Tagged: NSFW

Peaches should do Jesus Christ Superstar

Earlier tonight, I caught a screening of Radical Harmonies, Dee Mosbacher’s 2002 documentary on lesbian folk artists and women’s festivals. Inspiring stuff about a topic I know very little about. But I need time to unpack what I saw. Plus, I taped my neighbor’s drum practice in exchange for guitar lessons, which start next Tuesday. What is more, I’m still reeling over some very exciting professional news. Starting in April, I will do an eight-week stint as a guest blogger for Bitch. I’ll be doing a series on the intersections of television and music culture, in keeping with some of the entries I’ve posted here. So I made a nice dinner and had a little happy happy joy joy time.

It’d be easier to celebrate if Germans would leave female artsts alone and stop using copyright infringement as a front, as some have been doing recently. For one, a Munich court banned Beyoncé’s hella-problematicVideo Phone” clip because of a supposed intellectual property violation against underwear manufacturer Triumph, who own the rights to the Iskren Lozanov-designed, Pablo Picasso-inspired skivvies she’s wearing. Also, a bunch of German folks who own the rights to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hack . . . er . . . rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar are refusing to let Peaches stage the musical as a one-woman show.

Peaches Christ Superstar; image courtesy of ew.com

I’m not particularly concerned with the fate of “Video Phone” (or Rihanna’s new clip, “Rude Boy,” which recycles much of the same racist, sexualized imagery by way of dancehall and M.I.A.’s “Boyz“). I think that claiming panties as a legal battle ground is silly, but it also speaks to the fashion industry’s need to be economically viable during a recession while serving consumers who are increasingly drawn to ready-to-wear retail collections and renting couture. But I think Peaches not being allowed to perform Jesus Christ Superstar is ridiculous for two reasons.

1. Really, it’s not like she can do any damage to what is already awful source material. Her involvement only improves it in my mind. At least she’d bring a different, campier lack of subtlety to what is . . . well, obvious. If you haven’t seen the musical, you should do something fun with those two hours that would have been wasted on it. All you need to know is that Jesus was the original rock star.

Well, Peaches is a rock star too. And a smart, hairy, queer, Jewish, gender-bending, politically subversive, sexually autonomous feminist rock star at that. A rock star who, unlike Webber’s Jesus, doesn’t need guitars to melt faces and underwear. The boys wanna be the persona Merrill Nisker embodies, but some of them are totally scared of her. 

2. Legalese aside, I think the real issue here is the threat to patriarchal order that motivates fearful types to dictate the terms of “fair use.” I’m sure there would be no problem with, say, Michael Crawford doing a one-man show of Jesus Christ Superstar (though he’d probably do a Vegas revue). But a queer Jewish feminist drawing on source material she loved growing up so she can play Jesus and Mary Magdelene. No no no. “Blasphemy.” And that’s absurd.

I hope Peaches gets to do the show somewhere. She’s welcome to convince me of the musical’s worth by performing the stage show in my garage.

“Everybody loves three”: Britney’s new single

britney-3

Cover to 3 single (Jive, 2009); image courtesy of thehollywoodgossip.com

Maybe Britney Spears doesn’t seem like someone I’d cover here. In truth, if we have to do the bullshit either/or, good/bad preference thing, I’m totally Christina Aguilera over Britney Spears. Except for that time when “Dirrty” first came out and I was bummed out that Xtina decided to celebrate sluttiness. Then I recanted and celebrated the sluttiness too, though with weird feelings about how Aguilera selectively channeled her Ecuadorian roots by playing up the spicy Latina, only to later highlight her whiteness in subsequent reinventions.

But the music video for Britney’s new single “3” from her second greatest hits compilation recently debuted on the Internet. Also, I have to say that I actually like Spears’s music. “Toxic” was a neat little jam. Blackout was a pretty fun, dark pop record despite and because of its context (you might remember that Britney was in the tabloids a bit in 2007). And I haven’t really listened to Circus, but the hits have been fun. The older she gets, the edgier and less kid-friendly she becomes. Sure, the producers have a hand in all of this, and perhaps there’s some unfortunate credence to Tom Ewing’s analogy between Spears and Twin Peaks hardened, debased, tragic beauty Laura Palmer. But I still like Britney. And maybe like Rihanna, another beauty with a cyborg’s voice who seems to look and sound even more edgier after her own travails, I root for her.  

