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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.