Saturday, 12 June 2010

Battle of the blondes?

Is showbiz really the hotbed of bitching and backbiting that we read about? Or is the media machine just determined to create rivalries between women who have the misfortune to have the same hair colour and profession? Gossip columns can’t get enough of the fact Lady Gaga and Christina Aguilera have the same, er, fringe.

When asked what she thought about the comparisons with Gaga at the launch of her career back in 2008, Aguilera told the LA times "This person was just brought to my attention not too long ago. I’m not quite sure who this person is, to be honest. I don’t know if it is a man or a woman... I really don’t spend any time on the internet, so I guess I live a little under a rock in that respect."

Perhaps casting aspersions Gaga’s gender was a little catty (and illogical – the clue’s in the name), but it must be galling to be accused in various photo stories of copying a look that you had several years ago, even if you haven’t been seen since. Christina was not the first singer to rock the peroxide look, and she won’t be the last. You don’t hear Jean Harlow complaining, do you?

(Of course, there is always a chance that Aguilera genuinely "wasn't sure" – those rumours had been doing the rounds, and I'm sure the last thing she wanted was to refer to Gaga as "she" and instantly have the world's media laughing at her and saying "Get back to your rocking chair, Grandma! Hermaphrodites are where it's at now")

Lady Gaga diplomatically responded that the comments had a positive effect. "Well, it was very flattering when it happened. She’s such a huge star and if anything I should send her flowers, because a lot of people in America didn’t know who I was until that whole thing happened."

Gaga, who dyed her hair blonde in order to avoid confusion with another unruly star, Amy Winehouse, has previously cited her influences as Madonna, David Bowie, Grace Jones, and Freddie Mercury, among others. She has also written for Britney Spears, who she calls "The queen of pop," and mentions "Britney's a real class act in terms of the way she handles herself in the media and embraces new artists. She's always really kind, I've always admired that about her." Let’s hope this wasn’t a barbed comment towards another ex-mousketeer?

Miss Aguilera delicately pointed out in a radio interview in Atlanta, "I’ve been around for over a decade and I think my work speaks for myself. There’s a bigger picture out there. I’ve got my son, my family, my work."

She drove the point home, saying she "Loved" the latest batch of newcomers, saying they were risk-takers. "They’re doing things that aren’t so safe. … I always had the guts and passion to do things like that. … I’m happy to see that people have come full-circle and are now accepting it and are into it and these girls have the guts to do it."

Phew. Crisis averted. (Even if it did involve pointing out "I did it first!") Then in a recent interview, with Out, Aguilera carefully fielded questions: "Oh, the newcomer? I think she’s really fun to look at."

It seems that even this comment was enough to threaten a media eruption, as Xtina felt the need to pen a note to fans on her website.

She stated categorically "I have absolutely nothing against Lady Gaga or any other female artist in this business. I think she is great, and I appreciate any woman fearless enough to go against the norm. She has earned her success with hard work and a clear focus and I have nothing but respect for that."

She ended her note with the words "Can’t hold us down…." A reference to her 2003 single which also featured the message "This is for my girls all around the world, who've come across a man who don't respect your worth, thinking all women should be seen, not heard. So what do we do girls? Shout louder!"

Indeed, Christina has long been vocal about the need for women to support each other."One of my main goals is to try and help women to love each other. I think it's really sad women seem to feel the need to be so competitive and jealous and threatened."

She has also never been shy about speaking her mind – see previous “feuds” with Mariah, P!nk and Eminem. Her frustration with the media is evident in the note, which added "It is very easy for comments to be taken out of context and create unnecessary drama-especially between us women."

It seems that any talented singer must be stacked up against others until a "rivalry" develops – goaded by interviewers determined to produce a quote (preferably derogatory) from one starlet about another.

When Ms Aguilera burst onto the scene with her debut single Genie in a Bottle back in1999, she was instantly compared with pop "rival" Britney Spears. Why not? They were both young, blonde, and blessed with the ability to sing and gyrate simultaneously.

But while Britney coyly admitted to being a virgin, and then pretended to be surprised when people found her schoolgirl outfits provocative, Christina was more honest and upfront from the start, with saucy lyrics which had to be toned down for release to her young fans (How she was EVER described as being "squeaky clean" is a mystery to me). Her gravitation towards all that is raunchy came into its own with her sophomore album, the aptly named Stripped. Armed with leather chaps and dreadlocks, she revelled in sexually explicit lyrics and an eye-popping video to her track Dirrty. (I once saw Topshop grind to a halt as the video was played on a giant screen. Underground boxing clubs have never been so... female friendly.)

It seems the Britney comparisons have fallen at the different routes the young women have taken in the last decade – Britney’s Disney-esque persona obliterated by her marriages, custody battles, break-ups and breakdowns, while the more probable loose cannon Christina has managed to go from career strength to strength, is happily married and has a child.

Enter Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, also known as Lady Gaga. Only 24, she has dominated the pop scene since 2008 with her 3 x platinum selling, award winning The Fame album. Not only does she have strong vocals and the ability to write a catchy hook, she also sees her work as performance art, resulting in controversial and memorable live performances and videos. In an MTV world of bikini clad beauties, Lady Gaga twists expectations and comes up with outrageous performances... not to mention her costumes. She has appeared in nothing more than fishnets and strategically placed bubbles and stunned onlookers at live performances in which she apparently stabbed herself. This death theme continues in music videos which frequently feature her killing people by poisoning them. Not that this has put off Beyoncé or True Blood star Alexander Skaarsgarrd from starring alongside her.

Gaga told Jonathan Ross "I would rather die than have my fans not see me in a pair of high heels....... and that’s showbiz!"

She has moved from relatively low-budget first music videos (cavorting in a paddling pool and a dingy house party) to epic mini-movies. From the start she was not afraid to use the tried-and-tested approach of dressing in skimpy outfits. However, as she became better known she was able to develop her style. Neither she nor Aguilera will ever be happy to make a simple music video where they look pretty and sing in a bikini. The nice thing about Gaga is that she’s not afraid to be WEIRD. Anyone can sing and look good, but how many starlets would be happy to appear as a freakishly bug eyed version of themselves? Similarly, how many of Aguilera’s late 1990s peers would have emulated her video for Fighter in which she essentially dressed as a giant moth?

Gaga explains "My album covers are not sexual at all, which was an issue at my record label. I fought for months, and I cried at meetings. They didn't think the photos were commercial enough... In my opinion, the last thing a young woman needs is another picture of a sexy pop star writhing in sand, covered in grease, touching herself." Quite so.

Gaga’s lyrics are designed to appeal to young people, referring directly to the experiences of going out (“I can’t remember the name of the club but it’s alright... just dance.”..... “I love this record baby but I can’t see straight anymore!”)

Resembling a performing arts student let loose on the world, with a giant budget and an imagination to match, Gaga has her own creative production team called the Haus of Gaga. She uses her own money to fund the spectacular tours; "I live out of a suitcase and I make music and art and I spend every dollar that I make on stage – that’s it," she added. "I want the imagery to be so strong that fans will want to eat and taste and lick every part of us."

As Christina told us seven years ago, "Sorry you can’t define me, sorry I break the mould". Let’s just say that goes for Gaga too. Of course, the only way the two bombshells will put rumours of a rivalry to rest is a collaboration.... here’s hoping.

In the meantime, let’s keep our fingers crossed that Dolly Parton never decides to sue every blonde songstress who ever had big hair and a flashy costume, because these youngsters would be toast.

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