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Rihanna and the Met Ball (May, 2009); image courtesy of gofugyourself.com

Like the South Park dudes, I have sympathy for Britney Jean. 1) She was raised to be a pop star, 2) she became a pop star when she was really young and probably didn’t get to grow up in a normal environment, 3) suddenly people started making fun of her for not seeming very cultured or politically aware because she spent all of her life becoming a pop star, 4) she had a headline-making break-up with some boy who later told everyone that he took her virginity, 5) she is perceived as damaged goods while his star continues to rise, 6) she makes a lot of bad personal decisions, 7) she gives birth to two boys in quick succession, 8) she suffered through post-partum depression and perhaps bipolar disorder in public, 9) people made fun of her supposedly chubby post-pregnancy body, 10) then her handlers make her over for real and magically all is well again.

I really hope that’s true. She’s 27, a cursed age for rock and pop idols. I hope she makes it to 28. And, like Carrie Brownstein, I hope she gets to make friends with fellow Southern girl Beth Ditto, who has packaged herself as a proudly fat and queer sex symbol and vocal powerhouse. It also makes me glad that I know almost fuck-all about Lady Gaga’s personal life. I’ve pro’ed and con’ed her, but I like that I know very little about her off-stage persona. I’m assuming she took a note from Britney. I’m also hoping Britney took a note from Beyoncé.

But let’s get to “3” and its video. It’s dirty. It’s all about threesomes. And, unlike earlier Britney singles, this one doesn’t hide behind a lot of innuendo. Stuff I like about it.

1. Um, is this song already a hit at gay bars across the world? It’s about to be.

2. I kinda love how unclear (and thus potentially queerable?) the groupings are in this song. The reference to “Peter, Paul, and Mary” seems to suggest some boy-boy-girl action. In addition to loving that the stiff, pious folk trio are name-checked here, I hope that the two boys in the trio tend to each other’s needs as well as Britney’s. Based on the video, the trio could also be three ladies. While the video is totally vulnerable to the heterosexual male gaze, there is no tired two girls for every boy situation explicitly being offered up here.

2A. I hope Britney’s queer fanbase comes up with all manner of pairings and positions when they bring this song to life. 

3. While I hate the slowed-down, ballad-y bridge where Britney suggests (once again) that “what we do is innocent,” nothing is meant by it, and this could just be a twosome, I like that she slyly sneaks in that it might also be fun to turn the duet into a trio or even a quartet. Britney’s grin really sells it.  

4. I’ve always liked Britney’s Southern accent and her military dance moves.

Stuff that’s icky.

1. Britney’s white leotard when she’s next to the chorus line of female dancers. Her white blondeness is exacerbated by the women’s black outfits, which racialize and subordinate them alongside the pop star. I hated Ciara and Justin Timberlake’s similar music video for “Love Sex Magic,” but at least I felt like Ciara was dancing with the chorus line rather than having them orbit her. 

2. Product placement. Duh, she’s a brand. But does she really have to apply her Fantasy perfume at the beginning of the video? Or, for that matter, does she have to spritz on some Curious at the beginning of the “Circus” music video? Oh, she does? It’s probably in her contract? Gross.

3. While I like that her trimmer figure hasn’t sacrificed her curves, I never really thought she had any weight to lose.

4. The “livin’ like this is the new thing” lyric is problematic because it kinda sounds like a sales pitch. Ugh. I guess a queer poly love jingle isn’t the worst thing, but still. Queer love, polyamory, and threesomes are totally not the new thing. They’ve been identities and expressions of desire probably since the beginning of time.

5. Since configuration of the threesome is deliberately ambiguous in the Diane Martel-directed clip, I wish the star played with male drag. Didn’t she seem to have butch potential when she shaved her head? Doesn’t it seem like part of her career makeover is to make her normatively feminine and sexy again? But that’s so boring. I’ve long thought that Britney’s thick neck and broad shoulders could make her a potentially good looking drag king, perhaps convincing as Mariah or her ex-boyfriend. She could at least oscillate within the butch-femme binary like Ciara did in “Like a Boy.”

