Stay Gold, Jo Boy

It's Jo!

Lady Gaga hates the truth. Meanwhile, Jo Calderone came to rock. 
Was it a little awkward? Maybe. But Jo Calderone’s performance at the MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday was nothing if not refreshing.

If only, as Jimmy Fallon pointed out Monday, because so many other pop starlets dressed like they thought Lady Gaga would dress, with layers of plastic, fluff and goth, only to be confronted with the plain white-t, uncouth aggro Jersey male charm of a certain MR. Calderone (actually Lady Gaga in male drag!).

The Lady’s pre-requisite pop star thinness on the male frame of Jo made the lad appear like one of the malnourished greaser waifs from the movie of S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, specifically Ralph Macchio, who became a trending topic on Twitter during the VMAs.

Watching as a former acting student myself, and as Maura Johnston pointed out in the Village Voice’s hilarious live-blogging of the VMAs, this NYU acting student could have made a few more interesting character choices – maybe modulating into something more nuanced than a shout, and not making the monologue so graphically sexual would have still worked ok. A little subtlety, eh! Jo!

More like he was backstage answering the inane queries of the press.

Reporter: (don’t disturb the crazy artiste-voice) “And how long will Jo be with us?”
Jo: “I dunno, I’m gonna to be here like 5 more minutes.”

As it was, the opening monologue of the performance came off at first blush like an embarrassing rant about how fantastic Lady Gaga is and about how Jo is jealous and her – and how he wants in – get it, in – to her spotlight at all costs  – you know, a dickish man move.

But then it got a little interesting.

“I tell her, I want her to be real! But she says she ain’t real. She says she’s THEATRE!”

Well, okay then.

Backstage, talking to the press – finally warming into the improv of it all, Jo explained earnestly that Gaga had made him attend the awards in her stead, because “she’s just really freaking pissed at me.”

As The Onion pointed out in it’s live-blogging, Lady Gaga so far has been nothing so much as a Rorschach blot for her throngs of fans, who see in her antics whatever they want to see.

But she’s a Rorschach blot with a dark vision, leaving worrying ellipses after all each incident of her habitual line-stepping.

She and Beyonce poisoned Tyrese (Tyrese!) along with a diner full of patrons in the video for Telephone. The clip inexplicably mines the themes of prison, Kill Bill and Thelma and Louise for some vague stylish avant-comedy ends.

The Telephone video currently has over 119 MILLION views on You Tube. Thematically, it fit her previous video for Paparazzi, in which her character must stylistically kill or be killed by a menacing Swedish boyfriend.

2011’s  Best Video With A Message, Gaga’s Born This Way, for which Jo accepted the moon man – is her most uplifting song yet. But it’s jubilant affirmations of focusing on the determinism of birth is not only one-note, it sounds exactly like Express Yourself (Madonna, in her free-thieving from the Drag Ball Queendom era). And “I’m on the right track, baby?” Now you’re earnest, Gaga? You just poisoned a dinerfull of folks, plus a guy whose only crime was crooning on the bus.

She has showed up at an awards shows in a dress made of meat, which was kind of compelling – as well as in a red feather and lace outfit that made her look like a horror movie come to life. As an admittedly over-sensitive kid, I was not entirely comfortable with the grotesque imagery of the movie Harry and the Hendersons. I shudder to think of myself born 20 years later and somehow toddling up to a People magazine, pages splayed open to a photo of the mask of the red death Gaga posing on the red carpet.
Lady Gaga is a lot of things but life-affirming is not one of them.

I know Gaga has justified all of this by screaming ART and THEATRE at all costs, like Jo seemed he might grow hoarse up onstage doing.

But Jo didn’t grow so hoarse screaming at the madness of Lady Gaga that he didn’t still rock the bleep out and alongside Queen guitarist Brian May, no less. The reaction shot of Dave Grohl upon May’s entrance proved that he and Jo were near-about the only famous real rock guys there, a realization that was not lost on him, in his acceptance speech.

For some reason, Jo let loose vocally in a way Gaga never would have, and still Michael Jackson Beat It-kicked with an entourage of mens in a performance the late Freddie Mercury would have likely lost his mind over.

