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the new Washington video: “How is it just like Lady Gaga?”

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The quote in the title is drawn from the comments section beneath Matt O’Neill’s article thoughts on the new Washington song, ‘Holy Moses’. It was made by director of the song’s promotional video, Stephen Lance, in response to criticism from various Collapse Board writers that the video is reminiscent of various Lady Gaga promotional videos.To get the full context of what follows, you should read the linked comments section. I have deliberately left off my written responses (and Hannah’s) because I don’t believe they’re necessary.

THE CASE FOR THE DEFENCE

Dear Hannah, I’m not sure how old you are, so I will try and be as kind as possible. You may not get the references because you may not know what they are…and this could be an age thing. You seem intent on some reductionist witch hunt to prove some glib little point about it being Gaga. So let me just outline some stuff for you, which you can either dismiss as Emperor’s New Clothes or you can actually pull your fucking head out of your arse and Everett’s arse and consider…

Firstly, the video is a combination of influences both cinematic, artistic and literary. There is the very basic reference of the Aloof sequence from the Bob Fosse musical ‘Sweet Charity’. Then there is the less obvious, but still significant reference of Fellini…particularly Satyricon. There is also some Cabaret in there, particularly the lighting refs and live stage component. In terms of the choreography, well it’s pretty much Fosse all the way, except with some Beyonce thrown in. But you might not know that Beyonce also takes inspiration from Fosse, like a lot of pop divas. Gaga…maybe. But probably not. That really isn’t the Fosse style. Let me direct you to All The Jazz.

In terms of costuming, the influences are the Aloof and Leigh Bowery from Taboo era, with a bit of Gaultier and Mugler thrown into a mystic pot. The gown is actually Bob Mackie 1970s original from NY. Now while this might not seem important to you, I would ask you to look closer at some of the details of what I’m saying. The devil is in the details. Gaga doesn’t go Mackie. Dietrich from the 1970s does. Cher from the early 80s does. But not Gaga.

In terms of a literary reference, it’s ‘fucking obviously’ Dante.

So while you may think it’s ‘fucking obvious’, and I have no doubt that you do. Someone smarter than you once said to every complex problem there is an obvious answer which is invariably wrong.

Next time you want to tear apart an artistic work and attack the artists behind it, at least have the respect to have a cogent argument at your side. At the very least, if you want to be a critic in the future, this sort of rigour will help you. Raise the bar. I know you live in Brisbane, but that’s no excuse for weak reasoning.

Please take your time to watch the references I’ve mentioned above and get back to me at your leisure.

Cheers

Stephen Lance, 16 August 2011, Collapse Board

————————————————-

THE CASE FOR THE PROSECUTION

My only question here is: should critics be reviewing the intent, or the product?

33 Responses to the new Washington video: “How is it just like Lady Gaga?”

  1. Matt O'Neill August 19, 2011 at 9:55 am

    Yeah, I feel my case got muddied in that conversation. I don’t think the video does not suggest Lady Gaga. I just think that both Gaga and Washington’s aesthetics are indicative of a broader cultural trend. Janet Jackson’s Discipline, for example, was released in the same year as Lady Gaga’s The Fame and actually hit upon a similar flavour of gonzoid weirdo electro-pop.

    That cleared up, though, I think critics should review both on a case by case basis. The standards for each record should be devised in response both to broader musical landscapes and the circumstances surrounding that particular question. In reviewing the video, it would be remiss NOT to mention the Lady Gaga similarities but it’s also relevant to interrogate why those similarities exist and how they ultimately impact upon an audience.

  2. Lloyd B August 19, 2011 at 10:37 am

    I think the point is “broader cultural trends” because it’s not like what Lady Gaga is doing has no precedent that other artists cannot delve into.