Thoughts?

Tracy + the Plastics: Diva?

Tracy + the Plastics; image courtesy of criticalmiami.com

Tracy + the Plastics; image courtesy of criticalmiami.com

My friend Morgan is taking a grad seminar on divas through UT’s Theatre and Dance department. Kinda amazing, right? Makes you wish you were in school, talking about Mariah Carey and getting college credit, doesn’t it? Me too. I always remember this when someone posts a horror story on Facebook about admission cutbacks, hiring freezes, and when you’re supposed to make babies.

A class on divas fascinates me. If I were taking this class, I’d have so many questions. Who is a diva? What makes a diva? Does a diva have to be glamourous? Does a diva have to be campy? Is performance inherrent to being a diva and, if so, can anti-performance fit into this construction? Does being a diva mean vocal virtuosity? Is being a diva about turning spectacle into art, or deriving art out of spectacle? How do the interstices of identity play into the construction of a diva’s persona(e) and fan base? Can a diva be male, despite diva Beyoncé’s assertion that a diva is a female version of a hustler

I think that last one is totally rhetorical. Guys can totally be divas. And as I support being flexible with language to include female contributions, I also endorse that we not masculinize originally female-gendered terminology when applying it to boys and men. I’ll not stand for this “divo” business — Kanye is a diva. A diva can also clearly be trans or intersex.

I think we can also agree on performance being intrinsic to the diva. But is there a specific way that performance has to be packaged? Does a diva have to make a scene at the Grammys or can s/he do it in some rundown cabaret or house party?

These questions lead me toward an issue I’m not so sure about, and am going to take this blog as a forum to play with. Does a diva require or need to project a lavish lifestyle, and thus tied to capital? I have a few ladies in mind to complicate the classed notions of the diva. Admittedly, they’re kinda art-fuck suggestions meant to subvert the normative positionings of this cultural figure. They’re also adult, white, and biologically female, perhaps causing them to abide by aforementioned norms. So if you’re like “what about _______?,” feel free to share.

For my first post on divas, I offer up the now-defunct solo project Tracy + the Plastics for consideration. Does Wynne Greenwood’s use of elliptical song structures, graphically candid confessionals, antiquated electronic instruments, and video installations to play with identity, gender, sexuality, and performance make her a diva? Why or why not?

Records That Made Me a Feminist: Mama’s Gun, by Alyx

Cover of Mamas Gun, released on Motown/Puppy Love; image courtesy of dallassouthblog.com

Cover of Mama's Gun, released on Motown/Puppy Love; image courtesy of dallassouthblog.com

Originally, I was going to write about Mama’s Gun, Erykah Badu’s second full-length album, in tandem with PJ Harvey’s Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea. The reason for this was two-fold: for one, I got the two albums within a week of one another my senior year as Christmas presents (one of the few perks of having divorced parents) and, for another, both albums are turn-of-the-century declaratives about the complexities and contradictions of women being in and out of love, sometimes thrillingly occupying both positions at once. I also thought, as a neat aside, that it might be useful to think about contemporary female artists’ work across racial and/or generic boundaries.

However, I worry that I’d be doing a disservice to those particularities by glossing over them in what would inevitably be an overgrown post. Furthermore, there are some jarring differences between the two albums that I cannot yet resolve in thinking about them together. Harvey’s “happy” album is largely believed to be about her by-now defunct relationship with hipster auteur and New York die-hard Vincent Gallo; Badu’s “game-changing” album is conclusively about the end of her relationship with OutKast’s André 3000 and possibly the beginning of another one with Common. Harvey’s album finds her brightening her sound after her more experimental, less well-received Is This Desire? (which absolutely will be discussed as a record that made me a feminist once I start recounting my college years). Badu’s album finds her expanding her sound (and perhaps the sound associated with “neo-soul,” however silly a term that became), a project she would continue to do with last year’s mind-blowing, radically political, and tremendously funky, New Amerykah, Pt. 1: 4th World War.