Welcome Jo. Gaga, to me, was beginning to grate. In the midst of her February show at Madison Square Garden, which aired as a concert special at the beginning of the summer, Lady Gaga, in her stripped-down, monologue-y moment, sat up from her writhing and bellowed “I hate the truth!”

Wow, I thought. What does she mean?

Some truths are hate-able. But, which truth was Lady Gaga talking about?

For example, does she hate the truth of what’s happening in Somalia? The truth that what’s happening in Somalia isn’t even on most people’s radar? The truth that Somalia is far from the only globalized location wracked with urgent, ignored tragedy?

The point is, you can hate the truth, but you have to know it. Hating it doesn’t help you handle it. And let’s face it, no one wants to be the guy who can’t handle the truth, getting yelled at like that – or worse. But Gaga was yelling at us too.

Which is why it was a breath of fresh air to see the aristocratic empty-eyed mind fuck of Gaga put on the shelf, and experience this – THIS freakin’ guy, working class Jo Calderone swing for the bleachers and give us an earnest rock-out performance. It was in the magical tradition of what RuPaul, Jujubee, Tyra Sanchez (the New Tyra), Raven and others do on a daily; witness the superior Logo TV reality talent competition, RuPaul’s Drag Race.  But The Artist Sometimes Known as Gaga was gender transgressing the other way, in a direction more alarming to the establishment.

It was also funny to see the rest of the popperazzi clutch their figurative pearls when confronted with Jo’s challenging mug. Justin Bieber looked concerned. One of the night’s honorees, Britney Spears, wearing a sexily safe frock that honored the color palate of her winning video’s apocalyptic theme, looked at first stunned by Jo and later rebuffed his kiss, uncomfortably laughing “I’ve done that already” (when she kissed Madonna. Back when they were honoring Madonna for some reason).

The departed honoree of the night, the late Amy Winehouse, would likely have delighted in the whole Jo Calderone experience.

Perhaps Jo felt the need to crash the awards ceremony because, well, female pop stars are handled strangely – celebrated after they break (Amy), or are somehow still squeezed together and stomping (Britney, celebrating some milestone?) But not mentioned, seemingly, when they are gone exactly 10 years for sudden accidental reasons (Aaliyah), even if they made classic R&B songs, iconic videos and even starred in a Shakespearian martial arts film during a tragically short career.

Beyonce – in the game nearly as long as Brit – planned her own celebration that didn’t require a light cue or a word – just a proud rearrangement of sequins and “Bam!” baby bump – destiny manifest. Jay-Z cheesing like, no, he can’t believe it either! And Kanye bouncing around with glee like a damn sophomore, even after we all had to listen to teachers’ pet Katy Perry chastise him, dripping with Gaga’s leftover cotton candy, and refer to him as “Boo,” with the nasal pronunciation of the native of Santa Barbara, California that she is.

Katy was of course, reminding everybody of Kanye’s much-derided outburst, in which he got suspended for talking about how dope the now with-child Beyonce, (his boss/friend’s girl’s) video was (a single-shot, silver gelatin-ed Bob Fosse routine remixed by a male choreographers Frank Gaston and JaQuel White, with White also appearing in the video as one of the two female backup dancers) as opposed to the winning video in which Taylor Swift portrays a literal interperation of lyrics contrasting the virtues of sneakers and high heels.
I for one hope we see more of Jo. Sounds like Gaga needs a rest. But let’s see what happens. I guess I’m just a believer that Ralph Macchio-looking waters run deep. If MTV lets THIS Jersey Shore synergy opportunity go by, it will really be saying something. Let’s see if Jo can be his own man and actually call bullshit on his girl before all her freakin’ “theatre” saturates us with images too contextless and bleak to be washing over us 119 million times. Come back when you can handle the truth, Gaga – or at least stop being such a hater.

Outburst, Jr.: Kanye West

Kanye West steals Taylor Swift's spotlight, 2009 MTV Video Music Awards

by Lauren Pabst

On Sunday, at the MTV Video Music Awards, Kanye West interrupted Taylor Swift’s sweet, fluttery, flattered acceptance speech for “Best Female Video of the Year,” boldly proclaiminig that he was happy for Taylor but that Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time! It seemed like a desperate play for the affections of either Beyoncé, her fans, his own egotistically loved personal opinion or (less likely) aficionados of the work of choreographer Bob Fosse (Beyoncé’s “Put a Ring On It” video dance routine was almost entirely cribbed from Fosse’s 1969 “Mexican Breakfast” combination. The proof is in the YouTube).

