LADY GAGA, “G.U.Y.” – LADY GAGA. Like other only-sort-of-hip people who subscribe to the “New Yorker,” I’ve recently discovered/become enamored with Voice Of Our Generation art-film director Ryan Trecartin. Trecartin more than anyone else I can think of (except maybe Diane Martel) has mastered the art of information-OD internet video experience that makes short-attention span into a virtue. His breakthrough maybe-masterpiece “A Family Finds Entertainment” is 40 minutes of insane plot-less shit that goes pretty much nowhere, but it’s so entertaining and oddly poignant that it should be absolutely required viewing for anyone who still argues that we exist in an artistically depleted postmodern void, or whatever it is the traddy-angsty kids are saying about the death of culture these days.
I was thinking all this breathless praise to myself as I watched “A Family Finds Entertainment” for the second time this morning. Then I immediately followed it with Stefani Germanotta’s latest, the #epic 11-minute (ELEVEN MINUTE!) clip for “G.U.Y.” (and some other songs too) directed by Lady Stefani herself. Like Trecartin’s work, “G.U.Y.” jams a whole lot of stuff into not that long a time; it calls into focus issues about gender identity; it makes use of constant plot shifts, amorphous characters, and bright colors. But gosh does it suck. From the opening fallen angel/phoenix thing that rips off “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” to the closing eye flutter that rips off Nicki Minaj and every mediocre dance move in between, “G.U.Y.” is one of the least impressive massive-budget music videos ever. I’d take 30 Seconds To Mars’s “From Yesterday” over this any day.
Germanotta lost her “artpop” cred a long time ago, and it’s hard to watch her clinging on to its memory. I can only see the arty part of this video being read one of two ways – either it’s a genuine attempt at culture-jamming that takes its confusing anti-capitalist/dance-fascist story arc seriously to the point of tragic self-deception, or its a cynical stab at the idea of art as so-called “Art.” If it’s the former its embarrassing; if its the latter then its boring and completely unnecessary satire. I don’t know which is worse or which is more likely – the art component is so lazy and obvious that it almost must be parody (the swimming pool baptism, the Michael Jackson ressurection, the “G.U.Y.” injection), but so are the sexy Gaga star-power moves that end up at the forefront (the dancing is so, so bad). This is the problem – Germanotta has based her image around the idea of Celebrity As Art, but she hasn’t pulled off anything resembling either since “Bad Romance.” There are a couple stunning images here – the army of suited men swarming out of Hearst Castle particularly – but they’re (not so oddly) the ones that don’t include Germanotta herself.
I’ve always found Germanotta to be an offensive presence. The reasons have changed over time: she ripped off Madonna; “Just Dance” is evil slutwave nihilism; “disco stick” is a gross thing to call anything. But I realize now what’s really been problematic to me this whole time is her absolute reliance on this conception of Art as an entity very much other than pop music. In all her postmodern bluster, Germanotta’s problem is really a failure of Romanticism – the idea that Art is an obtainable entity; that pop music needs to be made into Art; that there’s such thing as an Art Video. As if popular culture needed some explicitly next-level creation injected into it; as if there was some high-minded artistic theory absent from it in the first place. There’s something wrong and very anti-popular about that: to call something “artpop” as opposed to just plain “pop” is to say that the visceral, distracted, click-happy, instant-graification-neeeding impulses that lead kids toward inane dance music videos isn’t something beautiful. “G.U.Y.,” like so many of Germanotta’s videos, parodic or not forces an unnecessary Art/Not Art dichotomy that, to anyone who has grown up in a time where you can get from “…Baby One More Time” to “Justine” in two Wikipedia clicks, means absolutely nothing. That naturalism – the sheer impulse to be entertained – is what Trecartin’s videos take for granted (his recent New Yorker feature he’s quoted saying “I didn’t even know that museums showed films”), and it’s what has always made Germanotta’s videos feel like the project of another, unhappier time.
I do love the four-minute closing credits, though. Imperialistic vanity will always be awesome.