Looking Through the Gimmick, Not Finding the Art
Contemporary popular music and the subsequent influence on popular culture have galvanized the masses into calling acts like Lady Gaga “avant-garde” with “phenomenal creativity” and “edge”, but reason begs to differ.
Art can be defined as the manifestation of human creativity among different mediums. Music, they say, is the most poignant form of art, as it has the ability to reach the farthest fastest in regards to evoking an emotional and spiritual response from those who consume it.
Before we upset the masses that enjoy dancing to a catchy beat and lyrics, let’s establish the fact that everyone enjoys music subjectively, and as with all forms of art, people’s opinions will differ. Different music evokes different types of responses among different groups of people. However, when the music is corporate manufactured drivel, coupled with shock value gimmicks, and polarizing themes, it’s a bit of an insult to the intelligence of the masses. The sad thing is that the masses don’t even realize they’re being insulted.
When does the subjectivity that defines our consumption of art become distorted because the product being “appreciated” is no longer the opus of a creative mind, but a manufactured list of action items and executables put together by a marketing team? The academic side of marketing focuses on hitting psychological cues, and striking the nerve of the observer. These cues usually vary, from the lowest common denominator of our basic human instincts, to more intellectually stimulating messages, which challenge our reason to influence our decision making. Then there’s the all-important, and over-utilized dynamic of shock value. It’s a simple formula: give your audience the most over-the-top, shocking display of pseudo-creativity, call it “art”, and watch the masses follow your every move.
A simple retort to that criticism would be that those shock-value gimmicks are indeed art, and we are betraying the caveat that music, as art, is subjective, and shouldn’t be judged this way. The likes of Lady Gaga, with their flamboyant wardrobes, music videos with religious undertones and symbolism, and forced alignment with disenfranchised and marginalized sectors of society (mainly the LGBT community), do these things precisely to garner the attention that their “art” cannot. In doing so, these artists betray their intellectual and creative honesty, and feed the most impressionable sectors of society a manufactured, studied, dissected, and calculated marketing plan. And the outspoken qualms they have regarding their “individuality” and the “creativity” that’s so “misunderstood?” Please. Nobody is misunderstanding the pathetic attempt to polarize viewers to the utmost ends of society’s cognitive spectrum. Homoeroticism coupled with Christian symbolism and imagery? That’s not creative, it’s lazy and unoriginal. Especially when coupled with the ambiguous and repetitive lyrics of your run-of-the-mill pop song, and a wardrobe put together by the brightest and most manipulative (in the good sense of the word) minds in marketing.
Pop music on its own isn’t the culprit here, at least the majority of it is self-aware in that it’s only meant to entertain at face value, give radio stations something to play between commercials, and for many unfortunate souls, get stuck in their heads for days at a time. The guilty parties here are the artists like Lady Gaga who simply repeat tried and true methods to shock and awe the next generation (anyone remember Madonna’s controversial wardrobes, polarizing opinions on sex, and seemingly blasphemous music videos with burning crosses) into calling them the avant-garde artist of their time.
For as catchy and enjoyable pop music can be, it is vacuous and shallow in its lyrical and musical complexity. In order to counter the simplicity of the music, record companies and media executives create tangential points of shock-value to entice people to pay attention to the “artists” at a level of interest that would otherwise not exist. These peripheral attention tactics vary, from artists announcing their vows of abstinence until marriage, to being outspoken about polarizing socio-political issues that they are completely oblivious to.
Why all the attempts at distraction? Why not let the music speak for itself? Why not allow the art within the music to send those messages, evoke those feelings, and bring about those new ideas and ways of thinking? Because the music is shallow, and in Lady Gaga’s case, repeating the name Alejandro to an upbeat Latin melody is REALLY a critique of the Roman Catholic church and their stance on homosexuality (as interpreted through gay Nazi soldiers being raped in the music video). A marketing and creative team sat down, and thought “how can we evoke the most polarizing response from observers through the videography, since the song is as deep as a kiddy pool?” Well, that’s easy, just couple homoeroticism with religious symbols, sit back, and watch people try to interpret a “deeper” occult meaning in all of it. There is no coherent meaning, it is all a gimmick.
When you look through the gimmick, and don’t find the art, it’s a sad realization. It speaks to mainstream America’s lack of critical thinking, and our obsession with the obscene. Music can be a transcendental experience, but when we as a society allow gimmicks to garner our attention, all we are doing is feeding the trolls.