12 October 2010
Since the emergence of Lady Gaga and her ilk, it’s become harder and harder to determine the line between Art & Pop, between high culture and low culture and, yes, even between live and Memorex. The latest instance?
Well, okay, it’s not strictly true that Kanye and Gaga have changed the world as we know it. (Though yes when I read Kanye’s Twitter feed I feel he consistently threatens to reverse the polarity of the cosmos. In a good way.)
Artful pop stars appeared long before Gaga and Kanye came along. The popwerks of Bjork, Nine Inch Nails and Bob Dylan, to cite three examples, were powerfully intertwined with the larger world of the Arts — be they ripping off the work of “real” artists like Joel Peter-Witkin…
NIN’s “Closer” by Mark Romanek
Or providing a forum for the emergence of other fellow creators…
Bjork’s “Triumph of a Heart” by Spike Jonze
Bjork’s “All is Full of Love” by Chris Cunningham
Bjork’s “Wanderlust” by Encyclopedia Pictura
Or, in the case of Bob Dylan, well, just allowing someone to be Bob Dylan…
Gaga, however, is something new. She’s too popular to be an arty favorite; she’s too arty to be a popular favorite in the traditional sense of the word. One part Madonna, one part Matthew Barney, all Gagamtkunstwerk, she doesn’t seem to care that, by definition, someone as popular as she is, is actually allowed to embrace stupidity more than she does. It’s always been the way of popular musicians to become idiots as they became really, truly popular. In fact, we’ve come to think of it as something of a God Given Right. Our most famous pop musicians are simply expected to become paranoid weirdos.
So why is it that Lady Gaga only seems to get sharper?
Part of it, I think, is that her music is, at best, sort of extraneous. At worst, my evaluation is that it’s is so clearly inferior to her co-branding & presentation that I wonder if & hope that she’ll transcend the need to make music at all. The sounds she makes (literally) are insignificant compared to the sound she makes (metaphorically).
It’s this over/under, best/worst evaluation of her which makes her so interesting. Pop musicians in the 20th century often struggled with the fact that they were popular for things other than their music. This conundrum became increasingly more fraught with the rise of music video. Remember when it was said that the video star would kill the radio star?
In other words, the visual would defeat the aural! Earaches would be masked by eye candy! This was cause for electrified, robot-age anxiety!
Now with Gaga, pop stars can revel in what they always wanted to be. Which is simply famous. Full stop. And guess what, dudes, there are many other “artists” crowding in to achieve the distinction of capturing this particular brass ring — achieving the nadir-slash-apotheosis of video stardom:
But, really, is this a race to the bottom? Or are we just redefining which particular ceiling this most popular of arts is trying to push against? Are we shifting from a world of Popular Music vs. Art Music competing in the marketplace, to Art and Pop joining as one to create a new kind of marketplace for Culture. No art. No pop.
One more video after the jump. To end things on a positive note…
Read more »
Posted by Alec Hanley Bemis
Tags: Bjork, Bob Dylan, Chris Cunningham, Dick Clark, Encyclopedia Pictura, Gesamtkunstwerk, ICP, Insane Clown Posse, Joel Peter-Witkin, Kanye West, Lady Gaga, Lars Ulrich, Mark Romanek, Metallica, Nine Inch Nails, Prince, Spike Jonze, The Buggles, The Problem With Glamour, The Problem With Nostalgia, The Problem With the Avant Garde, Trent Reznor, Twitter
17 May 2010
Image of Sam Lipsyte with son via Flickr.
I’ve been a huge fan of New York novelist Sam Lipsyte since reading his pretty much unimpeachable 2004 novel Homeland. His new novel, The Ask, is that rare bit of fiction whose publication I anticipated eagerly.
His work is laugh-out-loud funny — rare for the pinched world of literary fiction — but also on the pulsebeat of culture. His punchlines are not only humor for the sake of humor; they are the horrified, cackling, self-conscious crack-up of an insightful artist who understands that laughter is, perhaps, the best reaction an intelligent citizen can have in the face of our culture’s decadent decline. Viz Woody Allen’s New York films of the 1970s, Bob Dylan’s increasingly ridiculous culture-bombing gambits, and whatever it is that LCD Soundsystem are doing these days. Some illustrations, below:
Woody Allen’s coke scene in Annie Hall
Bob Dylan’s Victoria’s Secret advert
LCD Soundsystem’s “Drunk Girls” video by Spike Jonze
Unfortunately I don’t think Lipsyte’s new book coheres in the same way as Homeland did. The Ask lacks both a convincing plot and the devastatingly clever literary conceit that elevated that book. (Homeland took the form of inappropriate, intimate letters to a high school alumni newsletter, 20 years after graduation.) And, finally, this new book’s conclusions are depressing in a way that seemed more exhausted than insightful. It’s as if Lipsyte was so tired of living with these characters he preferred they collapse at the end of the book rather than come upon some germ of real truth or real meaning.
That said, I never stopped laughing and you will be hard pressed to find new piece of fiction that better investigates matters that actually reflect and refract what’s going on in our culture today. Read more »
Posted by Alec Hanley Bemis
Tags: Annie Hall, Bob Dylan, Drunk Girls, LCD Soundsystem, Literary Fiction, Sam Lipsyte, Spike Jonze, The Ask, The Problem With Glamour, The Problem With Nostalgia, Vice Magazine, Victoria's Secret, Woody Allen