June 02, 2012

Little evil monsters

“THE difference between rebels and nonconformists is that nonconformists don’t take action, [they just get] pissed off when things don’t go their way.”—Lady Gaga, May 22, 2012

I AM writing this piece still quite high from watching the concert of Lady Gaga.

Yes, I am a sinner. And my soul will probably burn in hell.

I am a follower of Beelzebub and will now commit murder, fornication, and all sorts of diabolic mayhem in his name.

But “I don’t give a f%#k!” to quote Gaga. See, that’s another thing I learned from her; I now cuss like a fishmonger’s wife. Such a bad, bad influence, this Gaga.

I am now an evil little monster. (Or considering my weight, an evil big monster!)

Lady Gaga arrives at a Makati hotel

Seriously, I have always been enthralled with Gaga’s music.

Sure, I am not exactly her ideal demographic, but I’ve always loved dance music. So from Gaga’s earliest tunes released in 2008 in her debut album The Fame, and watching her music videos, I became a certified fan. And I knew she was a great talent everyone should watch out for. (Her succeeding albums -The Fame Monster and Born this Way – have become smash hits as well.)

Yes, she reminds people in my age group of Madonna. And Gaga herself has acknowledged the earlier pop diva’s influence on her and her music. Although I must underscore that Madonna’s voice, when she was just starting out, wasn’t as powerful until she was further along in her career, after she had cut a few more albums. In contrast, Gaga’s vocal skills already set her apart from many young singers/musicians her age; she can hit those high notes without even breaking a sweat. And, man, can she dance in those friggin’ high heels! Ach!

(I just hope though that Gaga doesn't turn into an old bitter b**ch by the time she's Madonna's age right now, and a younger, more talented, and popular singer has "copied" her. I used to adore Madonna and still have her on my iTunes playlist, but seriously, what songs do we really love except those she put out in the '80s, at the height of her career?)

Now how could I and thousands of other Filipinos not like Gaga? We identify with her immediately: the daughter of middle-class, two-income parents who raised her Catholic, she studied in a private Catholic school. She has a lot of fabulous gay friends and rebels against perhaps all established norms that constrain our individuality.

Many Filipinos try to be true to themselves, despite the still-restrictive cultural traditions we have. So I think this is why Gaga appeals to us. Her outlandish costumes, semicontroversial lyrics and total, “I don’t give a sh%@” demeanor are what many of us hope for ourselves but our fear of being ostracized by the people we love and respect keeps us from reaching. So we lead loud and outcast lives through her music.

In fact, during the concert on Tuesday (May 22), this was exactly what happened. Even as Gaga performed quite brilliantly onstage, many people in the audience were still stuck to their seats, or merely stood in the mosh pit, capturing Gaga on video via their smartphones or tablet PCs.

I stood up and shimmied as soon as Gaga sang and played her second number, yet the people around me were seated, just singing, or screaming. But, but, but...no dancing?! Gaaak! This made me a tad heartbroken.

But that’s us, Pinoys. We are very reserved even in the face of so much fun and hilarity. We still like cloaking ourselves with some amount of respect or dignity, for fear of being laughed at by the people around us. And yet we shed all inhibitions once we start ridiculing or poking fun at the foibles of others. Reading my Twitter timeline for the afternoon of Chief Justice Renato Corona’s so-called pang-Famas performance on national TV more or less confirmed as much. Tsk, tsk, tsk.

(From WhenInManila.com. For more photos of Gaga's May 21 concert, click here.

Going back to Gaga and the controversy she engendered in Pasay City (where is that cool cat Peewee Trinidad when you need him?), I’m glad her concerts were allowed to push through.

Music can’t all be about lollipops and roses (here’s a nod to Jack Jones), or the Divine (hello, Fatima Soriano). Sometimes it is about flying in the face of accepted ways of life, traditions, and belief systems.

Perhaps, Pasay City Mayor Antonio Calixto and the ex-Manila Mayor Lito Atienza (whose floral shirts I find even more offensive than Gaga’s tight butt) should remember how Elvis Presley’s gyrations onstage in the late ’50s and ’60s were once condemned as “obscene.” Also too, Jerry Lee Lewis could very well be regarded as a pedophile considering that his wife Myla was only 13 at the the time he shacked up with her.

And what about the jazz and bebop stylings of many African-American musicians in the ’40s and ’50s? This kind of music was considered evil as well by a lot of American Bible-thumping believers and noisy prejudiced politicians?

Think about it: rock ‘n’ roll and jazz would never have developed and thrived had many of these so-called controversial musicians and artists been banned, or not given any airplay or stage time. (Jerry Lee Lewis did get blacklisted, but his music career was revived in the mid-’60s by the Europeans who loved him.)

Gaga’s music may not appeal to all, and her lyrics may be misunderstood, but that is no reason to ban her. (Or, as some idiot-plagiarizing-foreign-composers disguised as an “OPM artist” suggested, to change her lyrics.)

As what I argued in the case of the Kulo exhibit at the Cultural Center of the Philippines last year (see “Life and Art”, Something Like Life, August 19, 2011), artists have the right to freely express their thoughts, hopes, wishes, and dreams. No one puts a gun to your head to go see their artwork or, in the case of Gaga, listen to her music or watch her concert.

(Elvis Presley's wild pelvis gyrations were once considered obscene by Bible-thumpers. Photo from www.crazy-frankenstein.com)

I must admit there were some portions of her concert which may be considered, ahem, "adult", so parents really should accompany their kids if they're between the ages of 13 and 17, if the latter are watching her concerts. (This should be strictly enforced not only in concerts of this nature, but also in movie theaters showing PG-rated films as well.)

But what is clear is we can’t be stuck in the old notions of what “music” is. I love Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Barbra Streisand and all these “traditional” singers whose songs are such classics, but continue to be popular today. But Lady Gaga is Lady Gaga. She creates music. And she is as much an artist as those older singers. (Btw, one of Gaga's most ardent fans is Liza "with an Z" Minelli! And Tony Bennett even sings with her on his latest album, "Duets II". )

Music is dynamic and ever-changing with the tastes of people and the times. It is there to entertain and perhaps even inspire. For those reasons alone, we should accept it in all of its forms—Rebecca Black bad, or Gaga good.

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(My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror. This piece is an extended version of what was originally published on May 25, 2012.)

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