This book is changing. Yesterday it was a hefty yearbook filled with pictures of Lady Gaga taken by Terry Richardson. Today it resembles a bit of yesterday’s fluff. Tomorrow, it may look like an endearing antique.

Books, both good and bad, are like that. They change. They evolve and over time take on different “personas” in readers’ lives. Books outlast the paper they are printed on (or the technology they are downloaded on). Though it’s less of a timeless classic and more of a fan-centered cyborg—I foresee this book becoming somewhat of a historical snapshot of a very particular pop moment.

Terry Richardson—the king of trashy and flashy photography—has managed an impressive feat. He followed Gaga so closely, for so long (a year) and he stuffed every possible image he could inside this tome. The book is a quasi-manifesto. Thesis: Lady Gaga is a real person.

Sort of. In these pictures Gaga is also a costume and her entourage, lights, camera, and make-up. Most intriguing, Gaga is a creation of her fans, or “little monsters.” She exists in between realities, between what we see and hear, and how she lives privately and publicly. Which makes this book a good stand-in for Lady Gaga herself.

Gaga was once hailed as the new Madonna, a shape-shifting role-player who racked up record sales. Gaga today feels old. Lana Del Rey is the mysterious hybrid of the moment. Adele is the best-selling, award-winning balladeer. Nicki Minaj is the chameleon changing wigs and costumes, confusing fans and distracting them from her squawking voice, and rallying queer kids to adore her colorful style.

Where do these newer artists leave Gaga? The book offers no answer, but it does capture the past, placing Gaga’s heyday as a part of history. She had big-selling records. Yes, Gaga became a powerful gay advocate who worked toward the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and launched Born This Way, a foundation to combat bullying in schools.  She shocked us with her costumes and kisses and meat-dress. She inspired us with her queer boy and riot grrl mash-up. Past tense.

Sandwiched between the covers of this book, flattened into two dimensions. She’s been frozen.

I’d bet money that Gaga will melt and rise again. This book reminds us how hard she works. We see pictures of her sweating and singing and crying and crashing. Richardson and Gaga show how much she suffers for her art. It’s convincing propaganda. But suffering isn’t always art, especially when you’re rich and famous.

In spite of the confused nature of Gaga and this book, a few great photographs are worth long looks. Notice the spread of Gaga’s outfits hanging on hooks. Some of her get-ups are too weirdly constructed to use hangers. Kudos to the talented designers she works with. Ponder the pictures of Gaga with her fans. She appears dangerously in love with them. She needs them as much as they need her. I found myself afraid that she’ll get hurt by her fans someday, which I think means I care about her. Yes, I do. She’s outrageous. And for that I’m grateful.

 

Lady Gaga x Terry Richardson
By Terry Richardson
Grand Central Publishing
Hardcover,9781455513895, 360 pp.
November 2011



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  • Lou Kief

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