if you like! Hit “recommend!” I feel like spreading myself around, today, like candy!

Here is the video in question, btw:

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Kim Priestap

    I am so unhip that I have never heard one song by Lady Gaga until I saw this video. I had heard of her but I thought the name Lady Gaga was weird enough that I had no interest in listening to her.

  • Bender

    You’re more hip than me, Kim.

    Until a couple of weeks ago, I had never heard of “Lady Gaga” and now all of the sudden it is like she is the Second Coming of Barack Obama. And while we’re at it — who is this Winehouse woman and why do I keep hearing about her?

  • Julie C.

    My first introduction to Lady Gaga was hearing Poker Face every morning at full blast while my teenager took a shower. My second introduction was her appearance on American Idol. I loved her from the moment she sat at that piano and did the beginning of Poker Face in a very dramatic, slow, Broadway style rendition. And I still enjoy watching the video for Bad Romance. Such fun! She has more musical talent than Madonna and is way more interesting, visually and artistically.

    [I agree; I think she has more on the ball than Madonna ever did. -admin]

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  • By the Sea

    I thought Madonna had a lot of talent. She didn’t need to use sex to sell her songs. She didn’t need to constantly reinvent herself. Songs like Borderline, La Isla Bonita, Take a Bow, and even Material Girl were fairly solid pop songs and would have stood on their own without gimmicks.

    I think I’ve seen maybe one Lady Gaga video and I’ve read a few articles on her. It sounds like she attended a Catholic high school, the Convent of the Sacred Heart. Didn’t Madonna attend a Catholic high school as well? Didn’t Bruce Springsteen also attend a Catholic school? I wonder if there is a wellspring of creativity for Catholics, even though that creativity gets misapplied and misdirected at times (maybe someone can do an article on this).

    I think there is a great potential for pop music to do good, as well as to lead people astray. And it seems like as a pop musician it would be easy to miss the mark, given all the pressures and market forces. I’m still looking for a talented dancer to bring forth an elegant dance style for pop music. Michael Jackson had potential, but fell short with the crotch-grabbing–something that could have gone great directions gets reduced to a single dimension. It wasn’t enjoyable to watch. High schoolers should be able to have fun at high school dances, and enjoy a dance and music style that is “good”.

    So how do we put it all in the light of Pope Benedict’s recent gathering of artists at the Sistine Chapel, where he called the artists to put their talents at God’s service? What would happen if our pop artists did this? What would the music sound like? What would the dance look like? I like to think that we can raise the bar for both pop music and dance.

    I hope Lady Gaga’s career doesn’t go like Madonna’s. One doesn’t need a monster musician when there are enough monstrosities in the world already. Who wants to reflect on our reflection? But we do need good, well-performed, uplifting music. A friend of mine, kind of a rocker dude, told me a few years ago regarding the music of the 90′s that “the best thing about the 90′s is that they are over.” I thought it was a funny statement, but also a little telling. I want a decade of good music! Say a prayer tonight for pop musicians!

  • tim maguire

    Thank God I’m not alone. First I’d heard of Lady Gaga was about two weeks ago. Now her name pops up just about every day. I think there’s a word for that phenomenon.

  • http://none weehawker

    Please accept my humble opinion, but just this afternoon, while talking to my 28 year old daughter on her way to work at a teen-pregnancy counseling center, she was describing one of Gaga’s videos, and how “sensual” it was. I looked up Gaga on Wikipedia, and the entry references the song you see performed here, and states she is advocating bisexuality, ….

    Please help me out here, but are you people into extramarital sex, as Gaga is? Sometimes we can be so open minded ,……

    Cordially, weehawker

  • Bob Devine

    I will say the same here as I did at NPR`s site. The musicians of today seem to be very talented and attractive. It is to bad the talent has to take the back seat to all the gimmickry and sexuality. Who can tell how good they really are when just about all we get is presentation and very little craft.

  • Hank

    Why is every one going GA GA?

    Hannah Cyrus (or whatever) has much more talent.

    How about some Deana Ross replays?

  • Jan

    weehawker, i don’t think anyone here is that open-minded(?) :-P

    Speaking only for myself and maybe a few others, I think I can safely say that the folks who frequent this site like their sex

    Actually, I really can’t say. I just wanted to answer someone with the guts to call himself or herself weehawker – it’s the best handle ever~ even better than Bender.