    Case in point: Team Plastique (http://tinyurl.com/44a554t) are friends of mine and were doing the Gaga aesthetic in the late 90s/early 00s. While I liked them as people, I never liked their style or music and found it too heavily derivative of what was then termed Electro-Clash. Think Chicks on Speed / Peaches etc… a lot of very Berlin arty squatter music. The trend is at least a decade old. In my mind it does not change the music (which is not to my taste) but saying y == x where x == a,b,c,d,e,f,et.al. is even more shallow and irritating than the appalling excuse for a song that lovestruck Matt is trying to defend.

  3. Matt O'Neill August 19, 2011 at 10:51 am

    Before M.I.A. lost all credibility, she made the very valid point that everything Lady Gaga is doing is borrowed from electroclash.

    And, dammit, I’m not trying to defend the song. Nobody has even attacked the song! It’s all about the video – which I didn’t even watch until after the fact. This isn’t about defending Washington, it’s about humanising Lady Gaga.

  4. Lloyd B August 19, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    “Nobody has even attacked the song! ”

    Uh oh. I think I just did :O

    “And, dammit, I’m not trying to defend the song.”

    OK not defending it just explaining how you like it. Sorry for getting the two confused. :D

    Can I just add that I’m even more sick of electro-clash than I was 8 years ago. Hence why i’m just arguing here without a real point other than “it all sucks”. I should go drown some kittens or something.

  5. Matt O'Neill August 19, 2011 at 1:18 pm

    Well, I wrote the review about why I liked it. That’s all I’ve really said on the musical side of things. Everything since then has been about visual aesthetic.

    And you don’t count. You’re weird. You like PVT because they sound like Icehouse.

  6. Darragh August 19, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    PVT sound like Icehouse? WTF?

  7. Darragh August 19, 2011 at 4:29 pm

    My perspective, should it count, is along the lines of what Matt and Lloyd B state above. I don’t think what Gaga does (visually) is anything unique and borrows from a range of past influences. By inference, even if you state Washington is ripping Lady Gaga, is she really? Or is she simply tapping into the same source of inspiration Gaga has already borrowed from.

    The one constant, in my view, is that Washington song is not very good, despite Matt’s spirit defense of it.

  8. Victoria Birch August 19, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    I’m all for ‘trust the tale never the teller’. Just because Stephen intended to litter his work with very fabulous motifs from musical theatre and performance art, doesn’t mean that his subconscious wasn’t screaming ‘Gaga!, Gaga! Gaga!’ while he was doing it (it doesn’t mean that it was either btw).

    A critic needs to view art through a myriad of lenses – the artist’s intent is possibly the least important (because it can never be trusted). Stephen’s dissection of his work is interesting but review the video based on his intent and it boils down to assessing how well he did or did not realise his vision.

    Review the end product and you have to look at it in context – that includes supposing a perspective or influence the artist may not have been aware of, understanding how it will be viewed by its intended audience, how it sits against its contemporaries etc etc

    Stephen clearly cares very deeply about what he does, but the fact is 95% of the audience who see Megan Washington’s pop video will look at it as a Lady Gaga Gaga copy. Whether that was Stephen’s intent is neither here or there (although I’m sure the people who hired him would disagree).

  9. Darragh August 19, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    Blah, I meant ‘spirited defence’ :P

  10. Matt O'Neill August 19, 2011 at 5:19 pm

    Totes kicking you in the beanbags when I see you next, Darragh.

  11. Princess Stomper August 19, 2011 at 6:42 pm

    “Stephen clearly cares very deeply about what he does, but the fact is 95% of the audience who see Megan Washington’s pop video will look at it as a Lady Gaga Gaga copy. Whether that was Stephen’s intent is neither here or there”

    and that’s the crux of the argument.

    Lessee … in the Bad Romance video, the black lingerie comes from the Love Black line by Agent Provocateur. The funny-shaped hairpiece in the “Walk walk fashion baby” bit is “Lips” from Charlie Le Mindu’s Spring 2010 collection. The transparent silicone rubber dress is from Rachael Barrett’s 2009 graduation fashion show. Benjamin Cho’s polar bear coat was from his Spring 2005 runway, and the crystal rosarios Gaga is drenched in are from his Fall 2005 collection. Alexander McQueen’s Spring 2010 season provided the gold dress, jeweled shoes, and crazy lobster-claw shoes.

