L'Uomo Vogue is the Italian version of the magazine Men's Vogue created by Flavio Lucchini in 1967, initially as an adjunct supplement of Vogue Italia, and then as a monthly men's magazine. This publication comes out once a month, except for the unique number of May-June and July-August.
Do you remember that swan dress designed by Macedonian designer Marjan Pejoski, that Björk wore at the Academy Awards ceremony in 2001? Well, if Björk reminded of a spoiled Walt Disney cartoon, the new metamorphoses in Lady Gaga’s wardrobe reminded of Terminator. The Swan Lake turned into a cemetery of cars. From nature to mechanics. Lady Gaga has always followed contemporary art closely, even if with some years’ delay. The famous meat dress designed by Franc Fernandez and created by Nicola Formichetti was a reference to Vanitas, a 1987 work by Canadian artist Jana Sterbak (when baby Gaga was only 1 year old).
Also the new “hard couture” by Miss Germanotta springs from the deep world of contemporary art. Sometimes the singer almost looks like one of John Chamberlain’s crumpled wrecks, sometimes, instead, she reminds of the visionary craziness of a great performer who became an architect, Vito Acconci. Or again she recalls the recent sculptures of another veteran, Frank Stella. Lady Gaga is a sculpture-singer. Her metamorphoses are proper performances or aesthetic mutations, more than genetic. In her style there’s something “sci-barbaric” – i.e. barbaric sci-fiction – like in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome starring Mel Gibson and Tina Turner, or Conan the Destroyer starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Grace Jones.
Strangely enough, these are all films that recall Sterbak’s works of the mid 80s, which seem to be the mine from which the singer extracts the richness of her identity. Lady Gaga apocalyptically moves up and down the history of art, cinema and performance. The Dadaists of Zurich’s Cabaret Voltaire come back to life with her, those that with their extreme shows pre-announced the absurdities of WWI. But you can also smell the blood of Viennese Actionism: one of its protagonists, Otto Muehl, stated in 1967 that material action was promising direct pleasure and that it satisfied more than a piece of bread. Don’t be surprised, therefore, if at next Grammy Awards Lady Gaga will arrive dressed like a “Baguette au fromage et jambon”. Great actionist of the Actionists was also Rudolf Schwarzkogler: his performances consisted of dressing like a dead fish, or a rotten chicken, or covering himself in lighted light-bulbs or in colorful unidentifiable liquids, or again being wrapped in bandages like a mummy in order to mutilate himself later on.
But from Lady Gaga we are expecting something more metallic and less organic. The butcher’s season seems to be over and seems not ready for a comeback. Gaga must definitely have Ron Athey in mind, the super-tattooed and super-pierced American performer. But she could also steal some ideas from Yang Zhichao, a Chinese performance artist that had grass planted on his back or objects implanted in his legs or on his stomach. However, we have the feeling that Lady Gaga does not want anything implanted in her body (anything of permanent, of course), not even as a joke. Her body is not a territory to conquer, it’s rather a stage on which you can set up a new scenography each time, like another video-artist, Cao Fei, who had a zoological-futuristic imagination.
However, can we forget the electric dresses with many light bulbs of different shapes and colors created by Atsuko Tanaka, Japanese artist of the mid 50s? No, we can’t forget them because one day we might find them – once changed and stylistically improved – on our Lady G. And how not to mention Matthew Barney’s cycle of films Cremaster, the most influential American artist of the late 20th century, a Lady Gaga of the world of art in his own way: with the costumes of his films you could dress an army of Gagas.
Are Gaga’s mutations only a summary of the most recent history of performance art, then? Some think so, but they’re wrong. Nowadays artists, from Cattelan to our Lady GG, don’t feel any longer the urgency of reinventing themselves from scratch in order to exist. They know that they are medium and message at the same time. They are connectors which offer images that were confined to the darkness or that were considered too élite to a wider public, at times a huge one. Few people talked about or remembered Jana Serbak before Lady Gaga appeared wearing an “evening steak”. Performance, even the derived one, sometimes helps discover things that would otherwise get lost in the collective indifference. Lady Gaga belongs to a generation of mutatis mutandis, that is to say those who build their own identity by changing things that already existed but that needed to be changed in order to continue to exist. That does not mean copying: it means putting on stage.