  • Bender

    By the Sea — I agree with you that Madonna Ciccone had some degree of talent (but her Evita was ghastly), but sadly she did use sensationalism and sex to sell her songs (and she infected a whole generation of girls with her slutty-whore dressing style).

    I should think that most of the prolific musicians in the modern era had some religious influence. Not necessarily Catholic, there were many influenced by Gospel and by Southern Protestantism (although arguably the greatest song writer of the last 100 years, Paul McCartney, does have a Catholic background). Even if they do not begin there, eventually many do gravitate in that direction.

  • Mimsy

    I agree with Bender about Paul McCartney’s being the greatest song writer of, well, at least the last 50 years! As for the Gaga video, urk for substance, yay for style. She has a great voice, but her soul could be in jeopardy. Elizabeth’s remarks for NPR were thoughtful, especially regarding Madonna.

  • lethargic

    I’m old enough to remember the 80′s. Michael Jackson did that bombastic set piece thing so much better. Pat Benatar dressed better … except for the hair … and she could even sing. This Lady Gaga I only heard about a couple of weeks ago … what’s the appeal?

  • RandomThoughts

    “Lady Gaga” strikes me as yet another vocally talented woman bitter about her Catholic upbringing and hellbent (no pun intended) on marketing her music with sexuality.

    I find her both pathetic and tragic, but that’s pretty much how I felt about Madonna too, back in the day.

  • Bob

    Obviously she doesn’t appeal to everyone, but I think Lady Gaga is very talented. Listening to her song ‘Just Dance,’ makes me think the lyrics were written by piecing together snippets of drunken conversation overheard in the very same dance clubs where the song was written to be played.
    I think that was very cleverly done. Much like the story of the Billy Joel song ‘I didn’t start the fire.’ That song was supposedly written during a plane flight, when someone bet Billy Joel he couldn’t write a song using only sound bits he heard in the news.
    If she doesn’t let the fame and celebrity twist her like it has so many talented youngsters, Lady Gaga should do quite well in the music industry.

  • Ellen

    I’m the old fogey here. I can take Lady GaGa (horrid stage name) in small doses. However the chick does have the pipes and maybe will settle down and really sing a la Ella when she grows up.

    BTW, Amy Winehouse is a British singer with a great white lady soulful voice. But she seems determined to kill herself with drink, drugs and general dissipation. Pity – she really can sing.

  • dry valleys

    By all accounts Lady Gaga is a very bright young woman- she was at NYU & was something of ana cademic achiever before she decided to become a musician. You can see from her songcraft & attention to detail that she is good at what she does. Unfortunately for her, I have no interest in what she does & accordingly don’t like her records.

    She is also bisexual & is involved in all sorts of LGBT rights business. Not something that I turn any hairs over but then that’s what you’d expect from a heathen :)

    By no means is she as thick as the stereotype of the people who like her music. A recurring theme, isn’t it? People who “write” tabloid “newspapers” are very much the same.

    As for the religious influence, it certainly exists. Even when they kick against the pricks they wouldn’t want to be without it because it gave them something to rail against. Just like Bush’s detractors probably have some moments of regret that it’s no fun when they can’t vent their hatred of him any more :)

    Religious themes were dealt with by many of the old bluesmen I listen to, by the likes of Hank Williams, & many others. You’d be surprised at how many are from that background. They outrage the faithful’s sensibilities but I personally have presumably got no sensibilities to outrage ;)

    As for a popular musician Republicans can appreciate, I don’t know whether there are any, short of the likes of Hank Williams Jr. or latter-day Lynyrd Skynyrd (I only like them before 1977, but there you go).

    My background is in heavy metal. I have added more stuff to my collection since. But I still love the old metallers. I can’t say Stefani Germanotta is my cup of tea but I wouldn’t want to say she was stupid or vapid.

  • dry valleys

    They are often glad of the structure & discpline. Henry Rollins was at military school, & glad of it in later years, even though I can’t imagine his views going down well in the officers’ mess.

  • anniebird

    A, I liked your analysis over at NPR. I think Lady Gaga’s songs are fun to listen to, but I tend to file them in the “be careful what you allow into your mind and soul” category, since that “inner monster” in me really doesn’t need any encouragement.

  • Jack Perry

    I can’t believe I’m the only person to read that article and think that Madonna’s music hasn’t held up well at all over the years, but then again I didn’t much care for it even when it came out the first time! I suspect that people exalting her music are more likely waxing nostalgic about the 80s than evaluating the music itself.