    So when we see those items individually, do we think “Alexander McQueen!” or “Lady Gaga”? Chances are, it’s the latter, because Gaga gets a lot more exposure than … well … almost anyone else.

    I was rocking the leggings-and-batwing-sleeves look back in the mid-1980s, but I was wearing them in 2010 because she made them fashionable again.

  12. hannah golightly August 20, 2011 at 8:52 am

    “the fact is 95% of the audience who see Megan Washington’s pop video will look at it as a Lady Gaga Gaga copy. Whether that was Stephen’s intent is neither here or there”

    When I made that point I was verbally abused for it. I got called a long list of negative things… plus a death threat from the video maker! They were trying to make me look stupid with their intellectualised list of signifiers and influences that apparently I’m too young to have picked up on. I might be older than the person who said that. But you’d have to be living in a cave right now or completely stupid not to have seen Gaga in that video. Just coz I said it, doesn’t mean everyone else isn’t thinking it. Not that any of what they said bothered me though (death threat aside- that’s illegal and pathetic), it’s often said that when someone has no real argument left, they start insulting their opponent. So I knew they had lost when they started doing that. Also, no one who knows me would recognise me from anything they said, so it was ludicrous.

    The thing is, although yes, I often take the role of critic- I write about music for Collapse Board after all- I was not the one writing the review in this case. I was being the listener, the consumer, the potentially entertained. I was giving valuable marketing feedback as was anyone commenting on the music and the video. A clever person would have saved their energy slagging me off and taken that feedback on board and benefited from my honesty.

  13. hannah golightly August 20, 2011 at 9:01 am

    It is also my opinion that everyone can be an expert using google these days, so when I interact with new (to my ears) music, I do so in the present moment, without researching my reactions. I am natural and real and I don’t use search engines to review or discuss music. Anything else is contrived or alienating to the reader/listener. I know what I know and make no claims otherwise. If I didn’t write from my point of view, then I might as well bypass my personality and knowledge and experience, remove the humanity from my work and go work for the NME typing up their Press Releases into articles without so much as pressing play on the track. If you have to get out a musical encyclopaedia in order to ‘get’ the music or video, then you have to ask- who is that video/song for exactly?

  14. Princess Stomper August 20, 2011 at 6:07 pm

    Well, said! Plus you know that there is a correct response to death threats, don’t you?

    “COME AND ‘AVE A GO IF YER THINK YER ‘ARD ENOUGH!”

    :D

  15. Lloyd B August 20, 2011 at 8:25 pm

    “Just coz I said it, doesn’t mean everyone else isn’t thinking it. ”

    You are surely a figment of a satirical imagination ‘Ms Golightly’. The aforementioned phrase is up there with “takes one to know one” as far as a critically valuable statement. I appreciate this is just the internet where I can be a single mum that earns $10,000 dollars a day but “you’d have to be living in a cave right now or completely stupid not to have seen Gaga in that video” is from my perspective just lazy. If yr going to be a critic you should be able to either:

    1) name drop a bunch of lesser known artists to show off how smart you are / good at using google search terms

    2) use adjectives, adverbs, metaphors and words words words not schoolyard taunts

    3) your age is no excuse… it hasn’t made ET a better writer… just given him more years to live and experience stuff

    Both you and ET have a habit of justifying stuff with a glib statement, a taunt or an irrelevant detail. I’m convinced of nothing more than your laziness.

    And Matt it is this track that sounds like Icehouse:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j6_ByltOPJM

    Or at very least early to mid 80s new romantic pub rock.

  16. Everett True August 20, 2011 at 8:46 pm

    Both you and ET have a habit of justifying stuff with a glib statement, a taunt or an irrelevant detail. I’m convinced of nothing more than your laziness.

    Lloyd B. One of my finer creations, though I do say so myself.