He definitely had an unnecessary outburst. But really, who the heck knows what it was all about?

It was RUDE, everyone agrees. An offended Jay Leno even seemed reluctant let Kanye apologize (probably a huge ratings draw) on the premiere episode of his 10pm talk show Monday night. After hearing his seemingly sincere apology, Jay pulled some kind of kindly old principal rank on a stunned Kanye, chastising him, and even asking him what his mother – who passed away a few years ago and Jay had met once – would have thought of the embarrassing, probably drunken, incident.

She probably wouldn’t have liked it, Kanye West agreed, appearing flabbergasted as much as ashamed.

[I had a crazy flash that maybe Jay Leno was trying to demonstrate to Bill Cosby and Barack Obama how he thought black boys should be disciplined by their absent male role models that we hear so much about. But Kanye West is a grown man over 30!]

Kanye West was being a pop star boy behaving badly. Wait, that sounds familiar.

When Justin Timberlake snatched off the clothes of Janet Jackson at Superbowl XXXVIII in 2004, it was Janet who apologized in the immediate aftermath. It was a “wardrobe malfunction” Janet claimed, a move that went wrong. Timberlake – who had played the very active role of “ripper of bustiers” within the incident – kept mum, that is, until CBS threatened to ban him and Janet from performing at the Grammys unless they made public apologies to the network and copped to the fact that the whole thing was not a mistake. Timberlake acquiesced but Janet refused and was barred from the ceremony.

In context, Kanye’s outburst – though rude to Taylor Swift – was a pretty Chicagoland, John Hughes-style tortured insider/outsider making a move for the pretty girl by interrupting the prom queen, utterly corny maneuver. Kanye West seems to think that the MTV Network is the school administration and he is the Judd Nelson character pumping a fist. (But Kanye, take it from this fellow cheesy Midwesterner and onetime 80’s aficionado, the 80’s are way over.)

In the past few years, Kanye has made a habit of making a spectacle of himself at awards shows, showing bad sportsmanship and egotism. His lyrics have turned towards the sexualized and shallow (“She love my big, (hahaha), Ego” – on his latest collabo with, hm, Beyoncé). When he does dig deep (like on his brooding, autotune-heavy latest LP “808s and Heartbreak”), it’s about his own emotions and relationships. It seems superstardom has been weird and hard on the goofy kid from Chicago who broke onto the scene by providing infectious beats for Jay-Z then sing-songily rapping on his 2004 debut “The College Dropout” about self-consciousness, materialism, discrimination at the Gap, family reunions, car accidents and Luther Vandross.

Things seemed to take an obnoxious turn after the fascinating events of 2005. In 2005, Kanye had just put out a song about diamonds from Sierra Leone (Where? The kids found out, hopefully, when the song caught on) and spoke out boldly on another live television event.

On an evening at the beginning of hurricane season, they stood side by side in the telethon television studio: Mike Myers, Austin Powers, Wayne’s World himself was somber, talking of needing money for relief efforts in New Orleans. Kanye West seemed stoic and frantic at the same time as he poured out a series of thoughts about the stranded, hungry, hunted poor Black people in New Orleans that he saw on TV that culminated with “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people,” before the live feed was cut.

(He could have gone even farther; George Bush doesn’t seem to really care about many people except maybe other people named George Bush.)

That was probably the last outburst of quality from Mr. West to date. With all that’s around to burst out about, last weekend’s display from Kanye was boring at best, cringe worthy at worst.

But it got the news cycle churning with fresh gristle; the info-tainment and enter-mation shows chewed on this eagerly like cud for 24 hours until the sad death of “wrong-side-of-the-tracks” love affair movie icon Patrick Swayze.

The liberating, juvenile, giddy admissions of confusion that have made about ½ of his songs so loveable and interesting now seems muddled by the muck of fame. In a business that rewards egoism, it’s not hard to see why Kanye has embraced this aspect of himself that he has seemed to wrestle with on earlier tracks.

It’s not too late for Kanye (still young, though not young enough to be scolded so by Jay Leno).