Lady Gaga Snags the Keynote Speech at SXSW, Let's Hope She Uses It Wisely
Just days after Lady Gaga announced her SXSW debut on the Doritos #BoldStage, she has added another major event to next week's Austin performance schedule: Gaga will deliver the festival's keynote address at 11 a.m. on Friday, March 14, joining the ranks of past speakers Neil Young, Dave Grohl, and Bruce Springsteen — who Gaga cited as a Born This Way influence. The show promises to be a "completely one-off set and experience," the singer told Rolling Stone, for which fans will have to submit an Instagram or Vine of themselves engaging in "a bold action" (#BoldStage or #BoldBravery) to gain admission — because Doritos are as bold in flavor as the singer is bold in her styling choices, right? The gimmick seems pretty fitting to Gaga's overall schtick — capital-I Inspirational with a healthy helping of commercial / social media appeal — but the singer seems more interested in hyping the intimacy of her smaller-stage SXSW appearance. "I can’t wait to celebrate with the audience how far music can go when we believe and stick together," she explained — which starts to make me worry just a little bit for that speech, lest it devolve to messianic word salad.
Of course, when it comes to public speaking, Gaga has been a vocal and committed advocate of some great causes. Sure, she's not always the most lucid in her phrasing — a memorable anti-"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" address that the singer proudly claimed to have penned herself centered on the metaphor "The Prime Rib of America" (e.g., "Equality is the prime rib of America, but because I'm gay, I don't get to enjoy the greatest cut of meat my country has to offer"). But her point was valid, her intent righteous, and overall, a great day was had for civil rights and celeb-spotters alike. (The fact that fashion creep Terry Richardson was on stage with her is another article entirely.)
Still, things tend to get somewhat murkier for the singer when she starts to talk about, well, herself — her art, her persona, the Gaga of it all. I still remember cringing at her CBS interview with Anderson Cooper from a few years back: "I am a master of the art of fame," she tells Cooper, who I can only imagine had to summon his best newscaster composure not to let out a giant raspberry. "I'm a true academic." Then, later, in a clip of concert footage, she changes her tune to the more inspirational "Mother Monster" mode: "Tonight, I want you to let go of all of your insecurities," she intones solemnly, evangelist-style, as fans weep from the audience, their hands grasping toward the stage.
Which, yes — if that works for you, fantastic, and who am I to judge. Still, it's always seemed a little at cross purposes to me that this mastered academic crafting a mainstream pop persona should also claim herself the champion for "freaks." To inspire is one thing, but to self-mythologize is quite another, and Gaga seems to fall more often than not on the latter side of that sometimes narrow line. See: a recent note to her fans regarding the lateness of her latest video, a mea culpa in which she implores us to "Give me a chance to show you the meaning of seeing art all around you" and "Let me be for you the Goddess that I know I truly am."
Indeed, since the peak of her Cooper-documented fame, Gaga has fallen at least slightly in the public estimation — all a natural part of the tragic cycle of celebrity, of course. The long-anticipated ARTPOP, complete with its appropriately vapid Jeff Koons cover art, was quickly dubbed ART-FLOP due to its dramatic second-week sales drop, and LiveNation has had to fend off rumors that Gaga's tour is losing money. In a particularly personal interview with Harper's Bazaar last month, however, Gaga admitted to recent struggles with depression — and laid out a new trajectory regarding her persona, plain and clear:
"When I was younger, I felt pressure to become someone else once I became successful. But it's the intention of the work that's changed. I have fans now. I have a new purpose: to remind them that I am one of them, that we are one another."
With that change in mind, and taking into account the stripped-down nature of her SXSW show — "a Bud Light and a bikini" in place of full-on theatrics — it stands to reason that SXSW Gaga might be refreshingly raw, and maybe her speech will be all the more compelling for it, naturally inspirational instead of "paws up" Goddess-hyping. Still, even in that Rolling Stone interview about the "#BoldStage," some eye-roll double-speak sneaks in:
"My bravest acts have been the conceptual choices I’ve made when writing music. Whether I’m fighting for equal rights with Born This Way or fighting for creativity and art with ARTPOP, I’m always aware of the many I will face in opposition. With ARTPOP, I hope to inspire the audience at SXSW to cherish their individual talents. This simple act keeps music and art alive in a very commercial world."
... says the commercial pop artist with the world's highest-grossing commercial visual artist on her album cover. Sigh. Well, we can still keep our fingers crossed for next Friday, right?