  17. Joseph Kyle August 21, 2011 at 12:32 am

    While this depiction in the following clip is pure fiction, any semblance to our esteemed head-honcho is purely hilarious as shit:

  18. hannah golightly August 21, 2011 at 11:10 am

    “You are surely a figment of a satirical imagination ‘Ms Golightly’.” You really like to make a lot of assumptions don’t you lloyd B. You make yourself look foolish doing that. Assumption is the mother of all fuck ups don’t they say.
    My comment about everyone thinking it is due to a lot of people on facebook and collapse board all saying that it makes them think of Lady Gaga. You wanna live in a vacuum, then go ahead, but the rest of us don’t and we see what’s in front of us. The woods and the trees.

  19. hannah golightly August 21, 2011 at 11:13 am

    p.s. that video is hilarious Joseph

  20. hannah golightly August 21, 2011 at 11:22 am

    Lloyd B makes an interesting point: “If yr going to be a critic you should be able to either…” (he lists three options) Quick question Lloyd: who made you the God of music criticism? Am I supposed to report to you to ask you the rules? Must I ask you if what I’m doing is ok and if I’m doing it properly?

    No.

    I make the rules because I am doing it. I don’t answer to anyone. Everett True is as free to publish what I write or discard it. But read the Collapse Board Manifesto (There is no manifesto) and shut it.

    p.s. He said “yr” and then attempted to criticise my use of written English. If ever there was a time to shout Epic Fail in someone’s face, it’s now.

  21. Matt O'Neill August 21, 2011 at 11:25 am

    Oh, they do sound like Icehouse on the new album. I just think, out of all the potential reasons to listen to that band, it’s a weird reason to listen to them :P

  22. Lloyd B August 22, 2011 at 9:17 am

    @ hannah please go lightly into the world

    “You really like to make a lot of assumptions don’t you lloyd B.” Yes… does the pot calls the kettle black?

    So you ran a comprehensive survey of Facebook and Collapse Board to come up with your unassailably correct opinion. Well next time I want to lay into mp3s i’ll be sure to only ask people born before 1969. :P

    re: my “interesting point”… it is an opinion. Based on what I personally get out of music criticism. I like to hear a story that explains not just technically what I might be interested in hearing but also what effect it had. I like the fact that much music criticism involves the personality of the author. But what I don’t like is when the author short-changes me with “this is shit… it’s obvious why it is shit… you must be a moron if you don’t see that” because of nothing more than that being uninteresting. I like explanations. OPINION.

    I also am aware that while I am the centre of MY universe it would be a static dull VACUUM were it not for the interaction with other people. People who help share the history of what is and a vision of possible futures. My problem right here is that you are elevating Lady Gaga to a position of influence that I don’t think she deserves credit for. I don’t think you mean it… I just think as a critic you are working with the goldfish brain effect… assuming people won’t know what you are talking about unless you reference the closest and most recent thing. And I don’t think this is a great way to advance the “critical” field (for want of a better word). I think a balance between currency (as in the NOW NOW), entertainment and education (about what else is out there, the history and context of a particular style of music etc) is more interesting than just x=y therefore 68.7% in Pitchfork.

    p.s. you got me on the “yr” though of all the internet based contractions I like this one the most. Try saying it with a slightly Irish lilt… like “ire”

  23. Lloyd B August 22, 2011 at 9:19 am

    @ Matt

    hehe… well of course that’s not why I listen to them. What they do live frankly amazes me all the more so because i’m familiar with their tech setup. But i think PVT are top of the heap of a number of acts that seem to be reproducing a very 80s sound. One that has never really been all that fashionable… and it intrigues my aging brain. I’m thinking bands like Yeasayer y’know!

  24. Matt O'Neill August 22, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    Yeah, it’s a weird thing. I actually heard some of Prince’s work for the Batman soundtrack last night and it sounded remarkably similar to the style my music is starting to touch on. There’s a whole glut of 80s music I appear to be influenced by without realising it.

  25. Everett True August 22, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    You sure it’s the music rather than the actual sound of the instruments?