Cover for New Amerykah Part One (4th World War) (Universal Motown, Puppy Love Entertainment, Control Freaq; 2008), image courtesy of dallasobserver.com

Cover for New Amerykah Part One (4th World War) (Universal Motown, Puppy Love Entertainment, Control Freaq; 2008), image courtesy of dallasobserver.com

Most importantly, for my purposes, while the former speaks more specifically to love’s ability to project, the latter speaks to the embodied, conflicting feelings of a female place in a relationship.

Badu and I had met previously. Baduizm came out in 1997 and I found out about it thanks to Kurt Loder and the good people of MTV News who proclaimed that I would, in fact, hear it from them first. I bought it that summer for my birthday (for what it’s worth, I bought it with Ben Folds Five’s Whatever and Ever Amen — happy birthday to 14-year-old me!). She also made appearances on One Life To Live as herself, and acted in Blues Brothers 2000 and Cider House Rules (which I still have not seen in its entirety, but I know that she does a good job playing a tragic character in what I thought was an otherwise totally boring movie). But I treasured my copy of Baduizm, marvelling that someone could make vintage jazz, R&B, and funk sound so refreshingly hip and contemporary. She had such an interesting and beautiful voice. I loved that the music was coming out of a Texas girl who also spelled her name with a “y” (albeit for far more politically motivated reasons than me; Erykah Badu changed her name to be closer to her Ghanan roots while I became “Alyx” because we were studying Egypt in sixth grade social studies and I thought the spelling looked — ugh, white girl fail — more hieroglyphic).

But this album, which came out during my senior year hit me like a soft, sexy bomb (an apt reappropriation of Tom Breihan’s assessment of D’Angelo’s Voodoo, another pioneer 2000 release that, for some reason, I don’t own. I have, of course, seen the delightfully NSFW video for “Untitled“). I actually heard “Didn’t Ya Know” for the first time at a movie theater in West Palm Beach visiting my dad on Christmas vacation (I think it played before a screening of Cast Away). The Spice Girls’ “Holla” played some time after that, but as J. Dilla’s warm, soulful production wrapped around me and Badu’s at-times wrenching and at-times assured vocal delivery let me know what I’d be spending that Sam Goody gift certificate on.

Speaking of J. Dilla, Badu’s collaborative spirit was also something of an inspiration to me, especially since was able to work with men. Like Björk, who has worked extensively with like-minded dudes like directors Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze, as well as producers like Matmos, Mark Bell, and Nellee Hooper, Badu was always able to forge creative spaces with men while still standing her own ground. With The Roots or producer J. Dilla (and later Madlib and 9th Wonder), she was still fully able to articulate her artistic imperatives. When she duets with Stephen Marley on “In Love With You,” she seems to be coming at the song (and its subject matter) as an equal. It should also be noted that she’s got room for the ladies too, working with women like Jill Scott and, on this album, Betty Wright.

One thing I’ve always felt Badu doesn’t get enough credit for as a musician is her loopy yet razor-sharp sense of humor. Anyone who follows fatbellybella on Twitter can tell you Badu is hilarious. But her humor is also evident in her songwriting, which while often confessional will often diffuse potentially maudlin moments with daffy yet incredibly perceptive asides (the bridge to  “…& On” recounts memorable moments — in loose rhyme — going with her mom to the laundromat, her first period, learning about oppression at school, watery cereal, hearing herself on the radio, and wearing head wraps). Her self-awareness is also evident — “…& On” makes several direct references to Baduizm‘s breakout hit “On and On,” and “Cleva” mediatates on how she uses her brains and wit to compensate for self-perceived physical deficits, lamenting that her breasts sag when she’s not wearing a bra, bragging that her thrift-store togs look awesome, and stating, upfront, that this is what she looks like without makeup.

Her humor is also in her voice. People tend to focus more on her voice’s supposed “jazziness,” especially early on in her career when critics were clamoring to figure out how most subtly to compare her timbre and tone to the tragic Billie Holiday’s. And while Holiday’s humor also gets obscured from this discussion, if we have to compare Badu’s voice to someone else, I actually think Badu is closer to Blossom Dearie, the recently deceased singer who used her high-pitched coo to utilize a myriad of possibilities, whether it be taking pot-shots at hipsters or singing about unpacking adjectives. I could hear Badu doing both, maybe even in the same song.