November 2014: Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett: Style Has No Time (No. 455)Edit
Some say “there aren’t stars like in the past”, “there are no genres anymore”, and “everything has already been done”. But wouldn’t it be more correct to consider this phase of perpetual revival in which we seem to find ourselves a precious moment of introspection necessary for passing from one epoch to another? This, at least, is what emerges from the partnership between Lady Gaga, the first superstar of the new millennium, and Tony Bennett, the last crooner of the old world, the co-author of Cheek to cheek, one of the recordings and revelations of the year.
With a sixty-year gap between them – he’s 88 and she’s 28 – they share Italian origins and a passion for jazz, one of the most long-lived and universal musical genres.
Jazz is full of contemporary sensibility even though it always remains true to itself, just like Bennett, after all, a gentleman from another age who has made 70 recordings and is the guardian of that traditional singing style for which Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby were famous. Like other great performers, Bennett had already performed with many other artists, and many of these collaborations were featured in two albums of duets. In “Playing with my friends: Bennett sings the blues” (2001), he performed with jazz and R&B icons such as Stevie Wonder, Natalie Cole, Billy Joel, B.B. King and Ray Charles. In “Duets” (2011), he sang with Amy Winehouse, Michael Bublé, Aretha Franklin, Mariah Carey, Andrea Bocelli and Lady Gaga.
During a charity concert where both performed, Bennett was struck by Gaga’s voice and personality, but especially by the warmth of her fans: where adulation is concerned, you have to admit that no crooner can compare with a pop icon! From a cocktail backstage to the recording studio, the passage was brief. The result was The lady is a tramp, a song from 1937 that made fun of the high society of Fiorello La Guardia’s New York. Enthusiastic about the duet, Bennett called Gaga a real “jazz lady”. The piece was praised by public and critics alike, and the two decided to continue with that joint venture that, after several months of work, led to Cheek to Cheek. The album features classic pieces from the Great American Songbook, a selection of the most famous songs performed on Broadway and in Hollywood between the twenties and fifties. The songs chosen by Bennett and Gaga – by Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, and Jerome Kern – are ironic duets between a man and woman in alternate stages of courtship. Some were originally composed for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. “Think of what you’re losing by constantly refusing to dance with me”, sings Gaga/Ginger in I won’t dance. “My heart won’t let my feet do things they should do”, replies Bennett/Astaire.
The tour (which still does not have an official calendar, but a great concert at the Royal Albert Hall of London on June 8, 2015 was just announced) was inaugurated by an extraordinary closed-door concert at Lincoln Center in New York last July. Surrounded by a shadowy set designed by Robert Wilson – as minimalist as it was mysterious – the couple performed with a 39-piece orchestra before an audience of art students from different public schools in the city. The choice of this specific audience came from a desire to educate young people about a musical genre that was unknown to them due to age and culture. Thanks to Lady Gaga, however, the approach to this art form was much easier. Performing live and in the video clips accompanying the CD, the pop star unleashed her secret transformist talents and blended styles and genres from the past as only she can, freeing the ghosts of past divas who made music history.
On the Lincoln Center stage, she was dressed in a red leather jumpsuit in seventies soul style, in a twenties-style flapper dress with gold filigree headpiece, and in a long black gown and headdress that was a combination of Siouxsie and Cruella de Vil. Tired of the larger than life image associated with previous partnerships – with artists such as Francesco Vezzoli and Jeff Koons, and with fashion designers such as Alexander McQueen and Jeremy Scott – Lady Gaga really wanted to do this recording in a precise phase of her career when, after a difficult period, she felt the need to find her “earthly” identity and the innocence of that Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta that we never knew.
"When I sing in the studio with Tony, my childhood flashes before my eyes", she says. "I see those moments when I sang the tunes of Ella Fitzgerald, my first love, when I was part of the high school jazz band». Collaborations in the music, art, and theater world are a growing phenomenon. Sometimes it’s a “passing of the baton” or mere market strategies. In other cases, like this one, the collaboration satisfies the creative urge to explore new horizons.
In this recording, Lady Gaga found a way to rid herself of an image with which she no longer identified. For Bennett and the rest of us listeners, Cheek to Cheek is proof that certain phenomena of popular culture – even those considered lightweight – deserve to be remembered and that today we have even more need of crooners than of superstars.
Manicure Bernadette Thompson.
Hair Stylist Frederic Aspiras].
Makeup artist Sammy Mourabit
Set designer Andrea Stanley.
Production N6. Retouching Jim Alexandrou@1515.