Lady Gaga on 60 Minutes and at the Grammys: a tough egg to crack.

Lady Gaga on 60 Minutes and at the Grammys: a tough egg to crack.

Lady Gaga on 60 Minutes and at the Grammys: a tough egg to crack.

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Feb. 14 2011 3:47 PM

Lady Gaga on 60 Minutes

The "master of the art of fame" is a tough egg to crack.

Lady Gaga. Click image to expand.
Lady Gaga at the Grammys

Anderson Cooper turned up last night on 60 Minutes to file a dispatch from a war zone. He had landed an exclusive interview with a guerrilla fighter from a dance-floor liberation army. The interviewee, a hardline Warholist named Stefani Germanotta, duly sprayed a few bullets, leading another successful skirmish in her never-ending war against obscurity. This was perhaps Cooper's soundest work yet on the entertainment beat: The segment was an alert profile constructed from three interviews and file footage that went heavy on video of American Gothic Gaga, Grand Guignol Gaga, and the Gaga whose shtick is to revel in bathing in the blood that celebrity-making impulse has on its hands. She helped this theme along by turning up at one appointment accessorizing with a handsaw and proceeding to offer, unoriginally but hardly unincisively, that "Everybody wants to see the decay of the superstar." It was enough to make one ghoulishly wonder what kind of packages the news networks have ready to go in their "morgues"—their obit files—in the event of Gaga's untimely self-immolation. Cooper occupied a fertile middle ground between serving as a fan's starstruck surrogate and an anthropologist's skeptical field researcher. He encouraged statements from the Lady that reflected a healthful self-awareness. His editors got her to be clear and direct about the project of her one-woman show without tittering at or mooning over her art-school exegesis of it. And I dare say that the crisp tailoring of the jacket Cooper wore while introducing the piece rivaled the splendor of his subject's plumage, including the leather-and-studs-and-little-else outfit she donned for a jaunt to her old apartment building on the Lower East Side. (The get-up implied that Gaga was playing a character who first mugs pedestrians of some of their money and then prostitutes herself for the rest of it. And when she leaned into the window of an idling patrol car—"Hi, I'm Gaga"—she left the impression that she was totally game for an undercover assignment.) But there were lapses, first among them the opening line of the intro: "Even if you haven't heard her music, chances are, you've heard about Lady Gaga." The lunacy of the statement nearly canceled its efficiency. If you can hear, you have heard Lady Gaga's music whether you wanted to or not, as it Dopplers from the windows of passing coupes or seizes from the speakers as you shop for frozen dinner. Even if you cannot hear, then Gaga's better bass lines have surely nonetheless bumped you as you've gone about your business. In any event—and this was both a point of Cooper's segment and the gist of Gaga's career—she merely need be heard about to make herself clear. Cooper asked Gaga to confirm that she was "a student of fame." Gaga bolted past that one to declare herself "a master of the art of fame." She is, further, the mistress of her meta-narrative, candid about the problems and practice of celebrity as an art in itself and about how her candor preserves her mystery. One suspects that Gaga is perfectly aware that her new single, "Born This Way" is at best merely decent. (It is, to use a phrase of the month, "a gay anthem," but the most anthemic thing about it is that label.) But you can dance to it, especially while wearing a feathered fuchsia G-string on a parade float, and anyway Gaga has rigged the game such that she could achieve some measure of artistic and commercial success with a house remix of 4'33". The Grammy performance that followed the 60 Minutes interview was, with its Cronenbergian Easter egg prop, its nude-but-not sheaths, and its brutish reduction of Martha Graham choreography, mildly diverting, but it occurs to me that the spirit of Gaga was most present at the Grammys when the announcer, listing the inductees to the hall of fame, referred to "country singer, songwriter, and superstar Dolly Parton." You'll notice that those are three separate job descriptions.

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Troy Patterson is Slate’s writer at large and a contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine.