"[Gaga Stigmata has] very modern, edgy photography to free flowing, urban narratives without censure to analytical essays, et cetera—like Gaga, imagination without ... limits. And the beauty is that anyone can submit work to the site, so artists and writers from all over the [world] have joined this experiment." -The Declaration.org

"Since March 2010, [Gaga Stigmata] has churned out the most intense ongoing critical conversation on [Lady Gaga]."
-Yale's The American Scholar

Monday, May 17, 2010

On the Shared Sisterhood of Kate Bush’s “The Big Sky” & Lady Gaga’s “Dance in the Dark”

by Gina Abelkop

 All lines in italics are lyrics from the songs referenced in the title.


They look down at the ground, missing                         
But I never go in, now

Instead I go up.


Some girls won’t dance to the beat of the track

She is moving on the dance floor a slick shoot of sweaty pale-green light. All the navy sky above is rid of shitty dirt so she moves towards it with a consistency like churned, melting butter smeared on the underside of a rusty engine. We know (with our “intuition”) that the best use for long chemically-chewed-out hair is to throw it behind and forward and left and right and in every space between. Move it into every between space taken up by air before: make it hairspace. Now the hair moves away into another space. Now air is home again. Now her feet and thoughts are somewhere else, on the dance floor.


Tell ‘em, sisters/Tell ‘em girls

Up! Look up.

Look up.

The majority of her body is saying, with the same sound called “screaming” done by mutilated sisters, that fat shrill violette love sounding of Look Up.


I'm lookin' at the big sky
We know it, sister.


She’s a mess
She’s a mess
She’s a mess
She’s a mess

All this haggard, sweetie, soft withering, split like blubber, blue veined, stretching gnarled taut, sinister, dear angular, malleable oily, written over skin propelled towards the sky, and only sky. Guess what is waiting for us up there.


We're leaving with the big sky, honey

This is the one time when it is safe to get into the proverbial strange car.


Together we’ll dance in the dark

We’ve already been there. When you see her dancing…it is the same as watching a movie being re-broadcast on television, channeled through a computer. What you are seeing is not her dancing. She’s already been there. We are there right now, in the big sky busy finding fingers growing in the palms of our hands. Just as Emily promised to Susan all those years ago.


You want my reply?
Oh, what's the question?

Are you going to get in the car?


But she still kills the dance

Of course- that is why all the screaming.


Come on, build me an ark
And if you're coming, jump

It will be exactly like the dream you keep having over and over, the one you have while cold-sweating all over your softest sweatpants in the middle of the night. You’ll jump up and instead of slugging down again will continue up. The moon’s light will catch on your crystallized bones which you can see through your skin because you willed it so. All around prisms of light speculate about their own birth. Then they break off and are other things with tits on the dance floor, grooving around you like little happy mommies, so glad to have you home.


Tell ‘em how you feel girls!


* * *

Artist Statement:

Being a great admirer of both Gaga and Kate Bush’s music, I was struck one day while listening to “The Big Sky” by the idea that it was a sister to Gaga’s “Dance in the Dark.” Both songs address “girls” and “sisters,” communicate through song-tongue with the women who will be hearing the music while simultaneously conjuring those listeners within the distinct universes of the songs themselves. Gaga’s “Tell ‘em girls!” and Bush’s “Tell ‘em sisters!” are mirror images built around the destruction of loneliness.

Author Bio:

Gina Abelkop is a poet, free bitch and editor of Birds of Lace, a feminist press based in San Francisco. Her writing can be found or is forthcoming in Encyclopedia: Volume F-K, DIAGRAM, MiPoesias, Phoebe, Wicked Alice, Sawbuck, Cherry Bleeds, and 42Opus, amongst others. She wore crocheted hotpants to see Lady Gaga perform in December ’09 and it was true magic.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Gaga Monster and Tours of Teacups

by Jacqueline Lesik

Artist Bio:

Jacqueline Lesik was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, in 1981. She currently lives and works in South Beach, Florida. She received a BA in Graphic Design from the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale after attending the University of Massachusetts for two years.

Monday, May 10, 2010

2010: A Gagadyssey

by Meghan Blalock

It's been a few months since Lady Gaga's video for Bad Romance premiered and I first wrote a blog post comparing the video's aesthetics to Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Now, I want to take the comparison a bit further and talk about the two main themes that consistently present themselves in Gaga's work since the Bad Romance video premiered, and which also show themselves in Kubrick's work: ultraviolence and technological evolution.

First of all, the opening shot of Bad Romance is strongly reminiscent of a famous shot from A Clockwork Orange.
True, Gaga's shot is black on a white background, while Kubrick's is obviously white on black, but the composition is still essentially the same, and they serve as foils of one another. In the bottom photo, Alex (the main character of Clockwork) and his gang are holding glasses of milk or have glasses of milk on the lady tables in front of them. Gaga and her entourage have similarly shaped gold glasses on the floor surrounding them. The two girls sprawled on the floor in front of Gaga are strikingly similar to the lady tables in the Clockwork milk bar. Worth noting: in the film, Kubrick starts this shot wide and slowly zooms in, as if we the viewers are walking toward Alex and his gang; the shot in Bad Romance moves the same way. Also important: the tingy music playing during this part of Bad Romance - and again at the end of the video - is eerily reminiscent of the theme from Clockwork, called Ultraviolence, which you can listen to here, and which Gaga famously used during her time in New York, post-Stefani and pre-fame, as the intro to her performances in dive bars on the Lower East Side.

