Ode to the It Girl: An Interpretation, Albeit a Bit Late

At first glance “Marry the Night” is a biopic of Lady Gaga’s worst day ever: the day she was dropped from Island Def Jam. But on closer reflection, one might understand its Warholian roots. Gaga, who has admitted her Warhol influence from her first appearance on the scene in 2007, never really left him behind. Though the video for “Alejandro” gave us a marked change in her video style, perhaps a peek of the Gaga to come – one that presented a video with no ads and a nod to “Cabaret” with another woman who burned out from her desperate need for the fame – “Marry the Night” returns to the full grasp of Warhol and the themes that perhaps Gaga had been trying to achieve in earlier videos. From the ridiculous product placement to outlandish pop culture references, people have started to become unsure when she is serious and when they’re being played. She has finally perfected the Warhol influence. Maybe it’s gotten a bit tired by now, but I do have to say that this video did evoke a reaction out of me, and the comparisons, surprisingly missed by mainstream media, can’t be ignored.

While Gaga plays herself, the type of self she remembers being during the time it happened, it is clear to everyone that she is performing a part. It might even be a reaction to all that the fame entails. This is not told to the audience. It’s implied, albeit subtly. Just as in “Alejandro,” her scene is similar to that of another quickly burning star: Edie Sedgwick, the doomed ‘It Girl’ who was plucked from the streets of New York and transformed by Andy Warhol’s Factory. Edie, of course, is a darling adored by many young women and sometimes may be erroneously compared to Paris Hilton due to her socialite status and misunderstood fame. But Edie fell into acting quite accidentally, and she performed in Warhol films for the Factory circle as Andy’s muse. I myself have always had a fondness for her, not only because of her tragic story, but also because of her striking visual similarity to a former close friend of mine.

Gaga, of course, is partial to depicting the demise of the female celebrity. Certain women in history fall in this category – Marilyn Monroe, Billie Holiday, Judy Garland – and more recent examples include Amy Winehouse, Britney Spears, and Lindsay Lohan. The question here then becomes, what is the boundary between fame and our preoccupation with the inevitable demise of these women? Why do we need to scrutinize them so deeply that their lives become swallowed by the fame monster? Is it a fate that lies in their celebrity? Should their lives be held private as ours do in ‘normal’ society? With the popularity of shows like “The Kardashians,” the desire for fame has started to turn socialites into minor celebrities for simply being themselves, and it leads us to ask if inviting the public into their private lives invites another type of monster completely–the viewers’ perceived right to see the demise.

As the video begins, we notice that Gaga’s hair is short and uncolored, showing her natural color: brown. Though Gaga is known to change her hair and appearance frequently, here the short hair can be a very significant sign that something traumatic has happened. As Gaga says on another song on “Born This Way,” “I am my hair.” It’s no secret that hair is something many women identify with and sometimes feel an incredible attachment to. Hair can signify bondage for some women, beauty for others. Still, for some, it can signify liberation, and here Gaga has shown her true colors. This is her. She is her hair.

How exactly does this relate back to the fallen star? In her final years, Edie’s hair changed too. She stopped bleaching and coloring it silver to match Andy’s gray hair. She grew it out and began to look like an ordinary brunette, all-American woman. Her hair had set her free. The last picture publicly released in 1969 shows her in a plain floral dress looking into the camera with a faint smile, any hint of the celebrity she was is gone – a recovering addict seemingly saved from the fame monster.

It’s unclear if Lady Gaga is in a psychiatric hospital after a suicide attempt or a general hospital for surgery, but either way she’s stirred from her ‘tranquil’ morphine state by the nurse. Their brief conversation reveals wants similar to those of Edie, but the most telling indication is her last words before requesting to hear “un petit heur de la musique.”

