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The Performance Identities of Lady Gaga:…

The Performance Identities of Lady Gaga: Critical Essays

by Richard J. Gray II

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I really love analytical collections such as this, especially academic critiques of pop culture. I am not necessarily a Lady Gaga fan, sure some of her songs are catchy, but I wouldn't list her as one of my favorite musicians. That being said, I really enjoyed this work. The authors did a great job of covering multiple aspects of her personas and looking at her overall influence on music culture, art, and media. ( )
  CurrLee33 | Aug 28, 2013 |
This collection of essays covers a wide variety of topics regarding Lady Gaga including sexuality and sexual orientation, performance and drag personas, anorexia, challenging gender roles and stereotypes, feminism, and dedication to the gay community. These essays bring up a lot of interesting ideas about Gaga, like the comparisons of her performances to Little Red Riding Hood, the Wizard of Oz, and a carnival. I would recommend this book for people studying her as a part of women’s studies, gender studies, or LGBT studies. As for Gaga’s fans or “Little Monsters”, they are likely to disagree with some of the topics discussed in this book; for example, some of the essays talk about how Gaga may have copied Madonna and lacks originality, the suggestion that Gaga’s white privilege largely contributed to her fame, and Weird Al’s parody “Perform this Way”. I do think that Gaga’s Little Monsters should read this book, because the essays give many views of Mother Monster, and even though they may disagree with a few, many of the essays discuss Gaga in a positive light. ( )
  lewisbookreviews | Apr 15, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
In this book, The Performance Identities of Lady Gaga: Critical Essays, edited by Richard J. Gray II, explores the artist’s body of work through an interdisciplinary lens of critical essays by thirteen separate scholars representing a diverse array of academic disciplines. Some of the topics explored within this collection are: gender and sexuality, performance identity, the grotesques, theatre of the absurd, and self-acceptance. What makes this collection so unique is that however controversial Lady Gaga is, the reader never gets the sense that she is anything other than herself—a unique construction/pastiche. Her life is her music, and her music is her life, one in which Gaga lives unapologetically and out loud. Though it is a life that provides for continued controversy and fodder for reporters wherever she goes; not to mention legends of fans (Little Monsters) that follow her through social media, concerts and interviews. Whether you are already a fan of Lady Gaga or not, The Performance Identities of Lady Gaga, is a penultimate glimpse into the life and creative genius of one of the most controversial and gifted artist of the twenty-first century. Truly a must read! ( )
  fscottfitzjamie | Nov 27, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Deconstructing the Fame Monster

(Full disclosure: I received a free advanced review copy of this book through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program.)

In just a few short years, Lady Gaga has built a large body of work ripe for critical analysis. The sixteen authors and academics who contributed to The Performance Identities of Lady Gaga: Critical Essays clearly agree. The thirteen essays in this anthology address the spectacle that is Lady Gaga from a multitude of perspectives: sociology, politics, psychology and psychoanalysis, LGBTQ rights, gender studies and feminism, camp, Surrealism, Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty, and “post-racism” and white privilege – examining her in relation to those she has parodied, as well as those who have parodied her: most obviously Madonna, as well as Judy Garland and The Wizard of Oz, Thelma & Louise, Kill Bill, sexploitation/blaxsploitation/“women in prison” B movies, David Bowie, Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne, Rammstein, and “Weird Al” Yankovic, to name but a few - all with an eye on performance art and identity.

The Performance Identities of Lady Gaga is obviously written by and for academics. While some essays are more accessible than others, all are filled with jargon and $20 words. I was able to muddle through with the occasional help of Google, yet some of the essays (the early ones, in particular) proved so dry that they threatened to lull me to sleep. This definitely isn’t a book for the lay monsters in the audience.

That said, a working knowledge of Lady Gaga’s oeuvre – not just the obvious song lyrics and music videos, but also concert tours, album art, costuming, speeches, interviews, and photo shoots – is an essential prerequisite for The Performance Identities of Lady Gaga. While the authors do a decent enough job of explaining the performances they’re dissecting, a certain level of prior knowledge is assumed.

I requested a copy of this book through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program not because I’m a Lady Gaga fan, but because I enjoy pop culture analysis. Nor am I an anti-fan (to borrow a term used frequently in the book); rather, I’m not really into dance/pop and thus know very little about Lady Gaga outside of her activism on behalf of the LGBTQ community. My understanding of the essays definitely could have benefited from a greater knowledge of the source material.

Perhaps owing to my love of fairy tales, I found Jennifer M. Woolston’s “Lady Gaga and the Wolf: ‘Little Red Riding Hood,’ The Fame Monster and Female Sexuality” especially readable, even if most of the connections are stretched well past credulity. Also enjoyable is editor Richard J. Gray III’s contribution, “Surrrealism, the Theatre of Cruelty and Lady Gaga” – surprisingly so, since I didn’t know anything about Surrealism beforehand. Gray does an excellent job of introducing the reader to the material (without watering down the discussion for those already in the know) and then illustrating how Lady Gaga’s work clearly fits within the Surrealist tradition. Rebecca M. Lush’s “The Appropriation of the Madonna Aesthetic,” Matthew R. Turner’s “Performing Pop: Lady Gaga, ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic’ and Parodied Performance,” and “Whiteness and the Politics of ‘Post-Racial’ America by Laura Gray-Rosendale, Stephanie Capaldo, Sherri Craig, and Emily Davalos are all highly engaging and interesting as well.

Not wishing to penalize the authors for my own ignorance, I struggled with weather I should give this book a 3- or 4-star review. That is, until I came to Karley Adney’s “'I Hope When I’m Dead I’ll Be Considered an Icon': Shock Performance and Human Rights.” One of just a few pieces written from an overtly feminist perspective, I was both surprised and not a little offended when, in the course of her Lady Gaga apologism, Adney excuses and reinforces the stereotype that feminists are misandrists.

