Just this past weekend, we watched Lady Gaga take up the normal-est task in the celebrity trade: playing host on Saturday Night Live. All the mainstream stars do it (just about). Even Kanye West can bridle his derision for all things tangible to stop by Studio 8H for a night of good fun. So, we thought, maybe this means an end to Gaga’s oddball streak. Maybe she’s setting to rest her bizarre, outsider art nature to become another Patti Page. That’s what we thought. But then we saw her new music video, “An ARTPOP Film.”
Yes, it’s peculiar… but perhaps only at first glance. In fact, we’d wager that — following her gig on SNL — this is Gaga’s attempt at “normal.” If you look closely enough at each one of the many incarnations she inhabits in the video, you might find a spark of familiarity with an old pop culture mainstay. Maybe Gaga has traversed the catalogue of the American zeigeist, plucking out fan favorites and bringing them to life in “An ARTPOP Film” in hopes of, dare we say it, being just like the rest of us. Don’t believe it? Let’s take a look.
The video opens around the 20-second mark, after a brief spoken intro by Gaga.
:20 — Here we see Gaga as Kate Middleton, quite apparently. See? That’s pretty normal! Kate marked the summit of our society’s attention this past year with her pregnancy and the eventual birth of the Royal Baby. Good start, Gaga!
:34 — And look, it’s Walter White’s HAZMAT suit! Breaking Bad has been, undoubtedly, one of the biggest talking points in television, and Gaga’s just trying to get in on the conversation. She… doesn’t appear to know how to wear the suit, but… it’s something.
:36 — And while you’re doing AMC, here’s some zombie teeth a la The Walking Dead. You’ve got this, LG.
:37 — A montage of shots of Doc Brown from Back to the Future, complete with fraying hair and that gadget that was supposed to make him precognitive. Plus, a quick glimpse at :42 of what kind of reminds us of that episode of Friends where Joey wore all of Chandler’s clothes. A timeless cinematic classic and the most popular show of the 1990s. Outstanding, Gaga!
:44 — … Is… is she covered in dirt? Wait, that is dirt, right? Okay… okay. Minor slip up, but I’m sure she’ll get back on the horse.
:46 — There, that’s better! She’s… rolling around in the dark in her underwear. Kind of like Susan Sarandon in Rocky Horror. Not exactly the epitome of cultural normalcy, but at least it’s a movie, right?
:47 — Um. Well. She’s got the Walter White suit on again, but now she appears to have replaced her face with mop strands. Vaguely reminiscent of one of the Reavers from Firefly, but… no, that’s just wishful thinking, isn’t it?
:53 — Here, Lady Gaga is a washing machine. Those are normal, right?
:56 — Okay, so that’s kind of like a football uniform, were it made of tattered rags and the innards of a mummified pharaoh. But can we give her points for football?
1:04 — There! Singing! Just a human woman singing! Huzzah! Things are really turning ar…
1:11 — God dammit, she’s Big Gruesome from Wacky Races.
1:20 — And that appears to be her attempt at one of our society’s everpresent, hypersexualized body wash commercials. A jarring one.
1:28 — W-what? Wait, pause the video for a second. What… what is she… is she a fetus? Inside the womb of a transformer? Is that some sort of commentary on the destruction porn cinema to which we are exposing our children?
1:29 — Is that Lucy from Twin Peaks? Kind of. Kind of? We’ll take it.
Still 1:29 — A disembodied synthetic hand. Maybe she liked Lars and the Real Girl. Maybe she likes dismembering things.
Still 1:29 — Um…
1:30 — Are there bees?
Still 1:30 — Oh good, it’s Big Gruesome again.
1:31 — I’d be more comfortable if you put that scissor down.
1:32 — We may have overlooked a theme here. Scissors, wigs… is this Gaga’s stab at getting in on the hairstyle craze to which we all adhere so devotedly?
1:34 — Oop, no, now she’s Big Gruesome strangling a pillow.
1:36 — Oh, Gaga, no, please don’t cry. I didn’t… I didn’t mean any of it. I loved Wacky Races. I love bees.
1:53 — Oh, maybe that’s a go at Orange Is the New Black!
1:56 — Hey, Walking Dead again! And bowling!
2:00 — And that’s Tangela, the least memorable Pokemon! Slipping.
2:02 — Pirate. Pirates are always relevant.
2:04 — That’s not anything.
2:05 — Okay, turn off Walking Dead, Gaga. It’s not even that good anymore.
2:06 — Who is that? Janis Joplin? Benefit of the doubt!
2:08 — I’m getting a Jon Heder vibe.
2:09 — …
2:10 — Good, more stray body parts.
2:12 — Kind of looks like Zadie Smith, doesn’t it? Benefit of the doubt!
2:14 — Let’s go ahead and assume this is an homage to the early King of the Hill episode wherein Bobby practices kissing on a mannequin head from his cousin Luanne’s hairstyling class. Because that would be preferable.
2:16 — …
2:17 — I’m getting a Black Swan vibe.
2:19 — UNCLE FESTER! THERE IT IS! A RECOGNIZABLE, WELL-KNOWN, FAMILY-FRIENDLY POP CULTURE CHARACTER! BOOM! WRAP IT UP, GAGA, YOU’VE DONE IT! YOU’RE DONE! CALL IT A WIN!
2:20 — Aaand now you’re hanging upside down like a black while rave lights flicker around you in a terribly unsettling fashion.
2:23 — I don’t feel good.
2:24 — Well, we tried.
So it turns out that Lady Gaga does not achieve pop culture normalcy with her new video, “An ARTPOP Film.” And in truth, we don’t want her to. We don’t need Lady Gaga to cater to familiarity or our established parameters. Her entire identity is in the interest of the new, her mission statement is to show us things and ideas that we haven’t seen. Not everybody is on board with the result, but everybody should be on board with the effort — to be daring, creative, strange. To be herself. Bravo, Gaga.
And it’s catchy, too!