During Edie’s heyday, Bob Dylan released one of his most famed albums, “Highway 61 Revisited.” While Dylan denies any relationship to Edie, rumors remain to this day of their alleged tryst. Their fictional relationship is further implied in both I’m Not There” (Edie depicted as CoCo Rivington, played by Michelle Williams) and “Factory Girl (Dylan depicted as Billy Quinn, played by Hayden Christensen). Various people point to Dylan’s songs as evidence, though the only thing that can be proven is pure speculation. Perhaps Dylan’s biggest hit, “Like a Rolling Stone,” a song about a socialite falling from grace, is the most commonly suggested as a song about Edie. Most importantly, Gaga has taken a line from this song, so slyly that it passes the copyright law that Dylan so fiercely enforces: “I have nothing left to lose.” It’s become clear. She’s invisible now: the morphine princess.

Now that the fame has gotten her, she cannot lie about who she is. The interesting thing about this video is that it also depicts Lady Gaga’s fall from grace, the actual point that her rebellion began. Many of us know a situation that set us up for rebellion in our youth. For many of us, it was a pinnacle life event. For Lady Gaga, it was realizing that she could not get what she wanted for free. That she was going to have to crawl to the top. Perhaps this is why she chose to create a video about this experience in her life. After being dropped from Def Jam, she retreated into the music subculture of New York where she actually became Lady Gaga.

“I was onstage in a thong with a fringe hanging over my ass thinking that had covered it, lighting hairsprays on fire, go-go dancing to Black Sabbath and singing songs about oral sex. The kids would scream and cheer and then we’d all go grab a beer. It represented freedom to me. I went to a Catholic school, but it was on the New York underground that I found myself.”

This was the period of time when she began to experiment with drugs, also depicted in her video with a quick scene of a pill bottle shown in her hand, and she was inspired to write many of her love songs, from “The Fame” to “Born this Way.”

Edie, on the other hand, lived in a room in the Chelsea Hotel and was eventually admitted to Bellevue after a binge on speed when she stole a mailman’s jacket and his bag. She was labeled as “unconscious suicide” attempt, or in modern terms, accidental suicide. Edie was becoming a public mess: the Warhol crowd shunned her, she was falling deeper into addiction, and her parents had cut her off from her funds. This is similarly depicted by Gaga in a scene in which she receives a phone call from Def Jam, and it hearkens back to Edie’s Poor Little Rich Girl. Warhol probably secretly delighted in watching this display of the fame monster. It showed his theory in action–her fifteen minutes had well passed.

Finally, Gaga ends her short film with a natural reaction to her being dropped from her label. She’s in a vulnerable state, naked, but has again changed her hair, painting it mint, which she has said will be the big color for next season. She will set the trend. She will not be invisible. She’s not giving up. While Edie didn’t technically give up, she was put out by the crowd – something Gaga refuses to do by the act of dying her hair

“Marry the Night” ends with an explosion and Gaga appearing out of the flames like a Phoenix – born again after the destruction. Any young starlet would have to agree that only after the destruction can the healing begin.

7 replies on “Ode to the It Girl: An Interpretation, Albeit a Bit Late”

Neither will I…. There was a time that I was unsure what to think of her. It was interesting for me, I sort of had to wait and see what others thought of her before I made my mind up of liking her. I tend to steer away from the people who don’t understand what she does or who she is, or what kind of tradition of art and music she has followed. I wouldn’t expect too many people that aren’t insane music nerds like me to get it anyway. ;P

Chanel had already started introducing that color as an “it color.” She just paid attention – the same as all the others.

The actual, major color currently is tangerine (though I hate it).

She made no real big prediction – I was just being cheeky. :) Designers could care less about what she really thinks.

Well I agree with that the mint thing, but I disagree that designers don’t care what she thinks. I am not some rabid fan who thinks she’s god, but if you don’t think designers care what she thinks it’s likely you haven’t been paying any attention to music news. She was named the fashion icon at the CFDA Fashion Awards, walked the runway at Thierry Mugler’s fall show with a remix of Scheisse personally made for it, and Donatella Versace let her wear archive clothing, which she hadn’t done for anyone since Giovanni died in 1997, even designing a custom outfit for her. Seriously?

Also mustard, and a kind of pea (or vomit) green, was a very big color last fall. But I don’t have to tell you that.

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