In an early interview for a Norwegian website, Lady Gaga is quoted as saying “I’m not a feminist. I hail men, I love men, I celebrate American male culture – beer, bars, and muscle cars.” – thus invoking the stereotype of man-hating feminists. After excerpting several quotes critical of this statement, Adney throws in her own two cents: “An academic with a background in feminism or Women’s Studies may lean from the ivory tower, tongue clucking and head shaking, disapproving of Gaga’s tendency to rely on stereotypes. But some staunch feminists do hate men [...] Gaga speaks in generalities while confronting the negative stereotype of a feminist, which is what the majority of the young public believes – that feminists do not like men.” Explain to me again how a) disavowing oneself of feminism by b) trotting out tired stereotypes and straw feminists c) benefits those who fight for women’s equality? (Hint: it doesn’t.)

Adney’s defense of sexist stereotypes is especially galling since other, equally charitable interpretations of this incident exist. For example, an earlier author notes that this interview transpired rather early in Lady Gaga’s career – and she’s since reversed course on the issue of feminism and her membership in the feminist community. Which is to say, Lady Gaga now thinks that feminism is peachy and considers herself one. (Indeed, Adney herself quotes Gaga’s proclamation that “I am a feminist” on Larry King Live.) Perhaps Lady Gaga started from a place of ignorance and her views have simply evolved in the intervening years. In light of her Jo Calderone alter ego (created the same year as this interview transpired), it’s just as likely that this was a facetious nod to one of her other performance identities. Either way, bending over backwards to defend the subject of an ostensibly critical analysis from charges of sexism - and by reinforcing anti-feminist stereotypes, at that? Unacceptable.

Also irritating is Adney’s uncritical (even fawning) discussion of the infamous “meat dress.” As a vegan, I found myself nervously anticipating its appearance in this anthology, seeing as any talk of the “meat dress” is likely to come from a speciesist perspective, devoid of any consideration or compassion for the nonhumans slaughtered, dismembered, and otherwise objectified in the name of “art.” (I’d rather my leisure reading not inspire within me the urge to gouge my eyeballs out with a spork, okay.) Nearly every author mentions the “meat dress” – but most nods are just that, brief nods, with the dress considered only in passing.

Surprisingly, Adney is the only author who manages to place the dress in its larger context (so, props for that?). When Lady Gaga wore it to the 2010 VMAs, she claimed that it was a metaphor for gay rights, much to the puzzlement of critics. However, several weeks later she referenced the dress at a gay rights rally in opposition to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” as described by Adney:

“[S]he continued her role as shock performer by titling her speech ‘Equality is the Prime Rib of America.’ In the speech, Gaga calls soldiers who support the ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy ‘cafeteria soldiers,’ who ‘choose some things from the Constitution to put on [their] plate, but not others.’ Gaga asks her listeners to consider other questions: ‘In the military, is it acceptable to be a cafeteria American? What I mean to say is, should soldiers and the government be able to pick and choose what we are fighting for in the Constitution or who we are fighting for? I wasn’t aware of this ambiguity in our Constitution. I thought the Constitution was ultimate. I thought equality was non-negotiable.’

“Besides making a surprising connection between equality and prime rib for her listeners, Gaga referenced one of her greatest examples of shock performance by closing her speech with ‘Equality is the prime rib of America. Equality is the prime rib of what we stand for as a nation. And I don’t get to enjoy the greatest cut of meat that my country has to offer. Are you listening? Shouldn’t everyone deserve the right to wear the same meat dress that I did?’”

Meat as equality. What bizarro world are we living in when the exploitation and oppression of billions of sentient beings functions as a metaphor for equality? War is peace, freedom is slavery, violence is compassion, etc., etc., etc. Orwell would be proud.

One final gripe: no fewer than five essayists see fit to quote anti-feminist Camille Paglia (specifically her 2010 Sunday Times piece “Lady Gaga and the death of sex”). Granted, all disagree with her conclusions, but. Can we all just agree to ignore her already? Pretty pretty please? Perhaps if we stop believing in Paglia, the hot misogynist air will disappear from her sails, a la Santa’s faith-powered sleigh in Elf. A girl can dream.

I would recommend The Performance Identities of Lady Gaga to: professional and amateur academics that are somewhat familiar with Lady Gaga’s career. Fans will get the most out of it, but most of these pieces are suitable for anti-fans and neutral observers as well.

Trigger warnings for discussions of rape and human trafficking.

http://www.easyvegan.info/2012/11/28/the-performance-identities-of-lady-gaga-edi... ( )
  smiteme | Nov 17, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The collection covers a wide range of topics and all the essays are culturally relevant and well cited. It should be noted, however, that the quality of each individual essay can vary and as a result some are better reasoned than others. While obviously not a very leisurely read, the book offers an abundance of information and commentary on the issues surrounding popular culture and modern performance. ( )
  PennAdams | Oct 31, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0786468300, Paperback)

Three years after entering the pop music scene, Lady Gaga became the most well-known pop star in the world. These thirteen critical essays explore Lady Gaga's body of work through the interdisciplinary filter of performance identity and cover topics such as gender and sexuality, body commodification, visual body rhetoric, drag performance, homosexuality and heteronormativity, Surrealism and the theatre of cruelty, the carnivalesque, monstrosity, imitation and parody, human rights, and racial politics. Of particular interest is the way that Lady Gaga's uvre, however popular, strange, raw or controversial, enters into the larger sociopolitical discourse, challenging the status quo and altering our perceptions of reality.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:00:36 -0400)

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