This will no doubt be old and tired news by the time you read this, but I am writing this soon after I watched a good part of a newsroom go agog over the fact that, for a photo shoot halfway across the world, Lady Gaga wore a bikini made entirely of meat.
Obviously, Lady Gaga (and her management) has realized that a pop star has to keep herself in the headlines. Once you are out of the limelight, you are quickly forgotten, sent to the scrap heap that has consumed so many pop divas, from Stacey Q to Samantha Fox to Martika. (Google those names, kids—they were all famous, at one time.)
So, because pop-music tastes are so fleeting, shocking people keeps you relevant. No matter how many records or downloads you've accumulated in your career, being a pop star is like being a pro athlete: you are only as good as your last single's sales numbers. Headlines are necessary for those down times between singles, to ensure the next pop star in line won't steal away your spot at the top of the gossip page.
But, wait a second: Lady Gaga's stunt was done for a photo shoot, in a controlled environment. It was planned. Calculated. Not nearly as interesting as biting the head off a bat or punching a photographer at an airport.
Maybe Britney Spears has set the bar so low that pop stars have forgotten how to really, truly shock people. (Oh, she shaved her head … she's craaaaazzzzy!) Or, as Perry Farrell once sang, is it because that TV's got them images, that nothing's shocking?
Maybe it's because I grew up with speed metal and punk (that's not 100 percent true: I had Rush records … but I grew up with speed metal and punk around me), that I've come to expect a hell of a lot more from an artist when he or she tries the shock-value thing.
Come on, the Sex Pistols went after the Queen of England. So did the Smiths.
The Guardian called the Sex Pistols' infamous "What a Fucking Rotter" interview with Bill Grundy of Thames Television one of the great interviews of the 20th century. While no one is phased by four-letter words anymore, the expletive-filled diatribe by Johnny Rotten and company stunned a nation back in the '70s. They went on air, not caring if what they were doing was going to torpedo their career or not.
Heck, for an example most of us were alive to remember, what about Eminem when he started out? There was no taboo he wouldn't break. It's what made him interesting. Will anyone forget when he imitated, of all people, Osama Bin Laden, in the "Without Me" video?
Ozzy Osbourne bit the heads off of bats and doves. The Rolling Stones of the '60s would have found the Gaga PR stunts boring.
But that's the thing. Back when rock stars were rock stars, they took shocking people as part of what they had to do. It came with the territory. It didn't only take place when the cameras were rolling or the paparazzi were around. They didn't do it because their managers thought it would be good for their images. It wasn't scripted.
And that's the problem. Somewhere, rock 'n' roll (and pop music, too) went from being inherently rebellious to a musical form that was overrun by the MOR. So, to break the ennui, we get meat bikinis. Yawn.
Heck, L7, that wonderful all-girl band that had its heyday in the riot grrrl '90s, chucked its used tampons in the audience. That was spontaneous. Sharing something of themselves with their audience. It was sick, too, but it was real. That's more than I can say for most rock-pop and even hip-hop stars nowadays. V
Steven Sandor is a former editor-in-chief of Vue Weekly, now an editor and author living in Toronto.