There's this photo. In it, Lady Gaga is framed tight, center of the picture, shot from far away by staked-out paparazzi, perhaps hiding out behind a row of chairs or a ficus. There are blurred objects around the edges, and there are frames within the frames — distant glass security cordons. The dark, lumpy figure of a TSA agent looms to the left, hands near the star, extended rigidly, officially. Lady Gaga does not acknowledge the camera: She is not looking at it, but there is no part of her presentation that does not anticipate the camera's gaze, and subsequently, ours as well.
Lady Gaga is taking a trip and has arrived at Los Angeles International Airport in full pop regalia. She is not like the other blond pop singers — Madonna or Jessica Simpson — who deplane in comfort sweats with an adjective stitched to the booty, their makeup-free faces looking strangely unfamiliar, a ponytail sticking out from their ball cap. Gaga does not dress like she is headed home from a yoga workshop, even when flying across the continent. Gaga teases out the fan fantasy of the pop star by never dropping the act — she's like a superhero, never appearing out of uniform. She never snaps us back to reality; we stay with her in the weird, glamorous world she has made real. In this, she is conceding the duality of pop stardom: This is all surface and finessed-to-please presentation, an impossible manufacture. She one-ups all those who decry her work and platinum pop as not "real" music — because it's all "fake" — by making it the most fabulous fake that ever faking faked. To be sure, Gaga's "fake" is at least as real as the "real" of any self-conscious Brooklyn beardo 'bout to be discovered by Pitchfork.
Here, amid her TSA-administered security screening, Gaga is looking spectacular — as in, like a spectacle, which is how we want her to be — and she is not disappointing. She is wearing perilously tall (10-inch) Alexander McQueen platform heels, which the designer is said to have modeled after an armadillo. Their fronts arc from the ankle in a smooth crescent, like a toucan's bill if it pointed down instead of out. They are leathery and gleam in the light, and they look unlike shoes anyone's ever seen. Their protrusion is strange, but there is something natural to the line — it's easy to see them as hooves. Gaga's legs are covered only by what appear to be industrial-strength fishnet pantyhose (not stockings) that go up under her shiny black belt. Looped through the right front of the belt is a pair of metal handcuffs. Her flowing white wig cascades down over her bra, she wears round, Lennon-style sunglasses, there is a phone in her hand. Most of her outfit is accessories, as the only other clothing she has on is a pair of "nude" bikini underwear and a bra, and a golden jacket, of which she is wearing only one sleeve, with the other half seemingly tucked into her back waistband — a curious slip of modesty to cover one's ass while appearing nearly naked in public.
In this picture, we see Gaga as White Swan to out-of-control Britney Spears' Black Swan. Gaga's outfit is strikingly similar to the one worn by Spears in what is among the bleakest paparazzi shots taken during Brit-Brit's lost years (mid-2008), as she heads into a Beverly Hills boutique for a private 2 a.m. shopping spree. Spears is shown clad in ripped black fishnets, black boots, a black jacket and blood-stained underwear. She wears oversized black sunglasses, and her hair is dyed black — her weave a ratty mess — and there is a phone in her hand.
Though Gaga's work is as platinum-perfect (perhaps even more so) as Britney's, Gaga's work is rife with irony and self-possession — she satisfies with a strangeness, an otherness. She should by all means be the Black Swan of the two, and as she plays with the idea of pop's manufacture, she winks at us from atop her skyscraper heels. Being nearly nude in LAX, she obliges our most base wish — to see celebrities naked, to ogle them, completely. She acknowledges the ironies, the ruptures, the fantasies — she abides by them as she rips them apart — showing that she understands the real rule of popular entertainment: Give the people what they want.
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