August 20, 2010
(RNS) -- A video shot at Lollapalooza in Chicago captures the raunchy scene.
Lady Gaga, wearing a see-through outfit and high heels, threw herself into the frenzied crowd twice. Rather than surfing through the crowd, she stayed fixed in one spot while half-crazed men grabbed at her breasts and groped at her crotch.
"If you're a fan of raunchy insanity, then this year would have been an ideal time to make an appearance at Lollapalooza," one observer wrote. "... That's definitely an experience to share with the grandkids."
Which brings us to grandpa, that being me.
A few weeks ago on vacation, my teenage daughter wanted to play some of her favorite tunes, so I kicked back and listened to Lady Gaga. To be sure, her music is energetic and her melodies catchy. In short, the girl can sing.
When I was a teenager, I played my music for my dad and he always drilled down into the lyrics. Now I find myself doing the same, and Lady Gaga's are evocative and troubling.
"I want your psycho, your vertical stick, want you in my rear window, baby you're sick" she sings in "Bad Romance." Or this, from "Poker Face": "Russian Roulette is not the same without a gun, and baby when it's love if it's not rough it isn't fun." Her song "Just Dance" is an ode to finding herself drunk in a strange club where "I can't see straight anymore."
Her controversial performances are designed to portray her as an edgy, rebel outsider. The 2009 MTV Video Music Awards featured a blood-spurting performance of "Paparazzi." On her Monster Ball Tour, she dresses in black and is attacked by a man who gnaws on her throat, causing "blood" to spurt down her chest; the song ends with her "dying" in a pool of blood.
In the run-up publicity for Lollapalooza, organizers announced: "Take heed, Chicago. The Fame Monster herself is headed for your city, and she won't leave `til she's got your love."
Lady Gaga obviously wants, and seeks, a visceral connection with her audience. "I want the imagery to be so strong," she once said, "that fans will want to eat and taste and lick every part of us."
She obviously got her wish at Lollapalooza. But is what she gave, and what they received, love?
Sometimes a grandpa's reaction to the latest entertainment fad is fear for the corrosive influence of popular culture on his kids and grandkids. Lady Gaga's influence is indisputable -- she made Time magazine's 100 list of the world's most influential people, and Forbes listed Gaga fourth on its list of the 100 Most Powerful and Influential celebrities in the world.
I suppose I could react in fear, but in this case I feel sadness, heartache and concern -- not for my kids, but for Gaga.
Lady Gaga's Italian immigrant Catholic family worked hard and sacrificed so she could develop her musical talent. Her dad is said to have been deeply troubled when she began experimenting with drugs and took her act into exhibitionist territory.
She is a 24-year old girl whom friends describe as sexually confused and whose love life is a mess. She set out to achieve fame and she has done it, but at what price?
"After watching the Lollapalooza video," one of her fans observed, "one has to wonder if the superstar is enjoying the afternoon or if there is something else going on here. She seems lucid, but that doesn't mean she was."
If you ask me, something else is definitely going on.
As a father of four (including three daughters) and grandfather of two (one granddaughter), I want each of my kids and grandchildren to discover who they are and to express their God-given talent. But what I want most is for them to experience the wonder of being fully human -- to be spiritually, creatively, intellectually, morally and relationally alive, whole and well.
Lady Gaga is talented, she's worked hard and she merges music, fashion and performance in creative and artistic ways. While her preoccupation with violence, sexual promiscuity and exhibitionism may be her path to fame, they are also a symptom of a hungry, sad and unsatisfied soul.