After the camera zooms in slowly for a few seconds, it cuts to a close-up of Gaga and her razorblade glasses. In an interview with MTV, she said that she wanted these to represent female strength, as an homage to the women she knew in New York who carried razorblades in their mouths - but when I saw them, I immediately thought of this scene from Clockwork, clipped below, during which Alex undergoes a Pavlov's Dogs-reminiscent procedure to make him physically ill when he witnesses or feels the urge to commit acts of violence.
The significance of Gaga's nod to Clockwork and its pervasive theme of Ultraviolence has become more and more clear as she continues to produce work that focuses on the aestheticization of violence. Clockwork is arguably the best example of contemporary art - at least pre-Gaga - that thoroughly aestheticizes violence; the film depicts heinously random acts of violence performed by a beautiful person, wearing beautifully clean clothing, illuminated by beautiful light, in meticulously beautiful settings, and backed by the beautiful orchestrations of Beethoven. The influence of the film on the Bad Romance video is significant because the first video off The Fame Monster preceded a slew of work she produced that also aestheticized violence, the most prominent of which is her video for Telephone, which includes a scene of Gaga and Beyoncé doing a choreographed dance routine in a diner filled with the dead bodies of the people they just poisoned - not unlike how Alex and his gang dance around their victims before beating and/or raping them.

Even more abundant than the imagery of Clockwork in the Bad Romance video is the various imagery from Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. First, it should be noted that the entire futuristic look of the Bad Romance video is incredibly similar to 2001: the white lights, the glowing floors and walls, the monster pods, the clothing. During the first part of the video, the camera zooms in to reveal Gaga's finger on some sort of black speaker/MP3 player. It reminded me of the monolith, the big black rectangle in 2001 that, depending on who you ask, might represent a number of different aspects of human existence. Here, in relation to both Kubrick's film and Gaga's video, I'm going to argue that it represents human technological evolution as it relates to the self.
The monolith theme - some sort of rectangular black object against a white background - keeps reappearing in Gaga's video, just like it keeps showing up in different places in 2001. First of all, the semblance below is undeniable. The first is a shot from Bad Romance, when the sun is coming up right before we see her little monsters emerging from their pods. The second is from 2001, a shot of the sun rising over the edge of the monolith, flipped on its side.
The monolith keeps appearing. First, Gaga herself as monolith.
We see Gaga crawling between two monoliths (her suitor's legs).
The computers that show the winning bid for Gaga are sideways monoliths.

Later, the suitor becomes a monolith.

Soon after, he becomes incinerated. However, he is replaced by a scantily-clad Gaga, all in black, on a charred black bed. Yep, huge monolith.
Oh, and speaking of that bed/bedroom - look at this famous shot from 2001.
True, the bedroom in Bad Romance is simpler - from what we see, there are no chairs or armoirs or Greco-Roman statues - but the similarities are still striking.

Now that it's clear that Gaga incorporates the imagery of the monolith from 2001 in her video for Bad Romance, it's crucial to understand why she does this. We first see the monolith in 2001 in the middle of a desert, during prehistoric times, when humans are still technically apes, covered in hair and not yet walking erect. We see a group of them huddling together, squawking and milling about while they, presumably, forage for food (grass) and water. We then see a sequence of events separated by black screens - the band of apemen fighting with another group, one of the apemen getting attacked by a leopard - before we see the apemen go to sleep, only to wake in the morning to the presence of the monolith, large, black and humming. They gather around and the group's leader hesitantly reaches out and touches the monolith; this is when the sun begins to rise over the edge of the object, producing the shot I mentioned earlier. Later that day, the group's leader is foraging for food when he picks up a bone and realizes he can use it as a weapon. He starts beating a skeleton with it, as an image of the monolith flashes before us again.
The next day, we see the apeman use his newly discovered tool to actually kill one of his fellow apemen. I would argue, in this case, that Kubrick intended the monolith to be the object that inspired the first step in human evolution. Had it not been for the contact with the alien monolith, the apemen may have never been inspired to think outside the box of their current forage-and-gather way of life. This is further supported by the various stages at which we see the monolith appear in the film. We next see the monolith in the year 2000, buried under the surface of the moon. It has been discovered by a group of spacemen, who treat it as evidence of alien life and make efforts to hide its existence from the general public. They go to the moon to see it, and we see Dr. Floyd, the leader of the spacemen, approach the monolith and reach out a gloved hand to touch it. They all gather around the monolith to take a photo as the sun rises and sunlight hits the object. Suddenly a deafening, high-pitched note emits from the monolith and they all crouch to protect their ears.
The third monolith is seen later in the film, during the main character Dave Bowman's voyage to Jupiter, orbiting the planet. The fourth and last appearance of the monolith in the film is when Dave, now a balding old man lying in bed in some sort of parallel universe, reaches out for it in the bedroom pictured above. As he reaches for it, he is transformed into a fetus in utero, which we then see floating in space. All three of the significant human interactions with the monolith immediately precede an important technologicaly evolutionary step: the discovery of tools, the discovery of alien life, and the discovery of the self, which is, Kubrick seems to be arguing, the ultimate point of all technological advancements. The films depicts a sort of direct lineage of evolution: apeman, apeman with tools, human, human with (bigger, better, badder) tools, aliens, and a return to the ultimately vulnerable state of the human ego.

