Intertextuality and Irony in Lady Gaga’s PAPARAZZI

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My introduction to the creature known as Lady Gaga was through a sixth grader named Greyson Chance whose YouTube cover of her song Paparazzi stormed from the Internet and into the great wide world. If I’d heard a Lady Gaga song before last week, I couldn’t say, and in fact I was one of the people who judged her as a no-talent hack without even listening to her music or watching her music videos.

Greyson’s Paparazzi cover haunted me. I listened over and over, reminded of Tori Amos as a child, belting her heart out while pounding away beautiful noise on her piano. I forced my husband to listen, over and over, and while he was impressed, he was curious about what the original song sounded like. A Google search later, we had before us Lady Gaga’s uncut and explicit Paparazzi music video. Like with Greyson, I was captivated.

The extended Paparazzi video is far more akin to a short film set to music than a music video. True Blood hottie Alexander Skarsgaard plays an overzealous Gaga fan who, in his desire to be captured on film by her paparazzi, assaults her and then tosses her over a balcony where she splatters onto the marble floor. Being an avid horror fan and seeing scary movie written all over the video, I was mesmerised. A Hitchcock-style Vertigo interlude opens the actual song, as we see Gaga descending into a spiral, free falling through the centre of her world and emerging in a cyber-style silver body cast, replete with silver crutches. “I’m your biggest fan, I’ll follow you until you love me”, she sings, as montages of Gaga’s death by gunshot, hanging, drowning, strangulation and more punctuate her pin-up girl gyrations on a plush leather couch. In the story within the story, Gaga heals and re-invents herself into a new star. Skarsgaard, her “biggest fan”, latches onto her fame once again. In the final moments, Gaga, dressed like a green Queen of Hearts, pops a fizzy poison pill into his drink. He sips and keels over, dead. “Gaga lives!” read the headlines, and show her being arrested as a cheeky Gaga takes smug mug shots in the final moments of the song, mocking the police (or very possibly the audience).

Intertextuality is the concept that no art or writing is unique in and of itself and instead is shaped by a number of other creative sources, thereby adding to the accumulated context of all the creations. Intertextuality can also imply the reinvention of a creation based on itself or on other creations, adding further levels of meaning among all of them.

Lada Gaga is a master of re-invention. While many critics compare her to Madonna, she is far more accurately likened to the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, whose friends would always wonder, “Who will Frida be today?” In every public appearance Lady Gaga is virtually unrecognisable, donning a variety of costumes, accessories, and make-up, that each tell their own story. Like Frida, each outfit is a personal and public statement demonstrating another or new aspect of herself.

Not only does Lady Gaga promote intertextuality in her appearance, it is the core of her music as well. Ironically, Paparazzi is written from the point of view of an obsessed fan, but in the video she is the object of obsession. The visual cues of death speak to the vampiric phenomenon of celebrity: The media and public suck them dry, many times to the point of death, be this through actual obsession (John Lennon, Jodie Foster, Nancy Kerrigan, Monica Seles) or the demands of constantly being in the public eye leading to alcohol and drug addiction (River Phoenix, Janis Joplin, Heath Ledger, Corey Haim). Her costumes are reminicsent of Bettie Page, Madonna, 1950s starlets, The Fifth Element, and the burlesque tradition, as well as leaning towards the fantastical Priscilla Queen of the Desert style.

My fascination with the Paparazzi video prompted me to Google live performances of the song, which she further re-invents for what seems like each show. Her voice, her costumes, are never the same and always invoke new and contradictory interpretations of her various personas, the song, and the broader issue of fame.

The most telling aspect of her intertextuality, irony and subsequent re-inventiveness, is that she inspires and encourages this trait in others. Grayson Chance’s cover of Paparazzi is virtually unrecognisable from Gaga’s, and in support of his unique vision Lady Gaga has given him a record deal through her label. YouTube is peppered with hundreds of “unique” interpretations of Paparazzi, each of them rooted in her song but entirely new visions of its production.

Above and beyond her song Paparazzi and its various incarnations, each of the songs on Gaga’s The Fame album comes with it its own narrative that is then turned on its head in the music videos, and further mutated for stage performances in a dazzling array that transforms the Gaga package into a multi-dimensional carnival of the senses.

The beauty of Gaga’s talent is in the multimedia combination of her music videos, her performances, her multiple personas, and all of the re-inventions she has provoked in others, combined with dozens of personal inspirations, that then results in a theoretical force to be reckoned with.

What’s your take on Lady Gaga?

©Sezin Koehler 2010, originally written for the www.RedRoom.com weekly themed blog competition.

P.S. This blog was one of two blogs featured for the week of May 26 at Red Room. Yay!

10 Responses to Intertextuality and Irony in Lady Gaga’s PAPARAZZI

    • Excellent point, Julio, and thanks for commenting. There are so many reasons to like Lady Gaga. Have you seen her new photo shoot for Vogue Japan where she’s dressed up as a man? Gender-bending awesomeness!

  1. This definitely is a really interesting blog, Sezin!

    GaGa’s been growing on me for quite some time now. I’m not a huge fan of her music but I seem to like and be intrigued by everything else she does.
    There lies the biggest difference between her and Madonna for me. I’ve always respected and liked Madonna’s music but as for the rest of her persona I’ve never really been that much interested. And she’s cold, not weird, just cold and obviously a great businesswoman.
    Through all GaGa’s weirdness there’s this warmth going from her.
    Also GaGa is a very capable musician – compared to Madonna. So at the end of the day what the two of them have in common is weird clothes (which I don’t think they wear for the same reason, really) – and hard work.