What makes Badu’s approach to songwriting interesting is that her sense of humor can turn a song whose subject matter seems silly or inconsequential or rote on the surface into something surprisingly more progressive. Take “Booty,” for example. The song originally seems to be a a diss song directed at a woman whose man has turned his attentions toward Badu. While the woman has a PhD, is more conventionally attractive, is a better cook, boasts a fast-tracked career, and is more financially stable than Badu (at least in this song, as college-educated Erica Wright went to Grambling), Badu still has to fight off her partner’s advances. At first, when Badu says “I don’t want him,” it seems to suggest that this man (and, by association, this woman) are beneath her. Yet, in the bridge (the song has no verses), Badu reveals that her intentions speak toward a kind of female solidarity, albeit one strained by classed circumstantial differences. She doesn’t want this man, not because she has designs on someone else, but because he doesn’t respect his current relationship enough to be honest and make arrangements with his partner. In essence, Badu believes both women need to cut this man loose because they can do better.

She performs a similar feat with “Bag Lady,” which at first seems to be an indictment about women who enter into relationships with too much baggage. What it ends up becoming is an anthem about personal freedom and empowerment, with Badu encouraging the woman to break free from her self-imposed shackles, stressing that self-love will make it better while being backed by a euphoric women’s chorus.

Many would argue that “Green Eyes,” a ten-minute suite that stands as the album’s final song, is its centerpiece. I’d be one to agree, and find it especially astonishing that OutKast’s “Ms. Jackson,” which tells André 3000’s side of their break-up was released but a few months before Mama’s Gun came out (Badu also makes a cameo on the album, singing with her former partner about broken dreams in the chorus of “Humble Mumble”). As Touré discusses in his Rolling Stone review of Mama’s Gun, it’s hard not to read into these musicians’ personal moments that then get projected into their work, with the audience knowing who’s singing (or rapping) to who. You could easily do it with Beyoncé singing about being “Crazy in Love” with Jay-Z, who would then reply that he’s got hip hop and R&B’s “number one girl . . . wearing (his) chain” in “Dirt Off Your Shoulder.” You could also easily do it with Badu’s appearance in the music video for Common’s “The Light,” a song the rapper wrote for her about their (now-defunct) relationship, strengthening the musical association by having J. Dilla steer the production.

But on its own, “Green Eyes” is an epic, discursive, devastating break-up anthem whose power few since have touched (though I think Aeroplane and Kathy Diamond’s “Whispers” comes the closest). It begins with a flirtatious, jazzy lilt wherein Badu claims that her eyes are green, not because she’s jealous that her former lover now has a new partner. Instead, she unconvincingly lies, her eyes are green because she eats a lot of vegetables. After claiming “it don’t have nahhhh-thing to do with your . . . friend,” the music becomes slower and more dirge-like. Her voice and lyrics also become less certain, shakier. She doesn’t know if she loves him anymore, but thinks she might, and is clearly frustrated how love is putting in her in such a tether. From here, she pushes her lover further away in one phrase, claiming to do fine and realizing how angry she is at him for not recognizing her worth, while a few lines later asks if they can make love one last time. Her humor is still there, at times helping her sell the lie of her feelings, while other times confronting her with the truth. She calls herself silly at the thought of her lover being true, stating that she should change her name to “Silly E. Badu.” It’s a joke, but no one — least of all her — is laughing. You know she’ll get through it eventually, but she has to work through her hurt before she moves forward. I know it was a song that helped me work through a broken heart, even if I had to lie face down and sob into the carpet to do it.

But there is plenty of love and lust on this album, acknowledging that women can turn art out of being happy and healthy. “Orange Moon” begins as a stately, romantic ballad to finding someone helped her believe in love, only to erupt into pure, unadulterated about how good/God her lover is (the “God” reference potentially serving as a Five Percenter allusion). “Kiss Me On My Neck (Hesi)” focuses its attentions instead on the more immediate nature of necessary gratification. The inclusion of these songs evince that for women, love and sex are neither mutual nor exclusive concepts. They can be both.

