In the 1950s and 60s, the Pop Art movement upended the staid world of fine art by incorporating elements from advertising, television, and consumer products packaging. It fundamentally shifted the public perception of visual art, redefined the acceptable subjects for the medium, and subtly exposed the supercilious pretension and meaningless market forces that governed the art world with shadowy power.
In 2013, Lady Gaga released ARTPOP, which features a track called “Sexxx Dreams,” and lyrics like “Cuz that bitch, she’s so thin (oh la la la) / She’s so rich, and so blonde / She’s so fab, it’s beyond.”
This is not to discount her new album totally out of hand, (because, actually, her R. Kelly collaboration is pretty damn catchy) – just to say that Gaga’s self-proclaimed revolutionary pairing of high-brow art culture and pop music is actually very far from progressive, especially if you take her at her word about the motivation behind the project.
Gaga has stated that “the intention of the album was to put art culture into pop music, a reverse of Warhol.” So immediately it’s pretty obvious that she still considers art and pop music to exist in completely separate and non-overlapping spheres, which may be true, at least for the majority of serious artists who take on some projects partially for the sake of pure creativity, because they can’t not make art, and because even in a modern society that has devalued the role of the creators by overvaluing the distributors (ahem – the Spotify model), they still see value in the process of making stuff for its own sake.
But Lady Gaga’s understanding of art culture seems a bit different. Her obsessions and collaborations with huge art world names like Marina Abramović and Jeff Koons feels a lot like her own admitted obsession with fame, a major and ongoing theme in her music and life. Coincidentally (or not), the artists that Gaga admires most are those that have been prominently in the public eye for years. They are the giants on the world stage. Koons, who designed the ARTPOP album cover, recently sold one of his statues for $58.4 million. It was a gigantic orange balloon dog.
So if Gaga’s definition of art culture centers primarily around phenomenally successful artists who drag in gigantic profits by creating tacky pieces that seem to tacitly mock thequestionable taste of the buyers who fork up incredible sums of cash for them, well, then it’s not that far off from her understanding of the culture of pop music. A culture that is equally obsessed with profits, fame, and having stupid and vacuous fun. And a culture that, in recent interviews, she has painted as totally divorced from the world of pop music.
In interviews and in her own music, Lady Gaga has always been upfront about pop music as a commercial medium, and about herself as an object of commerce. But if her understanding of art works similarly – as a medium for expression, sure; but more importantly, as a medium for fame and profit – then art and pop are far from incompatible, as she would have her fans believe. In fact, they are almost one and the same. Case in point: the “artRave” at the Brooklyn Navy Yard on the night of the album’s release that featured Koons’ statues and Abramović’s videos, and which was the culmination of Interscope Records’ $25 million promotional push.
Look, there is nothing wrong with being a successful artist, or in appreciating the work of artists that are successful. But if Lady Gaga wants us to believe that she’s really innovating in the pop world and bringing together supposedly irreconcilable cultures, she should try to look a little deeper, or at least not dissemble so much. Because, come on. Abramović? Jay-Z got to her first anyway.