Popular Culture has loosely been defined as the tastes of the ordinary people rather than the elite. A glimpse of the current trends and ultimately a depiction of society at a particular time. It is also, however, important to observe it as an ongoing process, one which can always change yet remain constant. This ‘pop’ society is often seen through the lens of a first world viewer and their approach to the art, music and cultural phenomenons which are at their disposal. It is 2014 and our current trends are based solely on self exposure and the hope of stardom. The term ‘Selfie’ has passed from the colloquial into a recognized word and there is no shame in taking a photograph of yourself and spreading it across the internet in a heartbeat. The world has become even more media based and us consumers are willingly being consumed. We are a people who demand instant art, just pour water and stir.
The reason I have set this backdrop is for us all to pause for a moment and think about when Lady Gaga first wore a suit made from meat. The world erupted and it caused quite a stir. Her style had ‘never been done before’ but as many have stated Madonna shocked the world long before with ‘Like a Virgin‘. Was Madonna the first visual artist? The first risqué performer? Obviously not. Trends have been passed from one generation to the next and as we move further ahead more and more things are ‘retro’ and ‘old school’. I’m wondering then, where does an ‘original artist’ really get to shine through?
I read an article recently which stated that Lana Del Rey was a carbon copy of everything which has come before her, but are we all not really trying to represent some lost culture? Lady Gaga and Lana Del Rey are not my favourite musicians or anything but I respect the production value of both their styles. Del Rey’s album Born to Die is cinematic in its sound and some of Gaga’s live performances (even if she is not your type of musician) are expertly performed. There is talent there but people often try to break these performers down to something less. To write an ‘excellent’ song in this era you just need a repetitive loop, some quirky cultural references and a mention of sex.
This is why I feel sorry for Lana Del Rey and Lady Gaga. People consider Gaga to have lost her appeal and her ‘shock’ value. She was the name on everyone’s lips and now has become pretty vanilla. Only because as a society we are demanding more and more instant art rather than lasting quality. The same goes for Lana Del Rey. When Lorde brought out Royals I was amazed at the reaction from our generation. ‘A work of art’, ‘amazing’ and the old favourite ‘never been done before’. The truth is when ‘Video Games’ was first played it changed our perception. It brought back an old sound and made it current. The raspy vocals and old time melodies with iconic references hooked a generation all over again just as Bowie and The Rolling Stones had done previously. As time went on, a thousand Del Rey replicas took the stage and every second female performer all of a sudden had a sexy lustful voice. Now we just sweep her under the carpet, say she uses too many cultural references and not enough originality and accept that her style is standard. Her style isn’t just standard, we forget that for a large chunk, it was the standard.
That is the most important thing. If we are going to openly condemn an artist for their use of retro as many are now doing with Gaga and Del Rey then at the same time we should be giving them credit for starting the next generation of artists doing the same. One cannot simply ignore that without Del Rey we would not have many of the similar sounding popular artists who are currently taking the spotlight. You can’t simply say that Gaga is no longer good so she has lost her credibility and talent, the real problem lies in the fact that we are not shocked any more. Perhaps our appreciation of visual art and musical production quality is what needs to be questioned. I’m not demanding everyone should listen to these musicians, especially if they are not your type of music. What I’m saying is let’s not completely disregard the importance of previous artists just so we can soak up the current trends – for we could never have one without the other.
Words: Erin Grant @ mypapermachemind.blogspot.ie
*I do not own the images used, used with thanks.