The world is divided into three groups of people: those who have read all manner of symbolism and significance into Lady Gaga’s choice of attire at the 2010 MTV VMAs, those who think it was just a “stunt” of whatever proportion they allow the degree of her celebrity, and those who have no earthly idea who Lady Gaga is.
For this last group, Lady Gaga is a pop performer who revels in being so outré as to actually be mainstream. You can’t help but be impressed when mothers and daughters dress alike to attend your concerts. On Sept. 12, she swept the MTV Video Music Awards — collecting eight — while wearing a “formal” dress of raw meat.
Fittingly, M’Lady Gaga was presented with the Video of the Year Award by Cher, another celebrity known for her outlandish “costume” fashion. Twenty, 30, and even 40 years ago, Cher’s often flamboyantly exhibitionist outfits caused controversy. For her purposes, “exhibitionism as fashion” helped her career, despite her divorce from Sonny Bono, her husband and first musical partner, and interludes between her recording and touring activity. Indeed, she even branched out into film and was awarded a well-deserved Oscar in 1987 for her performance in Moonstruck. Thus, Cher’s known fashion flamboyance didn’t prevent her from exploring other personas or aspects of her celebrity career. Rather, it kept her in the public eye when times were slow and seems now to be considered a harmless eccentricity that accompanies a multi-talented performer.
So, what are we to make of Lady Gaga’s dress and how it might affect her career?
Shortly before the MTV awards, Lady Gaga and her entourage performed a concert in Charlottesville, VA, as part of her “Monster Ball Tour.” Tristan LeJeune reviewed the concert for The Daily Progress. Her review seems to place her in the first group we identified at the beginning of this article: one who would read symbolism and significance into the dress and Lady Gaga — the artiste. If we might be unsure of this assumption, we need only pluck LeJeune’s statement, “It’s Lady Gaga’s old-fashioned little secret that for all her 21st century acid dream visuals, what she’s really doing is making disco pop avant garde.”
Really? Gee, without this reminder, the concert might be culturally beyond me, and I might otherwise assume that the evening was only an entertaining and memorable pop performance. To be fair, I don’t have this reporter’s quote on Lady Gaga’s dress per se, but to read so deeply into a pop concert with flamboyant fashion makes me suspect that the emperor might not have clothing. Pun intended.
So, what might this piece of fashion mean to Ms. Gaga’s career even if it isn’t deserving of graduate study?
Meat dresses are nothing new. Really. Canadian artist Jana Sterbak constructed such a dress as part of a show titled Vanitas: Flesh Dress for an Albino Anorectic that was displayed as a work of art in the National Gallery in Ottawa in 1991 when Lady Gaga was 5.
And wearing meat clothing is nothing new to Ms. Gaga. In an interview with Ellen DeGeneres, she showed DeGeneres a recent cover for Vogues Hommes Japan, where she sported a “meat bikini.”
And lastly, the topic of “meat” is nothing new in Ms. Gaga’s artistic oeuvre. We can return to her Charlottesville concert: “‘Take a bite of my bad girl meat ….Take a bit of me, boy. Show me your teeth.’ Teeth, as in fangs, is one thing no one can logically doubt Gaga still needs.”
The dress is just part of the show.