Monday, June 21, 2010

La Isla Bonita > Elba Meets Auschwitz in a Leather Bar.

[ DISCLAIMER: The impetus for this post came from this wonderful piece of writing, which you should all read, ASAP. ]

I have been actively avoiding this video since it came out. Seriously: I tried
really, really hard not to watch it—even after impatient, eviscerating glares from several friends—because I just knew I was going to have another brain-barf episode & would probably reach the word limit on this damn Blog, which is already saturated enough with Gaga as it is—&, in that way, drastically misrepresents the amount of my brain space that she & her exploits take up on a day-to-day basis. (That is, precious little. She just has a way of getting my goat from time to time—hence the word-vomitous epics.)

However, a few days ago—after many, many hours of Awake, nourished only by Kix & beef jerky, lounging on a seafoam carpet in Brooklyn with a long lost pal—the time finally felt right. I gathered up my mental skirts, crossed myself a few times for good measure, & typed those 9 fatal letters into YouTube:


(I should also disclose that my knowledge of the song itself was limited to the few minutes I spent at a T stop next to perhaps the world's most flamboyant young gentleman, who was singing along enthusiastically with his headphones at full volume & doing a little dance, not unlike a bashful cha-cha. Basically, as this episode is somewhat seared into my brain, I could dope out a version of his slightly off-key "Alejandro, Ale-Ale-jandro" if asked.)

What I discovered, after 8-plus minutes of bowl cuts & latex & piles of pulsating back-up dancers, was actually quite shocking:

It's kind of boring.

Really. The song & the visuals: none too stimulating (well, okay, writhe-y & muscle-y, but not in a particularly compelling way)—at least compared with what she's done, & especially with what's out there to see. I don't hate it, but I don't like it much. In fact, I have almost no feelings about it whatsoever. Which, considering my history with the Lady, is surprising—to me at least.

&, while we're on the subject, let me just say this about that: Despite the amount of time I spend talking about her negatively, I don't hate Lady Gaga. Honestly, I feel the same way about her as I do this video: both ought to be wow-inducing, considering the amount of praise & attention they receive, but all I see is a tepid re-hash of bigger & better things. Not evil—not fundamentally wrong—just tepid. Lame. Diluted. However, it often feels like I'm the odd one out in a world of Little Monsters, like I'm missing some fundamental truth about Gaga that would render her Revolutionary in my eyes—or, in my version, like I'm Cassandra or Neo or that little boy at the Emperor's parade, whose job it is to yell "For God's sake, she's wearing Leigh Bowery's old clothes!"

It's similar to the way I feel as a born Bostonian living in New York: I have to get hyper-proud about my hometown, more so than I actually am, just to combat all of the sneering its mention often merits. & so, too, with Gaga—only in her case, I feel like I have to wave my arms & shout "She's Not That Cool, Guys!" far more than the recommended dosage to make any kind of microscopic dent in her massively positive image. My intent (though it often doesn't feel like a choice, the way frustration froths at the tip of my tongue) is to act as a vanguard, if you will—the devil's advocate, the provocateur—to make sure that those Gaga fans I can reach don't get too complacent as regards her penchant for uncredited homage & frustrating non-breakings of female sexuality conventions.

But I don't hate her, I don't hate this video, & as such, I only really have a few things to say:

1) Huzzah for boys in fishnets.

2) I so strongly desire that strange eyeglass/headdress contraption from the opening sequence. Honestly, if the whole video had been three minutes of her switching from lens to lens as the song played in the background, I would have been more than fine.

3) Though I get a feeling in my gut that I'm being utterly gauche by saying so—exposing myself as the fashion cretin I am & whatnot—I cannot get behind bowl cuts. I just can't do it. They remind me of little boys in striped shirts; seeing them on buff, leather-clad back-up dancers is just odd, if not laughable, impractical, juvenile. Am I wrong? It makes me feel like they ought to have giant eyebrow-pencil freckles & do a slapstick comedy sketch.

4) The song itself seems, upon further inspection, to be two verses appropriately chorus-intercut, followed by four minutes of repeating that chorus / the name "Alejandro" over & over & over & over until you would rather scoop your own eyes out with a soup ladle than hear her try to roll another R ever again. (Read: I'm really not a fan.)

5) There has been a lot of brouhaha about Gaga simulating the dominant role in gay male sex—that is, getting behind one of her muscle boys & thrusting—but that shot, though repeated twice, is but a few seconds in a video mostly dominated by her being dominated (felt up by multiple men at a time, restrained & lifted off the bed while struggling) & then lots of traditional pop group-dance. It's true, though: this fleeting moment of her dominance in the sex act allows me not to feel icky about a video in which a petite, mostly nude woman is repeatedly manhandled. However, it doesn't do much more than that; in the words of the great Rick Springfield, the point is prob'ly moot.

6) After the truly excellent pairing of song & video concept in Bad Romance—in which the video, though not a literal illustration of the lyrics, actually does better by illuminating another potential dimension of the song—I'm a little disappointed at the Cabaret-meets-La Grande Illusion motif. (Not in & of itself, but as it relates—or doesn't—to Alejandro.) As far as I understand it, this song is supposed to be about Gaga's love for gay men in general, a love that sometimes morphs into the romantic kind she knows they can never reciprocate—hence, don't call my name, etc. While I appreciate the sentiment (as this predicament is something I am well familiar with, rest assured), the video doesn't really seem to have much to do with that, metaphorically or otherwise. I mean, unless, as a nun (who is a bride of Christ), Gaga is trying to parallel her unrequited love for the gay Alejandro to the (technically) unrequited love of a nun for Jesus. Or is it just that unrequited love feels like a German POW camp? But even then—where do these potential parallels lead, aside from shock for shock's sake? Blasphemy has been done many times before, even by blonde female popstars.

Which brings me to the point so obvious I was actually calling out song & video names during my first Alejandro viewing—a point that I think deserves its own category:

—Ways in Which This Is a Madonna Homage—

La Isla Bonita: A Spanish-ified song, about Pedro this time, & the leading lady's longing to be with him, despite knowing it's hopeless.

Like a Prayer: Blasphemy, blasphe-you... Really, though: the religious imagery, the sexualizing of Jesus, it's all there—just not strapped across Madonna's crotch.

Open Your Heart: The original Violently Protruding Chest.

[ NOTE: This just may be my absolute favorite music video of all time. ]

Express Yourself: The leading lady looking down on muscular men dancing outside her window.

Vogue: Black & white, essentially an editorial fashion shoot with dance moves—plus, a black, fitted pantsuit.

... You get the idea. Am I alone in recognizing these—all of these—watered down, funneled together, & simplified to a red-black-white color palate? Again: it's not that I hate Alejandro; I just like every single one of these better.

Today's Headphone Fodder:

While compiling a Non-Gender-Denominational Parents' Day mix for the lovely Ms. Mika, I rediscovered this song—which I distinctly remember (forgive me, Father) ruthlessly hunting down after I heard it for about 30 seconds in the background of an L Word episode. It was well worth it, though: any song that can combine this catchy a synth hook with use of the term "cash masturbation" (so deliciously alliterative) is absolutely worth finding—& celebrating.

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