All of this is significant because Gaga, as an artist and as a businessperson, continues to prove that she is ahead of the curve when it comes to technological advancement. She was named creative director of Polaroid earlier this year, and just recently tweeted about the work she is doing to advance their brand. When it comes to branding herself and utilizing the Internet to do so, she is at the forefront. She tweets regularly, and her Bad Romance video has been viewed more than 360 million times since it was released last fall, pushing her total number of Vevo video views past 1 billion - making her the artist with the most online music video views ever. This is quite impressive when you consider that she has only been making music as Lady Gaga for a few years, and she has only been super-popular for just more than one.

The Lady also doesn't shy away from product placement, regularly placing her Heartbeats by Lady Gaga headphones in her videos, in addition to ads for Virgin Mobile, who supports her concert tour The Monster Ball - both next to what one can assume are paid ads for PlentyofFish.com and her own Polaroid, among others. Everything she touches seems to turn to evolutionary gold, starting trends at the same time she taps into existing ones. She utilizes the technology of her (and our) generation better than perhaps any artist in the history of music, or perhaps American culture. At the beginning of May, she will release a USB version of The Fame Monster that contains 800 MB of content, including the album and all her music videos to date. And, of course, it's cleverly designed.

In addition to the correlation of Gaga's push for technological evolution with the evolutionary symbolism of the monolith in 2001, the overarching theme of evolution is prevalent in not only the Bad Romance video, but the Monster Ball Tour as well. In Bad Romance, the video begins with Gaga and her crew emerging from pods labeled "monster," then we see her slowly evolve from a creature with a hunched back and a protruding spine to a creature with a monster-inspired hair piece (barely visible, it's the dragon-like creature made of hair tied into her own hair), to a beautiful creature being auctioned off to the highest bidder, to an even more beautiful creature conflagrating her bidder. Similarly, the Monster Ball Tour begins with a dimmed Gaga, donning flashing LED lights behind a screen, walking around aimlessly, like she's looking for some sort of direction, and we see her slowly grow through different stages of her musical life. Gaga on the development of a concept for the tour: "We started talking about evolution and the evolution of humanity and how we begin as one thing, and we become another. I begin as a cell and I grow and change throughout the show." She evolves through different stages of battling her personal demons - love, sex, money, alcohol, fame - concluding by emerging from her now infamous orb to perform, of course, Bad Romance, the song that inspired the music video that most directly relates to Kubrick's emphasis on evolution.

More important than her ability to evolve the technology of pop culture before our eyes, I would argue, is Gaga's ability to do what Kubrick seems to be illustrating in 2001 - and this is also a prevalent theme in the Monster Ball Tour - to bring us all, ultimately, back to ourselves. Gaga has been quoted as saying things like, "When they ask my fans why they love Lady Gaga, I want them to say, 'I don't love Lady Gaga. I love myself.'" Just like Kubrick used the monolith in 2001 to trace the technological evolution of man away from and then back to himself, Gaga uses this same imagery in the Bad Romance video as a symbol for what she ultimately stands for as an artist: a celebration of the self. No matter what she reflects back at us, she consistently emits the message that it doesn't matter: we are perfect just the way we are.

The reason the Kubrick references in the Bad Romance video are significant is that they pinpoint two reasons why Gaga is important to current-day American culture: like no one else in mainstream media, she comments on the ultraviolence that we have all grown so accustomed to, and she pushes pop culture and music into the future technologically while serving to simultaneously illustrate various aspects of human evolution and bring us back in touch with ourselves. As Gaga wraps up working on the music video for Alejandro, one can only hope to see a Gomer Pyle or Dr. Strangelove type on the screen, talking to us about violence and technology, but really saying so much more.

Author Bio:
Meghan Blalock is a writer and editor based in East Harlem, New York. She is a research editor for Gotham magazine, and she writes for Gotham's website. She also maintains a blog that won Blogger's Blog of Note award in December and was linked to by The Washington Post in February. She also writes poetry, some of which she posts to her blog, and reads aloud at Cornelia Street Cafe and the Bowery Poetry Club in Manhattan. Her next reading is at the Bowery Poetry Club this Sunday, May 16, at 4 p.m. She also just celebrated the one-month birthday of her first tattoo, an inked homage to Lady Gaga's hair bow. Little monsters forever. She can be reached at mcblaloc@gmail.com.