Friday, June 18, 2010

Gaga, Get Over Yourself

Lady Gaga causes heads to turn at her sister's Sacred Heart graduation.
Photo by Splash News

To hear celebrity accounts of adolescence, it’s the rare famous person who found happiness in high school. Much such rhetoric has been attributed to Lady Gaga. “I didn’t fit in high school, and I felt like a freak,” she told Ellen DeGeneres in the fall.

That theme played into some coverage of Gaga’s provocations last week, which included appearances at the Convent of the Sacred Heart graduation, where she famously celebrated her sister’s big day in a beekeeper hat and see-through pants, and two days later at Citi Field, where, decked in bra and sparkly panties, a pair of prominently flashed middle fingers proved her boldest accessory.

Over-the-top, what regular folk might call bad behavior, is what pop stars do. To a degree, it’s their job. Many of us have dull lives; we want to be shocked sometimes. But when did flamboyant and outrageous, words packed with the positive rush of bravado and daring, officially become synonyms for obnoxious?

The New York Post’s coverage of the graduation suggested that the outfit, outlandish to most but basic daywear to Gaga, worked a revenge tactic, the megastar’s way of getting back at all those high school bitches who mocked her lust for stardom and her dearth of designer merch.

Which led this former Sacred Heart mom to wonder, huh? Philosophically, the school is nothing if not touchy-feely. Which is not to say its class rosters are populated by angels. My daughter and her friends once wrought ample material from the Halloween sighting of a girl, aged 16, dressed up as a pencil.

But the idea that the supernova formerly known as Stefani was an outcast at all, let alone to such a degree that it still aches six years later, seemed woefully off, a thesis born out in conversations with a few of Gaga’s high school contemporaries.

The young woman I spoke with remembers Gaga as extremely talented, and an attention-seeker, “though not in a bad way,” one noted. Even if not widely considered “the best voice in the Madrigals,” she “sang, danced and played the piano. She liked performing in front of an audience.”

Gaga enjoyed being noticed offstage as well; hence the daily full face of makeup when pre-school primping for most girls involved little more than a shower, toothbrush and messy ponytail. Her style stood out not as far from fashion-forward, but plenty tight. While less curvy types clocked detention hours for too-short skirts, Stefani was more likely to be cited for her too-snug polos; on nonuniform days, she might arrive in second-skin Juicy Couture sweats.

Such attention seeking netted results; one former student said Gaga’s shtick elicited reactions from the “endearing teasing” of friends to catty remarks from those who found her standard theatricality outsized for the history class. But all agreed she had plenty of friends, some of whom she remains close with today.

As for the too-poor-to-tote-a-Gucci angle, this seems pure press invention. A decade ago Sacred Heart was expensive, but not fancy. At Sacred Heart, Gaga herself told New York magazine in March, “There were lots of different kinds of girls. Some had extreme wealth, others were on welfare and scholarship, and some were in the middle, which was my family.”

Some of the former students I spoke with literally laughed at the notion a girl might be shunned for want of the right bag. “What ‘It’ bag?” one quipped. “A North Face backpack?”

No, Lady Gaga’s graduation getup wasn’t about getting back at onetime classmates for being mean, anymore than her Citi Field behavior was about getting back at the Mets for being erratic. This is a young woman who demands attention at every turn, and works furiously for it even when she doesn’t have to.

At the Costume Institute (after Oprah felt compelled to embarrass herself by telling the crowd Gaga was late to perform because she’s a spiritual leader who felt the moment’s need to pray), didn’t she go out of her way to say “f--k” onstage, seemingly because Anna Wintour had specifically requested that she not? What, like we weren’t paying attention before that?

Such is Gaga’s brilliance for centering any solar system she chooses to grace with her presence. Ninety-nine percent of the time, that’s great. Such magnetism is what turns the not-best Madrigal into a superstar, and the superstar into a genuine cultural force, the likes of which we haven’t seen in a generation.

But 1 percent of the time, the private times of private people, the center spot in the solar system should be left for others. Not Gaga’s sister Natali, with whom she’s supposedly very close. Nor even necessarily the other upstaged graduates. Many were probably enthralled by her appearance; all will have a graduation tale for the ages.

But a high school graduation isn’t just for the 40 or so private school girls who parade up a church aisle in white dresses, flowers in hand. It’s also for families, like the one Lady Gaga loves so much. Each came to celebrate his or her own, and a brash crasher stole the moment.

How much cooler would it have been if Gaga had slipped into the back of the church in a quiet Prada dress and workable platforms and let the class of 2010 have its moment? Now, that would have been a lady, Gaga.

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