    The vast majority of pop music is too bound up in a particular time & cultural context to hold up well. Madonna’s is especially bound to that time & context; even retro 80s channels/stations don’t play Madonna’s hits with any higher frequency than others’ hits.

  • Lauri Friesen

    I suggest you check out the Elvis clip Joseph Bottum has embedded on “First Thoughts”. That clearly shows the difference between electrifying talent and cheap thrills.

  • Veronica

    I don’t think she’s anything special. When an artist needs to dress herself in the most ridiculous and tacky ways in order to gain attention, it only makes me pity her. She also uses her bisexuality to sell herself, in my opinion she’s just another publicity whore and little more.

    I much prefer Taylor Swift. She may not have a good voice, but she didn’t need to use sex and tacky costumes in order to become famous, and I really respect her for that. Her songs are also a breath of fresh air, sweet and romantic at the same time. Good for her, I say.

  • HKatz

    Lady Gaga reminds me of NYC’s Halloween Parade, in Greenwich Village.

  • Craig Payne

    “Just like Bush’s detractors probably have some moments of regret that it’s no fun when they can’t vent their hatred of him any more”

    I guess I haven’t noticed the let-up yet?

  • dry valleys

    Has anyone ever been to ?

    I used to have an account there, chronicling what I listened to, but I stopped because it didn’t always sync with my ipod, & obviously didn’t include CDs I play in the car etc, so it wasn’t accurate. But it is good for showing off your interests & getting recommendations. They also tell you when any of the artists you like are on tour.

  • Sheryl Bryant

    Okay, I didn’t see anyone else comment on this part of the video – I thought Elton John was terrific! His voice is still good and his being there reminded me of his old shows – where it was a lot of “style” with substance. Maybe she’ll grow up a bit. She is still quite young.

  • huxley

    My curiosity piqued, I tracked down the Queen song “Radio Ga Ga” from which Lady GaGa found her name. To my surprise, “Radio Ga Ga” is actually a thoughtful message about how the songwriter misses the impact of old-time radio and decries the current style of trivial radio which he dismisses as baby-talk radio: “Radio ga ga, Radio goo goo.”

    So that makes Lady GaGa, “Lady ga ga, Lady goo goo”?

    What levels of irony are at work here? Or has she noticed?

  • Susan in Seattle

    I came across Lady Gaga first when I saw a link to a YouTube clip of Christopher Walken reading the lyrics to “Poker Face.” It was funny but since I had no idea who Lady Gaga was or what the song was, I had to find out so I could hopefully “get it.” If you like Mr. Walken, then it will likely be a good laugh for the day.

  • NanB

    Lady Gaga has a lot of musical talent. Far more than Madonna could ever hope for. I wish she would concentrate on being a talented musician instead of a here-today-gone-tomorrow pop star.

  • shana

    She can hold her own musically, but her stage personality leaves a lot to be desired.

    I think she’s just silly.

  • Larry Sheldon

    “more…than madonna…” still leave here near zero.

    Or about the sum of all of TV and ten times NPR.

  • SallyJune

    My 12 year old loves the music of the 80s. She liked the catchy beat of Madonna’s music and her out-there style … until I pointed out that she took a current trend, copied it, added sex, and made money. When she saw how Madonna copied Cindi Lauper, Madonna’s influence over her ended.

    Lady GaGa reminds me of nothing so much as Weimar Germany.

  • Colleen

    I think she is sinister, what is the fixation on death and violence in her act?

  • jean

    You ask… “Where do all the pent up monsters go?”
    Could be the Deacon has a clue:

  • Kurt

    SallyJune–that’s an excellent (if scary) point about Lady GaGa and Weimar Germany.

    I have been hearing about Lady GaGa for several months now, but have mostly not bothered to find out too much about her except what I just happen to encounter here and there. I tried watching the clip above and lost patience with it after about two minutes. All that hoopla distracts me more than it adds anything to the performance.

    I noticed that many of the readers of the piece at NPR were angry that the Anchoress said some dismissive things about Madonna. Although I didn’t care much for Madonna in my late teens and early 20s for a variety of reasons, by my late 20s and early 30s I appreciated her more–though not because there was any improvement in the quality, only because I became less uptight about the music I was willing to admit I liked. I can’t imagine why so many of those commenters on the NPR piece have to be so defensive about Madonna, though.