The album also allowed me to think outside of love (and thus myself) to start questioning more political matters and begin to want for more radical action. While Badu may be charming and funny, she’s also a fine, agitated mind. The song that accomplished this most specifically for me was “A.D. 2000,” a song about Amadou Diallo and his brutal murder at the hands of a quartet of trigger-happy police officers. Excepting the Rodney King beating and subsequent hearing, this was the first time I really thought about police brutality (note: Bruce Springsteen also addressed this horrible tragedy in song, to some controversy).

A year later, I would read about Mumia Abu-Jamal. Two and a half years after that, I would start dating a person who got pulled over by a cop for driving the speed limit with the headlights on in a residential area at 10 p.m. while listening to GZA’s Legend of the Liquid Sword. Eight months after that, I would read Assata Shakur‘s profound autobiography. About a year after that, I would read Angela Davis‘s autobiography, stunned that this intelligent, sensitive individual was the same person Ronald Reagan swore would never teach in California. Two years after that, I would get accosted by a cop for jay-walking through a red light at 3 a.m. when it was clear that the officer was more concerned by the nervous young college student of either Middle Eastern or South Asian descent walking three steps in front of me. In all this time in between, I would come to know several people who shared similar stories or worse, whether they were arrested for “obstructing a passageway” during protests or were accosted with racial profiling. I would also read about similar reported items in the news, always sad and horrified and sick and helpless that these kinds of actions still go on.

Badu would continue to be concerned with political issues like religious freedom, institutional racism, the drug trade, poverty, and sexism, and incorporate these matters into her music, which became increasingly more experimental as she matured as an artist. But with the political she always intersected personal issues, whether it was remembering growing up on hip hop records, motherhood, reconciling the fact that she had three babies with as many men, growing older, working within the mainstream, looking for ways to work outside of it, and always thinking about the ways that she fit (or chose not to fit) within it. This album was the start of thinking through these issues for me. I look forward to what Ms. Badu has to say next.

Gender, fat women, and racial tension — great job?

So, I’m going to bend a rule tonight in the service of addressing (and hopefully discussing) larger issues with race and gender: talk about a dude’s work. But I’ve been sitting on my hands for a while thinking about the music videos that will be the focus of this post and how they depict people of color, specifically black women, so let’s get to it.

Eric Wareheim, for those who may not know, is the “Eric” of Adult Swim staple Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! It’s a highly irreverent, deliberately low-budget and ugly-looking sketch comedy show that might not even call itself as such. It’s also really funny. For further reading on the subject, I suggest my friend Evan’s great job Flow column. I’ll also point you in the direction of Jeff Sconce’s piece on recurring characters The Beaver Boys, a piece Evan also cites.

But Wareheim also directs music videos, usually bringing his lo-fi, ironic, discomforting approach to these projects. Two such clips make me really uncomfortable (these clips are NSFW).

The first video is Major Lazer’s “Pon De Floor,” which came out earlier this summer. Admittedly, I know very little about whether or not the sexually graphic nature of the dancing is in any way a reflection of the culture and the personnel who put this together (Diplo and Switch of Major Lazer recorded their debut, Guns Don’t Kill People . . . Lazers Do in Jamaica; this is also where guest rapper Vybz Kartel comes from). But I feel oogy about the unveiled metaphor of dance as sex, what it might mean to have black (heterosexually coupled) bodies as spectacle, how those bodies are depicted and objectified, what staid notions about black female sexuality might be enforced, and what sex positions are privileged (lots of doggy-style). Add to this the lo-fi, day-glo excess of the video’s environment and the music video seems to be endorsing racist notions of primitivism, social immobility, and sexual insatiability.

When you add animation, issues of disembodiment, cheap clothes, fat bodies, and explicit sex scenes to all of this, as Wareheim did last year with his video for Flying Lotus’s “Parisian Goldfish” (which Pitchfork just dubbed the 50th greatest video of the decade), things get ickier. 

Now, I’m not trying to suggest that it’s bad for black people to have sexual appetites, nor am I trying to suggest similar restrictions on fat women (really, I’m not proposing these sanctions on any person). In fact, I think we need more overtly (and complexly) sexual fat women of all races and ethnicities in media culture. If they’re on top, so much the better.

