Saturday, 25 February 2012

The Nature of Polemic and the Potential Insecurity of Mother Monster

Several days ago, British music magazine NME dubbed Lady Gaga’s Born This Way as the “most pretentious album of all time”, a list that included works by Pete Townshend, KISS, and the Smashing Pumpkins.

That NME would confer such a dubious honor upon Gaga’s latest work may be seen as just one more example of how the general listener consciousness appears to be growing increasingly disenchanted with the pop musician’s work, a disenchantment perhaps spurred by a recent movement towards authenticity in music. Such a movement has its most prominent example in the continued success of Adele, whose 21 rose in sales charts as Born This Way plummeted and won the British singer a multitude of awards, including Album of the Year, at this year’s Grammys while Gaga remained firmly in her seat, unable to do a thing about it.

Gaga is – perhaps surprisingly, given how consistently she’s occupied the spotlight in our often fickle music industry – only twenty-five years old, two years older than Adele herself. One might expect that, given the generally adult way Gaga has addressed criticism of her work, she wouldn’t respond to the NME article at all, say “oh well”, and keep on singing to her Little Monsters. Unfortunately, this was not the case.

Gaga responded to the NME article on Twitter with the sort of spiteful, knee-jerk reaction you might expect from someone in their early adolescence, a retort you might hear even on the playground in middle school:

Oh the irony of winning "Most Pretentious Album Ever" from none other than NME. *eyeroll* I might laugh forever + then return to narcissism.

Does this sound like what a seemingly well-adjusted twenty five-year-old public personality might say to you? An artist that has the unyielding adoration and support of thousands – even millions – of fans and would, given this support, probably not give a care as to what her detractors think? Perhaps a phenomenon similar to the rise of Adele is occurring, a phenomenon in which Lady Gaga herself may be becoming increasingly aware of dints in her disco-plated armour.

As an example, Gaga’s management had to recently respond to an incident in which Gaga fans targeted Adele and her fans with snide remarks about the singer’s weight. Gaga’s management responded by stating “Lady Gaga does not approve of bullying anyone for their physical appearance, it goes against everything she stands for. A tiny handful of fans may be letting her down.” That they emphasized the ‘tiny handful’ of fans, and added ‘may’ before ‘letting her down’, may say more than Gaga’s management might think; the statement feels fuelled more by a sense of panicked nervousness than the sort of cool, well-modulated emotions one might expect from an enterprise as smoothly-run as Gaga, Inc.

Furthermore, comments on the Facebook feed below the NME article have generally run along the lines of ‘Born This Way is a masterpiece and possibly changed music, NME is pretentious and has nothing on which to back its claims’. One fan even remarked to a commenter who stated “I agree indie bands are pretentious. But I also think Lady Gaga is pretentious and that's not just because I don't like the album. But that's just my opinion on it, people can disagree with me” by replying Do you have any actual arguements (sic) to base your opinion on ? Or is it just an opinion based on your 'she-is-pop' disliking to Gaga and your ignorance to her work ?”

This sort of statement is, whether one likes it or not, grounded on the same emotions as Lady Gaga’s response to NME, and the underlying hostility of both Gaga’s statement and the majority of the comments on the article’s Facebook feed do not seem to allow for a well-reasoned and considered discussion about the album to occur.

Instead, unfortunately, what one sees in her response is the same sort of one-dimensional polemic increasingly common on the Internet, an inability - perhaps even refusal - to open up the forum to a critical (as in 'reasoned') perspective on what, given both Gaga's evident effort in creating Borh This Way and the variety of opinions surrounding its release, is an album most definitely worthy of critical examination.

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