  26. Lloyd B August 22, 2011 at 3:21 pm

    Everett I think it is the sound of the instruments and the production style (Yeasayer in particular) that i’m talking about. It’s not just that all these artists have picked up DX7’s from ebay… The actual arrangements are to these ears mostly somewhat quirkier that what I might have expected from 80s popular music.

  27. Benjamin Pratt August 22, 2011 at 9:30 pm

    There is a lot of conversation on this that I can’t really be bothered reading this late past my bed time. What did interest me though was all the talk on music criticism and what makes a good critic. Why can’t critics just explain what the music does, how it makes you feel, where it takes you AND still make it interesting while injecting some type of personally into otherwise (sometimes) boring music.

    I don’t think there is some criteria to follow to be a good critic. Just be honest and real. In the end I think the readers (and musicians) will appreciate what is said.

  28. Matt O'Neill August 22, 2011 at 10:49 pm

    I don’t know, Lloyd. I think an artist like M.I.A. uses quite modern technology but owes a lot to 80s production styles. I discuss this with a lot of different people, though, and few seem to agree with me. I just think the eighties was a decade defined through rhythmically focussed music with an explicitly post-modern bent and I think a lot of what is coming out at the moment could be similarly defined. Sounds naff put like that but I have difficulty articulating the similarity.

  29. hannah golightly August 22, 2011 at 11:35 pm

    @ Lloyd please don’t B a dick. And it’s really hard to respect the view of someone who uses childish ‘debate’ style like the one I just mirrored back at you.

    You paraphrase me and distort what I said, adding in your own assumptions. It’s all about winning an argument with you, nothing to do with the points being made, otherwise you would have understood and disagreed with my original point and left it at that instead of all these childish insults. Simple things don’t need long winded explanations. I don’t need your editorial advice.

  30. hannah golightly August 22, 2011 at 11:37 pm

    You oddly bring up the subject of progressing music criticism, but criticise me for doing something different to your preconceived ideas about what music criticism needs to be for you to value it. What’s that all about?

  31. Victoria Birch August 23, 2011 at 8:19 am

    @Benjamin – I think what most music criticism misses by a mile is the “how it makes you feel” bit. It’s why CB (and its predecessors Plan B etc) was such a revelation for me.

    It’s like (and apologies for the crap analogy) describing a chair. Everyone manages to talk perfectly well about how it looks, what it’s made of, who made it, who owned it, what it looks like, where it came from…but very few manage to tell you what it’s like to sit in the bloody thing.

    Music’s most important element gets ignored in favour of all sorts of dull-arsed technical detail that most people don’t understand.

  32. Lloyd B August 24, 2011 at 1:14 pm

    @ Hannah

    I’m sorry you have taken it that way as that is certainly not what I intended. My point is really simple and I only put it out there because I have an opinion. My position is mostly one of consumer and I value and enjoy the work of critics because they have been essential to my musical and academic development over the last 25 years. I have had occasion to review CDs and movies in the past. I don’t regularly do it though because I myself don’t think i’m that good at it plus I always procrastinate and it ends up being a chore. So I also respect the effort involved and confess that i’m more often than not too lazy.

    My simple point is that the critics I respect describe a musical event, place it within both recent and historic cultural contexts and evaluate it as such with reference to their own experience / how it made them feel. I am entertained by their writing and character and am informed by their awareness of cultural trends throughout time.

    I don’t believe you were doing this here. I believe you were referencing Lady Gaga only because she is the latest / easiest link to make. You don’t tell us how it made you feel and you don’t go beyond to my mind very obvious aesthetic assumptions. And I don’t like or respect that.

    I don’t need for you to agree… or even care. But since this entire board is in part founded within Everett’s research i’m sure he is in some way interested in our discussion.

    Tell me how is that a childish or insulting?

  33. Naa Naa December 10, 2011 at 8:31 pm

    “Stephen clearly cares very deeply about what he does, but the fact is 95% of the audience who see Megan Washington’s pop video will look at it as a Lady Gaga Gaga copy.” Lady Gaga is a copy, so copying a copy seems a bit farfetched ….

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