But it seems a really queasy thing to spectacularize black heterosexuality and manipulate the bodies of black dancers and actors in such a baldly grotesque manner for a music video. It seems especially queasy when the person pulling the strings, pointing the camera, and in Wareheim’s case, putting together the animation sequences is a white guy.

Admittedly, director Chris Cunningham covered equally murky territory with his clip for Aphex Twin’s “Windowlicker,” but it seemed there was a critique being made against mainstream hip hop’s preoccupations with materialism, misogyny, and female objectification.

I hasten to add that this critique also comes from a white guy making a music video for a white guy. I’d be far more interested in seeing more subtle, nuanced critiques about race, gender, and hip hop come from people of color. Thus, I’ll gesture toward Charles Stone III’s clip for The Roots’ “What They Do.” If you know of any smart, awesome female directors who have done similar work, please let me know.

With Wareheim’s work here, I wonder what the critique is. That it’s purposefully uncomfortable? But at what cost and at whose expense? While Wareheim may be working here with black, male and female entertainers and musicians (except Major Lazer, who is made up of two white guys who work with a lot of artists of color from all over world), what is he having them do and what does it mean?

Lady Gaga attempts to queer the hard sell

Lady Gaga sexing the dead for Out Magazine; image courtesy of out.com

Lady Gaga sexing the dead for Out Magazine; image courtesy of out.com

. . . So we meet again, Steffie. How are you?

So, I thought I’d briefly mention Lady Gaga’s recent cover story for Out Magazine, which further establishes her recent fascination with monsters and horror (though not, sadly, Muppets). More importantly, it aligns her with a queer audience and as one of the tribe (an extension of an argument my friend Alex Cho made in a column for Flow earlier this month).

Ellen Von Unwerth’s pictorial is interesting — I’ve been a fan since I first saw her cover of Hole’s Live Through This. I especially find the photographs of her wrapped in medical gauze interesting, as it revisits the fixations she has with death and frailty that she brought to light in her music video for “Paparazzi.”

Lady Gaga on the cover of Out seems like a pretty big deal, but one I’m sure is not met without some controversy. While I’m not livid at her being on the cover (the way I was when lipstick chic interloper Katy Perry made the publication’s year-end cover last winter), I hedge. I hedge for a few reasons, the least of which has to do with hailing a queer audience while doing so with a normatively sexy female body, as Lady Gaga did when she conjured up the bath house in Rolling Stone‘s recent Hot Issue.

Lady Gaga on the cover of the Rolling Stone Hot Issue; image courtesy of insider.com

Lady Gaga on the cover of the Rolling Stone Hot Issue; image courtesy of insider.com

Principally, I still wonder how queer — not how queerable — Lady Gaga really is. Her bisexuality, which has been well-reported, is not disclosed here, but referred to, perhaps as a given. I do find disconcerting the lack of qualification for an earlier comment that her attraction to women is purely physical (presumably in opposition to men, who she doesn’t make this distinction for). For me, this seems antithetical to how I’ve always defined the philosophy behind bisexuality — i.e., that sex categories and binaries eclipse a person’s romantic, sexual, physical, emotional, and/or cerebral attractions to another person.

And while I imagine the feature was written before Lady Gaga discussed in a recent interview about the double-standard between men and women and rock and pop before immediately dismissing any claim to being a feminist, I would like some acknowledgement of how problematic this moment was.

Also, I find the constant speculation about Lady Gaga being a man or a hermaphrodite interesting, if not a bit limiting. While she’s enjoyed and encouraged much of this rumor-mongering, I’d be more impressed if she incorporated a more subcultural mode of queer address — say, tagging — or went the route of Marilyn Manson and employed prosthetics as part of her costuming. Sure, the appendage would be blurred in UsWeekly, but how awesome would it be to see a female pop star step out of a limousine with a penis peaking out of her avant-garde party dress?

What I wonder about this cover — indeed, Lady Gaga’s success as a queer icon — is how she might be more specifically aligned with a gay male fan culture and how this may speak to the fundamental differences between identity politics within the LGBT community, as well as within factions inside the current iteration of feminism (or, ugh, post-feminism). Because while this feminist thinks that Lady Gaga’s performance and cultural positioning is interesting (and problematic), it also still has very clear limits.