  • jean

    Somehow, to me, these stories connect:
    Frightful scandals at the USCCB.
    Shake it up…John Carr and the CCD.

  • EM

    I have a musically inclined son who wants to “rule” the world someday with music; at this point to be an example, a force for good (he’s a pretty devout, chaste Catholic).

    Reading Stefani’s story on Wikipedia I couldn’t help but feel sorrow for the parents…it sounds like they tried to bring her up right. What must it be like for them to watch their daughter lead so many merrily to hell? Not to mention herself. It makes me want to cry.

    Every time I see a “former” Catholic embrace sin so publicly, be it Madonna, Pelosi, Kennedy, or Stefani, it is like a knife in the heart (I guess literally it’s a knife in the body of Christ).

    This kind of thing still could happen to my son, to us. St. Monica, pray for us!

  • Glenn Smith

    She seems very “jump the shark”ish.

  • Fr. Greg

    Like some of the others who have commented, it has only been recently since I first noticed the phenomenon that has become Lady Gaga. When her popularity really surged, I was studying abroad and while I enjoy observing closely trends in pop culture, this one has mostly passed me by.

    Nevertheless, at the encouragement of a fellow religious who was interested in my opinion, and after seeing your comments, I went and watched two of Lady Gaga’s videos while doing a close reading of the lyrics.

    On the surface, some of the images and language she uses are quite raunchy, even vulgar. In “Poker Face,” she sings as a woman trying to hide any authentic sentiment or feelings so as to ensnare a man. It won’t become a relationship; it won’t even be love. But she puts on her poker face to convince him to give in to her advances, to “fold,” so to speak. She sings, “Luck and intuition play the cards with spades to start / And after he’s been hooked I’ll play the one that’s on his heart.” Of course, the implication is that the “one” that’s on his heart is the play he is being allowed to make with her. On the surface, it seems the typical feminist trope: women can be empowered to be promiscuous and to use men for pleasure without emotional or spiritual consequences, just as men have purportedly done for years.

    “Bad Romance,” on her most recent album, expresses a desire for the object’s “ugly” and “disease,” his “psycho.” The words unfurl like a canon of what romantic and intimate relationships have become: a mess of revenge, horror, and even death. For the singer, this yearning in no way builds her up; in fact, it’s the contrary, in which she seems to be content. She is expressing her desire for the destruction of a bad romance. But who would want such a thing? Unfortunately, one look at reality television will give you more examples than you can count.

    This is actually the point at which I become suspicious, that somehow Lady Gaga is, in all her garish makeup and outrageous outfits, serving us up at some level something more real than we might think. I was once flipping through the stations and saw an interview with Lady Gaga on “Ellen.” She was gracious, articulate, and most of all, she expressed a sincere care, concern, and love for her mother and father. It wasn’t simply her sentiment but the way in which she expressed it that all of the sudden threw quotes around the word love every time—out of the hundreds, it seems—it is mentioned in her lyrics.

    With Lady Gaga, I’m not sure that anything is, in fact, as it seems. To start, she has taken a stage name. In the video above, the commentator speaks about the real and the fake Lady Gaga. She has a fetish about covering up her eyes, or at least, as in the “Bad Romance” video, distorting them. Her songs and her image are rife with concealing those eyes and potentially, what is behind them. One cannot help but ask if she is fooling us. Is she presenting us a real picture of the way the culture sees love, and is she mocking it? Is she seeing how outrageous she can make it seem and still get us to go along? Is it a great ironic ploy to offer us a feminism that is more in line with her Catholic background than she lets on?

    Only she can answer these questions, but even if she is not being ironic, her commentary is there just the same—an artist does not have a monopoly on the interpretation of her work. She may not be aware of that to which she is reacting and how it confirms or denies where our culture has chosen to go with respect to love. Note that the only time her eyes aren’t distorted in “Bad Romance,” they have one of the most profound looks of longing in them, so much so that one must wonder if at some level, the stinging indictment of what passes as love is being displayed as outrageously as her latest fashion dare.

