Monday, 16 May 2011

Lady Gaga at Madison Square Garden

Lady Gaga – decadent but intelligent, in style and with drive

I have seen Lady Gaga in her performance in Madison Square Garden in New York, being the last leg of her ”Monster Ball Tour”. I saw it on Swedish television Friday night.

Lady Gaga, her real name is Stefani Germanotta, is not just anybody. She is somehow going over board with her shows and I wanted to know why. Her voice is good but not spectacularly good; it is in fact a bit sharp. She is good-looking. Her different costumes in the various pieces she performs are indeed spectacular and often ugly, but they attract attention. There is a drive in what she does and therefore I dare say that we have not yet heard all that there is. Without being sure I sense that she is of a different category than for example the all too well-known Madonna.

The music is not my kind of music but it was nevertheless engaging and a genuine expression of whom she is. The following three reflections help in my own attempt to understand what is happening in Western culture at the moment. First of all one must simply say that the whole show was like an on-going sexual act. One may become so used to various allusions to the sexual act of intercourse in various forms of entertainment today that one does not even react. Here it was stark and it was also reflected in language. Western culture has to come to terms with sexuality but seems not to. It all has to be laid bare. The old device of the late 1960s “let it all hang out” (and at the time it was not only about your sexuality) seems to have come to stay. But it is also an expression of a constant lack of satisfaction. People are not happy as the desire for more never is saturated. I feel here, and that goes for all kinds of sexuality, straight as well as gay, that we have reached a point where we have to expose abnormalities of that which inherently is something very good. I would like to express it thus: the way sex is presented in a show like that of Lady Gaga, is to grossly misunderstand and misjudge its power and purpose. Sex is not there to be hung out. It has to do with intimacy and close relations between two people. If it is constantly hung out, something happens in the process that is detrimental to its nature. It has come to a point where people of other cultures nearly identify Western culture with a complete sexualisation at this point in time. But instead of taking up a position that would negate sexuality I would strongly affirm that sexuality is there in our common life together, whether we like it or not, even though its expression is dearly private. To sexualize everything you do, like in a show like that of Lady Gaga, could be seen as one extreme. The other extreme would be to deny our common sexuality and try to send it away to an obscure place. We do that also at our own peril. One thing is to abstain from sexual activity for those who are able and called to that. But in general we are all sexual beings and it is God-given. Affirmation of such a state of affairs should go on par with an awareness that its actual expressions are lived out in intimacy. The show was in fact unbearable in its over-sexualisation and I feel even a young person should be entitled to feel like that if that is so. But the other worrying tendency came through very clearly and it has to do with our social life or lack thereof.

The show came through as moving in an environment of almost extreme individualism. As a New Yorker she certainly well into the show shared some of her sentiments and she came through as a very lonely person who dreamt of how she one day “would make it”, i.e. perform at the Madison Square Garden filled to capacity. Now she did. But she did not come through as a happy person, but a proud one who had made it. I thought when sitting at my TV, is it that the West now is caught up in extreme individualism and that not least young people are at a complete loss as to how they should form their lives? Lady Gaga added fuel to the fire by starting to talk about herself about how she was misunderstood when at the theatre school as she did not fit into the various genres that were in vogue there. This kind of quite advanced self-pity in front of such a massive audience is not very helpful; is that what the young people wanted to hear? I was reminded of a much milder form of such self-pity when we heard the upcoming South African star singer Lira talk in between her numbers in South Africa at Kirstenbosch Gardens, with a 5000 odd outdoor audience just a couple of months ago. Be that as it may, all these may be trends that make Western culture to what it is, constant over-sexualisation, extreme individualism and various forms of public exposure of self-pity.

However, Lady Gaga has another dimension that is somewhat difficult to identify; therefore I dare say that this is not all we have heard from her yet. At one point she started to talk about Jesus. Was he the saviour of those who barred themselves in conservative churches or was he there for all? Jesus certainly loves everybody regardless of sexual orientation was one caption that came through. Was this flirtation with possible religious sentiments in the crowds (in any South African audience the majority would be almost strongly pro-Christian), or was it meant seriously? We will see before long.

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