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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Going goo-goo for Lady GaGa, and the manifestation of pop culture as we know it

Published: November 20, 2009
Section: Arts, Etc.

I’m sure most self-respecting liberal arts students do not consider Lady GaGa a gold standard for cultural consumption. For the most part, I would agree.

Lady GaGa in many ways represents all that is wrong with pop culture. Her songs, and especially her videos, are the musical equivalents of empty calories. They are loaded with addicting elements—catchy tunes, dance beats, sparkly things—but provide no substance beyond the superficial. Listening to her music is analogous to chugging pixie sticks—briefly invigorating, and afterwards you feel like spastically jumping around a lot. But there’s no nutritional value, and side effects may include nausea.

After watching her latest video “Bad Romance” online this week, I realized something: Lady GaGa is more than a flashy, ambiguously gendered music celebrity. She is an icon—the personification of pop; the physical embodiment of everything pop-culture junkies drool over.

“Bad Romance” is essentially pop-culture porn. But besides the fact that it is obnoxiously, stupidly catchy and doesn’t require many IQ points to process the lyrics, there is a lot more to this five-minute musical perversion than meets the eye.

The concept for the video is basically this: GaGa is kidnapped by a gang of supermodels who take her to a futuristic “Bath Haus” and transform her into a fashion sex kitten to be used for human trafficking by the Russian Mafia. I know, I know.

The video starts out in this “Bath Haus” of sorts, with a bunch of models rising from what I assume to be tanning booths that actually seem more like white plastic coffins. It’s an easy mistake to make, since the models break into rickety dance moves reminiscent of the zombie choreography in Michael Jackson’s classic “Thriller” video.

That’s not the only borrowed dance move, either. If you look closely, GaGa’s choreography incorporates a couple mini-takes on famous numbers. I spotted references to the “Grease” hand-jive and Destiny’s Child’s “Single Ladies.” The costume design is also reminiscent of past entertainment—the all white, skin-tight uniforms worn by the model brigade match the equally blinding walls of the Haus. Apparently a bleach-clean set design is inherently futuristic—Michael and Janet Jackson used the same color scheme in their sci-fi 1993 music video “Scream.” Also, at one point GaGa sports orange hair and barely-there white body wrap. Sorry Lady, it’s been done— Milla Jovovich rocked white body tape and fluorescent orange dreads when she played Leeloo in the 1997 sci-fi action comedy, “The Fifth Element.”

Unoriginality aside, “Bad Romance” does a pretty good job summing up our present pop culture zeitgeist. The cameras glide over some pricey looking bottles of Nemiroff vodka (GaGa gets a shot of it poured down her throat, I guess as some sort of trendy elixir). I need not bring up the myriad hip-hop songs out there that mention ‘poppin’ bottles’ in the lyrics. Then, in typical GaGa fashion, she cranks up the clothing shock-factor by strutting a couple of sufficiently hideous outfits—one, perhaps as a nice salute to PETA activists, is a full-body polar bear shawl with the dead animal’s taxidermal head still in tact, trailing the floor behind her. She strips, of course, revealing the itty bitty thong beneath.

It gets better yet! Next, the chamber of the Russian Mafioso spontaneously combusts, setting GaGa her bear-shawl on fire. She cries, breaks into dance, and randomly starts speaking French. (A side note: The French thing has been done too. “Lady Marmalade,” anyone?)

Sex! Fashion! Passion! Flames! Vodka! What more could the public ask for? This may seem absurd to some of you cultured folk, but you have to give Lady GaGa—or at least, the marketing and entertainment force behind Lady GaGa—some credit. They’ve basically condensed all the tantalizing elements of pop culture into five minutes of pure mind-numbing entertainment. If the video makes no sense to you, it’s because it’s not supposed to. If, however, you interrupt your internet browsing to watch this gem, and have to put in your earphones lest someone around you hears and accuses you of being a sell-out, and you try to deny actually liking the glitzy, gaudy thing and you have to stop yourself from humming the confounded melody later—well, Lady GaGa’s done her job.