    Another piece of evidence is the background chatter of “Poker Face,” in which we hear, “She’s gonna love nobody.” In “Bad Romance,” we hear, “Cause I’m a free b**ch, baby.” Is this a statement about her intent or an explanation of the result of the image she is reflecting in her music? Maybe someone who loves like a person with a poker face will indeed “love nobody.” Maybe the rally cry to “freedom” will lead to the slavery of relationship after relationship of destruction of the self, as is displayed in many of the costumes of the video.

    You are indeed right that it is this profundity that differentiates this music from that of Madonna; Madonna’s use of religious imagery, for example, was too cheap and obvious to have any depth. With Lady Gaga, it is there beneath the surface, whether she likes it or not. I propose that this could be the monster. In other words, if she doesn’t intend her music to be ironic, then maybe religious sensibilities, goodness, stable relationships, or all that is good with respect to love are the real monster she feels is trying to emerge, and her music is the loud rumblings she is using to scare it away, not only for us but also for herself.

  • By the Sea

    I’ve had the lyrics of the Rodgers and Hammerstein song from Oklahoma, People Will Say We’re in Love going through my head today. Compare and contrast…

  • Peter

    Fr. John,

    You may be on to something. When I watched the video, I noticed towards the end of her medley/duet with Elton John a look of real happiness on her face. Through the disguise there shone the smile of a twenty-three year old musician simply enjoying what she was doing.

    As anchoress said in one of her articles, Lady Gaga owes a debt to David Bowie and other glam rockers, including Elton John, as evidenced by the masks they each wore. But, her getup reminded me even more specifically of “shock” rockers like Alice Cooper and Marilyn Manson (I’ve never heard the latter, just seen his picture).

    The only other time I’ve seen her was on Saturday Night Live (yes, I admit to watching it on occasion. Amidst all the dreck there are still occasional flashes of brilliance). Based on that performance I dismissed her as a second-rate wannabe Madonna. It probably didn’t help that one of the sketches featured a bizarre hair pulling fight between her and “Madonna”. It seems like the comparison to Madonna may be based as much on a marketing strategy as it is any actual resemblance they have as performers.

    Based on what I saw on this video and have read here, I agree that she is probably a better musician and songwriter than Madonna. For one thing, she plays an instrument, and I doubt Elton John would have agreed to play with her in public if he did not respect her as a musician. If she is a gay rights advocate, then they would have that affinity too.

    Based only on what I have seen so far, she is not, however, as good a dancer as Madonna.

  • Don Guillermo

    Watching Lady Gaga at the Awards reminded me of the Old Testament and how God allowed those who rebelled against Him to lose what little understanding they still possessed. We are those rebels, and Lady Gaga’s popularity is the proof that we have lost all understanding. Her “inner monster” clarion call is just another tired mantra confusing libertinism for true liberation, or self-mastery. She deludes the young, and her only “talent,” if it can be called that, is for ugliness. Pray for her.

  • jean

    Pink soaring and sprinkling the audience with water was a much better performance.
    Always thought that this could be done at Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, Spain, with Holy water, instead ot the incense, to Baptise the parishioners.

  • Phil Fox Rose

    Stunningly good. Really. I’ll be spreading it around.

    First of all, I agree with everything you said. Not only your take on Stefani, but also what went wrong with Madonna. I never saw it quite that way — how her message was so limited to sex. I was always a little embarrassed at how teenage her sexual provocations were, but I never saw the big picture as clearly before. Thanks. Now, about Lady Gaga. I noticed that she was something special from my first encounter, which must be a year ago. I also have some old ties that overlap with her early days, though I’m not involved in that scene anymore. But I was aware of her early on, and aware that she herself was the driving creative force behind her work. I have been rather frustrated how quickly many friends who discovered her since she exploded dismissed her, assuming her to be nothing more than another product.

    Also, I am baffled by the visceral negative reactions some people have. She’s an very talented singer and obviously has a lot of creative ideas. I’ll take her over a hundred cookie cutter pop stars. Actually I’ll take her and forget all the cookie-cutter versions. I think you are dead right that her mission, her challenge, is much broader than Madonna’s. The question is whether she leaves it at the level of transgressive art — simply shocking us again and again with monstrosities, or as you say at the end, whether her message grows and matures with her into something embracing and healing. I think of another pop star whose later work has bordered on spiritual: Robbie Williams.

    Even though I was already a fan of Lady Gaga’s, you gave me new insights.

  • LBascom

    Here is where I first heard of Lady Gaga.

    There is also more about her at the link if you look.

    I suggest you be careful about what you feed your brain.