Lady Gaga and Her Antithesis

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The Last Pop Star by James Parker
The Atlantic, June 2010

In the current generation of Pop divas--Ke$ha, Rihanna, Shakira, Britney, Katy Perry, Beyoncé herself--there's no match for the alienness of Gaga. Pop in 2010 is thoroughly pornographized and tattoo-demented; the mainstream, as you may have noticed, is not very mainstream anymore. But there perches Lady Gaga, in paradoxical elegance, her plumage bristling, with an uncanny feel for just how much of her freakery we are prepared to absorb. She has successfully managed the rumor that she is a hermaphrodite. (She's not.) Sweetly and demurely, she has ridden the couch of Ellen DeGeneres: "Who doesn't love Ellen?" she cooed to the audience. The culture will not victimize her. Rather the reverse: with songs like "Paparazzi" she is, as English soccer commentators are fond of observing in the wake of a particularly jarring early tackle, "getting her retaliation in first." Watching her stalk onstage with her retinue, one has a particular sensation--of aberrant sensibilities on the march, rive gauche visions, a whole underworld of transgression breaking the surface.  

Jennie Rothenberg Gritz is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she edits digital features.

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