    The comparison to Frida Kahlo is much more interesting and relevant, I’d say. And I don’t think anyone’s ever throught of that before – at least from what I’ve read/heard about GaGa.
    I’m afraid I don’t know the proper art terms here but I do believe GaGa is more of an artist/painter/photographer than a pop star. She and Frida can both be very pretty and very ugly depending on what they want to put across through their art. And both of them find beauty in the ugly and extremely sad (suicide, murder) etc.
    Most celebrities use fashion to pretty themselves up but what first caught my attention about GaGa was that she’s able to do the contrary – and I believe not just because she wants to be noticed.

    I love that it can take you this long – in my case over a year – to actually start getting what the artist is really about. You can’t put her in a marked box like you can w/ most pop acts. That I think is the best about her. – That if you try and she makes sure do do try, eventually – you start discovering all these layers of her and all these different aspects of her and that you will end up liking at least one of it. That is quite unique.

    One last thing: I like GaGa just singing w/ her piano.
    Check out her performance of Telephone/Dance In The Dark at the Brit Awards (http://bit.ly/9tvaO4): quite beautiful – also because it was dedicated to the late Alexander McQueen who I miss a lot (his art). Ever since then Telephone hasn’t been just a shallow pop song for me.

    Check out her early performances – Fever for instance (http://bit.ly/bxxP7r).
    I wish she’d do and film one show w/ her singing all the song just w/ her piano. I’d love that.

    Also this guy – Agostino Giglio (http://bit.ly/bV0SL2) – plays some of her songs on the piano, some of it is pretty haunting.

    x

    • Thank you for such an insightful comment, Maj! (And apologies for taking so long to respond, things have been crazy with deadlines!)

      I have to say, I really enjoy her music and have been listening to it almost non-stop since I saw the PAPARAZZI video. Her new album The Fame Monster is definitely more grown up than The Fame, and her voice and talent is coming out more and more. The cool thing for me about her songs is that after seeing so many different versions of them online, the energy of those re-inventions carries over into the original versions for me.

      I totally agree that the Madonna comparison is so superficial and even the crazy costumes in common is a fallacy. Madonna would wear costumes that came from her shows or music videos. Gaga always wears something totally different, and I’ve not seen her wear an outfit she wears in a video anywhere else. Have you heard about the Haus of Gaga? It’s her creative team of artists, designers, etc. who come up with all her looks and create whatever props she might need. Totally brilliant! And yes, Madonna comes across as very cold. Gaga seems to really love her fans and seeing her interact with them is so special.

      I’m planning to explore the Frida Kahlo connection in future writings, and I am so surprised that nobody has made that connection yet! Once I started researching Lady Gaga I saw Frida everywhere. I love what you say about how both Gaga and Frida use costuming to make themselves pretty or ugly depending on who they are that day. So relevant to the issue of performance art: that women don’t always need to fall into this beauty trap all the time and challenging what it means to be beautiful at all. What’s fascinating is that even when Gaga (like Frida) looks totally unlike herself, you can still tell it’s her under everything and I find that incredible. Most people seem to lose their core beneath costumes, however costumes seem to make her more herself.

      I also hope that one of her future shows will be just her and her piano. Her talent is phenomenal, and I’m so happy that after a year as well I finally see the value in all her art.

      Thanks again for such a great comment!

  2. I am so glad that you finally recognize her talent. It took me a long time too as I saw her as ripping off Warhol, Club Kids, and Dada too often. But then I began to appreciate what she was bringing to the masses and her message is one of acceptance and tolerance too so that always helps.

    She also reminds me of the Club Kid scene that rocketed New York in the 80s. Her outfits are very much like a lot of them as they were not just fashion but performance art.

    The film “Party Monster” (http://www.interviewmagazine.com/culture/michael-alig/) was made about a tragic turn in that scene but you can find lots of photos and info about the Club Kids around the web. I saw them first on Geraldo as a preteen and wanted to be them.

    • Hi Lucinda! Thank you so much for visting/commenting!

      I totally agree about the Club Kid scene: when I was first writing “American Monsters” in the late 1990s I came across loads of things about the New York party scene, but since I was focusing on Los Angeles I didn’t go into too much detail about them. While there was a parallel scene on the West Coast, which was similar in terms of costuming, the scene in LA was its own monster seeing that there isn’t the same public transportation as in NYC.

      From my raver days I remember amazing outfits too and I actually hadn’t made the connection from Gaga to them. Thank you! Lots of food for thought here and I may write about the social significance of costuming at some point soon.

      What you say about her message of peace and tolerance is spot on. She’s openly bisexual and has been such a vocal advocate for gay rights. She’s of the mind that everyone should be free to do their thing, and in this climate of conservatism in the USA she is so important.

      Re: Warhol and Dada – I also see the connection there (though I’m not a fan of Warhol whatsoever), and I see how she is inspired by pop art. It’s such a fine line between seeing someone as being intertextual or ripping off, and I suppose the side on which one falls depends on so many other factors as well as their success in re-invention. I think she uses so many inspirations brilliantly. 🙂

  3. Thanks, Vesper! I think of her more as a performance artist than a musician, and yes her videos are brilliant. I am happy there are women like her in the public eye, though it must be exhausting keeping up with everything.

Thoughts?