Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Lady Gaga at SXSW

NPR's Ann Powers posted a commentary about Lady Gaga's interview at SXSW.  It's a bit cynical and pessimistic, but she makes a number of interesting points.  What's lost in her commentary (aside from a single offhand admission that Gaga is "far more interesting than what 95 per cent of mainstream pop produces") is that even her appearance at an event like SXSW was something unthinkable even five years ago.  The fact that major pop artists make a point reaching out to an audience at what used to be more of a niche underground festival is a victory of sorts.  The playing field is more level than it's ever been, and spending millions of dollars to promote your album is less of a sure thing than it once was, and "ARTPOP"'s relatively poor sales are a perfect example of that.  Of course, "Lady Gaga appears at SXSW" is a marketing ploy too, where major artists go in the hope that some hipster cred will rub off on them.  That's true no matter how many times Gaga says that she's not manufactured and would happily go back to slumming it in New York rather than play processed music she's not passionate about.

Anyhow, Lady Gaga and Depeche Mode at SXSW in consecutive years is exciting in a way that a festival stacked with unknown bands hoping that their names go viral on Twitter isn't.

Her insistence about "not fitting into a mold" is worded to seem profound, but actually it's a totally conventional path to superstardom.  Great artists break the mold and set themselves apart from the background noise of whatever else is in the charts.  Famously, Avril Lavigne and Pink refused to conform to music industry standards and didn't fit a mold when they eventually broke big.  

The biggest Gaga-related news out of SXSW -- besides getting thrown up on by Millie Brown -- is the "don't sell out, sell-in" statement which probably would have been reported using sensationalist headlines about how "Gaga hearts mega-corporations!!" if she hadn't belittled that kind of sleazy reporting during the interview.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with accepting the support of a patron, and the arts have depended on rich patrons for hundreds of years.  The value is in the association with the artist, not with forcing the artist into striking a pose that's tailored exactly to the need to market a product.  Gaga's comments have been twisted to seem like they're daring or controversial when they really aren't, and that's not at all her fault -- she seems to truly "get" how the industry works, and the press falls for the same traps every time.

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