Monday, 22 March 2010
If there’s one thing Lady Gaga is good at, it’s generating headlines. The singer, who has become a household name over the course of the last twelve months due to her flamboyant on and off stage performances, again fanned the flames of her own fame last week when she released the video for her latest single ‘Telephone’ – an epically bizarre nine-minute foray into the strange post-modern mind of the woman some are already calling the ‘new queen of pop’.
As is always the case with Gaga, the frenzy of commentary surrounding the video is focused not on her music – which is more often than not derivative and over-produced – but on the eccentricities and the theatrics that seem to come part-in-parcel with every move that she makes.
‘Telephone’ is certainly eccentric. An odd tale that begins with Gaga being escorted into a ‘Prison for Bitches’, it is a mish-mash of crude violence, absurdist humour, irony and parody. The Huffington Post described it as “Lezploitation”, The Telegraph called it a “lesbian-prison-sex and mass-murder promo” but to Gaga it is a social commentary “about making fun of American hallmarks like soda cans and cigarettes and mayonnaise and bread,” although she also noted: “It doesn't really matter if it makes sense or if it doesn't make sense.”
Taken scene by scene it is certainly difficult to make sense of it, or to find an all encompassing narrative or ‘moral to the story’, but there is, somewhere among the maelstrom, a message. It lies not in the pre-requisite narcissistic theatrics of Gaga – who of course takes every opportunity to flash her flesh – but rather in the chaos of the video’s thematic: the violence, the murder, the lust, the confusion; pinned together with horrifically in-your-face product placements and glossed over with make-up and humour. ‘Telephone’ is a nine-minute metaphor, an unintentionally satirical piece of theatre that exposes the cold heart of modern America.
The myriad of cultural references from Thelma and Louise to Michael Jackson, from Coca-Cola to Prisoner Cell Block H, allude to a society over-saturated with icons, imagery and advertising – a society where innovation and substance has been long lost in a mist of style and parody. It is a paradox then, that it’s in the meaningless of it all that there is actually meaning; as once you’ve recovered from the nine minute barrage of pure shock and awe – bewildered, exhausted, disorientated – it’s hard to disagree with Lady Gaga: “it kind of makes sense by the end” she says.
A version of this article appears at: http://www.theskinny.co.uk/blog/2-the-skinny-blog/389-a-skinny-take-the-imagination-of-lady-gaga
Thursday, 4 March 2010
“The problem with 6 Music is… It’s not a station that makes much sense from a value for money point of view” said the BBC’s Director General Mark Thompson earlier this week, as he announced live on television the planned closure of the 6 music radio station, a station that, according to its own website “brings together the cutting edge music of today.”
The announcement was met with widespread condemnation, as everyone from David Bowie to Lily Allen weighed on the matter – “6 Music keeps the spirit of broadcasters like John Peel alive” said Bowie, “It will be awful if they do decide to close BBC 6 Music” added Allen. Unfortunately though, it would seem that ‘cutting edge’ is no longer in vogue; for there is apparently not a big enough market for the obscure, the undiscovered and the avant-garde.
Yet as a public service surely it is part of the BBC’s remit to champion the acts that would never be given a second glance by commercial channels, giving artists of all genres an outlet for their work, no matter how ‘commercial’ or ‘radio-friendly’ it may or may not be. As this latest saga has illustrated though, headed by Thompson the BBC are increasingly behaving like their commercial competitors; pandering to populism at every opportunity – as even for the once militantly non-commercial BBC, it’s now becoming all about the money.
But 6 Music costs the BBC only £9 million of their £4 billion budget per year; and scrapping a valuable medium that nurtures undiscovered talent in order to save a meager £9m per year seems ludicrous when you consider that in 2008/9 the BBC paid a combined salary of the same figure to Jonathan Ross (£6m) and Ann Robinson (£3m) alone, for services that hardly compare in terms of their cultural merit.
Essentially, the reason 6 Music has been picked on by Thompson is because it has a small audience, which at fewer than 700,000 was perceived as an easy target by BBC decision-makers in their desperate scramble to cut costs, apparently with a view to pumping more funds back in to “higher quality programming”.
Ironically though, 6 Music is notorious for its high quality – it may be listened to by only 1% of the population but quantity of audience does not necessarily correlate to quality of output. Radio One has an audience of over 10 million for example, but its ‘high quality’ is questionable – playing a largely prescriptive combination of substanceless pop and generic corporate rock.
The crucial point is that while axing 6 Music might save £9m per year in the short term, in the long run its loss will be far more damaging; for there is far, far more at stake here than seven figure sums. But Mark Thompson seems oblivious to this fact, so perhaps the question we should be asking is, with his £834,000 salary, does the Director General make much sense from a value for money point of view?
R.J. Gallagher - 03.03.10
A version of this article appears at: http://www.theskinny.co.uk/blog/2-the-skinny-blog/373-the-death-of-6-music