By now you've probably heard about Lady Gaga's Doritos-sponsored vomit act at this year's South by Southwest festival, but now Felicity Morse at The Independent claims that Gaga's disgusting antics glamorize bulimia. She suggests that Gaga, as a woman who suffered from eating disorders, must be aware of the SXSW performance's implications and Morse's shrewd observations have led us to another conclusion: Gaga's provocateur act might not be as calculated as it seems or as artistic as she'd like us to think. Perhaps, the off-the-wall singer is quite simply reckless.
Since Gaga's most recent album ARTPOP dropped, the thin veil between Gaga's overwhelming persona and the truth has been lifted. Once, Gaga went from shiny blonde with crazy get-ups when she first released "Poker Face" to Avant-garde pop artist when she began making videos with fantastical imagery like "Bad Romance." Now, Gaga is transitioning to a position as little more than a walking party trick. The carelessness with which she included a performance element that is potentially hurtful — inviting vomit artist Millie Brown to throw up on her Austin — is the red flag. This whole time, we've lifted Gaga up as a hallowed game-changer, but it's also possible that she's just been feeding her own fame monster.
The Inconsistency of Meat-Gate
But the cracks began showing long before she bathed in lime-green vomit during a music festival, namely the infamous meat dress incident at the 2010 MTV Video Music awards. Months prior, the outspoken artist spoke about her questionable Kermit the Frog dress, calling it a statement against wearing fur: "I really loved [it] ... Because I thought it was [a] commentary on not wearing fur. I hate fur, and I don't wear fur," she said to Ryan Seacrest in an interview on his radio show. It seemed that, in fact, Gaga stood for clothing that didn't come at the cost of inhumane treatment of animals. If one needs to create "commentary" on not wearing fur, the implication is that he or she is morally opposed to it. Otherwise, voicing one's distaste for fur is not actually commentary, it's just the simple act of voicing a wardrobe preference.
Cut to months later, when Gaga donned a meat bikini and steak beret for a Vogue Hommes Japan photo shoot with the infamous Terry Richardson, in seeming opposition to her stance on fur. PETA's feathers were riled, but rather quietly, until Gaga reprised the look while accepting a Video Music Award on national television. When questioned about the dress by vegan and TV host Ellen DeGeneres, Gaga famously gave this winding explanation after attempting to tie the look to her protest of the U.S. military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy:
Well, it is certainly no disrespect to anyone that is vegan or vegetarian. As you know, I am the most judgment-free human being on the earth. However, it has many interpretations, but for me this evening ... If we don't stand up for what we believe in and if we don't fight for our rights, pretty soon we're going to have as much rights as the meat on our own bones. And I am not a piece of meat.
Sure, it's a great message and it fits in with Gaga's soundbite-heavy activism, but it lacks specificity, unlike her bold and honorable decision to bring gay and lesbian members of the military down the VMA red carpet earlier that evening in protest of military policy. The "interpretation" of her meat dress was a catch-all and it would go on to be the foundation for our interpretations of everything Gaga would do in the future — from entering the Grammys in a green egg to wearing a helicopter dress. Her statement was an expression of the thin veil of meaning we've prescribed to so many of her antics over the years.
Where's the Beef?
And perhaps all of this "meaning" was just a fantasy to get us off the hook. If we're gawking at Lady Gaga dressing as her male alter ego and making out with herself in a music video, then we're simply slack-jawed celebrity junkies looking for a thrill. When we allow everything she does to have meaning, then we're no longer at fault for being obsessed and staring endlessly at her attention-grabbing stunts. We've been absolved of our superficial interest when we let her tell us that everything she does means something and proliferate the mentality that if you don't like what she's doing you're just too dense to "get it." But that's quickly proving to be an inaccurate perception.
In fact, that's something Trevor Gentry-Birnbaum touches on in his piece over at What Culture, which suggests that the Gaga age is over:
Compare the music videos for “Just Dance” and “Poker Face” to the ones for “Bad Romance” and “Telephone.” The lyrical content for the songs never changed and the themes are almost identical between the two albums, but the visual vocabulary expanded immensely. People might mention an attractive blond, but they’ll definitely talk at length about an attractive blond wearing a metallic thong.
She was still singing generic love songs, but now her music videos and public appearances provided her with opportunities to dress in provocative ways, thus making her entire catalog FEEL more complex, but without actually deserving it.
But now that her antics include dancing nearly nude onstage at the 2013 VMAs, simulating sex with R. Kelly during an SNL performance, and of course the vomit incident, the suggestion that Gaga was simply lulling us into accepting a false sense of artistic merit seems more likely than ever. Her acts seems haphazard and increasingly irrelevant, and if we're to take Morse's comments in The Independent to heart, even completely without thought or care.
It's undeniable that Gaga produces well-made, infectious and stylistically unique pop music and that her style has influenced countless trends; she's certainly earned her spot among the glitterati. But perhaps it's time we let go of the notion that she's a walking piece of art and take her for what she really is: the sort of artist who will writhe in black vomit on stage in front of a neon Doritos sign to get someone like me to write an article about her.