Pop star Lady Gaga has often referenced Marilyn in her work, sometimes with insight and sympathy (as in her past interviews with Vanity Fair and Google, and her ‘Dance in the Dark‘ lyric, ‘Marilyn, Judy, Sylvia/Tell ’em how you feel girls!’) At other times, however, she has depicted MM in a shallow, even crass manner (her ‘Government Hooker‘ song and ‘Do What U Want‘ video.) While she has also experienced the dark side of fame at first hand, her knowledge of Marilyn’s life and character seems rather limited.
Nonetheless, her latest comments about Marilyn – and other stars who died before their time – are quite intriguing, as Olivia Truffaut-Wong reports on the new Netflix documentary, Gaga: Five Foot Two, for Bustle.
“Speaking in her new documentary, Lady Gaga reveals that her wacky fashion choices come out of a desire for control in an industry that loves to take control away from its artists … ‘What I’ve done is that when they wanted me to be sexy or they wanted me to be pop, I always f*cking put some absurd spin on it that made me feel like I’m still in control,’ she says.
In the film, Gaga opens up about how the music industry and Hollywood treats women, particularly how men in positions of power, producers for example, think that female artists are there for their entertainment. ‘That’s not why I’m here. I’m not a receptacle for your pain,’ she says. ‘I’m not just a place for you to put it.’
To counteract those expectations of what a pop star should look like Gaga explains how she decided to show ugliness in fame while performing. ‘If I’m gonna be sexy on the VMAs and sing about the paparazzi,’ she says, ‘I’m gonna do it while I’m bleeding to death and reminding you of what fame did to Marilyn Monroe, the original Norma Jean, and what it did to Anna Nicole Smith.'”
Pop diva Gwen Stefani has made no secret of her love for Marilyn, as the artwork for her new single and forthcoming album shows.
Also this week, singer Lana Del Rey – who has referenced Marilyn several times in her work – appeared at a Los Angeles screening of her new video, ‘Freak’, in an outfit inspired by Marilyn’s Niagara style. (Although the original red/white ensemble – designed by Dorothy Jeakins – didn’t make the final cut, Marilyn wore it in public while filming on location in 1952.)
And finally, Lady Gaga channeled the bombshell look at last month’s Golden Globe Awards.
Lady Gaga performed her latest single, ‘Do What U Want‘ – a duet with R. Kelly – at last night’s American Music Awards. In this latest dramatisation (she and Kelly simulated sex on last week’s Saturday Night Live) Gaga played a White House intern who has a fling with the president (Kelly), who then dumps her.
Shades of President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky there. However, the blonde wig she wears is strikingly reminiscent of MM. In fact, one of Kelly’s lines in the song is ‘You’re the Marilyn, I’m the president/And I love to hear you sing, girl.’
‘In this R&B-esque dance cut,’ comments RockGenius.com, ‘Lady Gaga compares letting the media talk about her any way they want to giving explicit romantic consent.’ It may be that she is also trying to criticise the sexual exploitation of women.
However, some may feel that, on the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s death, this is just another cheap stunt at the expense of those no longer with us, and unable to tell their own stories.
Personally, I found Lana Del Rey’s ‘National Anthem‘ video from 2012 – where she briefly impersonates Marilyn, before playing Jackie Kennedy in a meditation on the Camelot years – far more powerful. What do you think?
Over at the New York Times, Charles Isherwood explores why, after two seasons, Smash lost its way with the public.
“Why tempt the showbiz gods by calling your show Smash in the first place? A $10 fortune teller on St. Mark’s Place might have steered the producers away from that choice. Perhaps it was hubris of Hollywood players to whom people rarely say no.
Also in the fate-tempting department was the decision to place at the center of the show a musical about the life of Marilyn Monroe. Those who follow Broadway know that an actual musical about Monroe ranks among the most notorious flops of the 1980s, which was a vintage decade for notorious flops. The real Marilyn: An American Fable churned through all sorts of personnel changes and turmoil before opening at the Minskoff and closing after only 17 performances, racking up a total of zero Tony nominations.
Sadly, watching most of the numbers from Bombshell, as the Marilyn musical in Smash was called — and once again, really, ‘bomb’? – I had the uneasy sense that I was discovering just how impossible it must have been to make a non-cheesy musical about such a complicated and celebrated figure. Although Mr. Shaiman and Mr. Wittman are skillful and smart songwriters, their ingenuity was soundly defeated by the inability to avoid all the obvious clichés of the well-worn Marilyn storyline.
Enter Hit List, the downtown musical that was brought into the plot line this season to provide a rival for Bombshell. Exit more credibility. This supposedly edgy show, hatched at a theater modeled on New York Theater Workshop, where Rent began (exterior shots were filmed there), was a flashy pop spectacle that tried with a panting desperation to ride the exotic coattails of Lady Gaga, and of course felt every bit as authentic as a teenager vamping before the mirror.
Tellingly, the funniest Smash joke didn’t happen on the show itself, but on NBC’s late, great 30 Rock. During the finale of that show’s penultimate season, after the travails of Smash had already become fodder in industry circles, Tina Fey’s character Liz gave proof of her unshakeable loyalty by exclaiming to her boyfriend, ‘Hey, I don’t bail, I’m still watching Smash!'”
Lady Gaga responded to criticisms of her recent weight gain via Twitter last night, sharing a photo of Marilyn with this quote, accompanied by a message from Gaga: ‘And thank to my fans who love me no matter what, and know the meaning of real beauty & compassion. I really love you.’
The supposed MM quote has been circulating on the internet for a few months. However, it’s 100% fake, as Size Zero wasn’t introduced until 1966, four years after Marilyn died.
While I fully support Gaga over her weight issues, and detest the incessant media bullying of young women, it’s a little ironic that she has chosen this quote in her own crusade against misrepresentation.
Lady Gaga helped celebrate the ten-year anniversary of former president Bill Clinton’s Foundation and his 65th birthday at the ‘Decade of Difference’ concert last night at the Hollywood Bowl. The singer took the stage for three songs, plus a Marilyn Monroe-esque ‘Happy Birthday’.
Clinton admitted, “I got nervous when Gaga said she was planning to have a Marilyn moment. I thought, my God, I get Lady Gaga and I will have a heart attack celebrating my 65th birthday.” Rather gracelessly, Gaga quipped,”I’m having my first real Marilyn moment. I always wanted to have one, and I was hoping that it didn’t involve pills and a strand of pearls.”
But Gaga is only the latest in a long line of Monroe impersonators – Madonna, to whom Gaga is often compared, sang ‘Happy Inauguration’ to Clinton, MM-style, via Saturday Night Live in 1993.
May 19 marked the 49th anniversary of Marilyn’s ‘Happy Birthday’ performance for President Kennedy at Madison Square Garden, as Garrison Keillor noted in his Writers’ Almanac. (Unfortunately, while he reports on the event well, he has added three spurious quotes attributed to MM via the internet. )
Given all the confusion out there, it was refreshing to find a sound, intelligent analysis of some verified Monroe quotes from Jason Cuthbert over at MadeMan.
And talking of the eternal rumour mill, Lady Gaga – who really should know better – tweeted yesterday that ‘Government Hooker’, a track from her new album, Born This Way, “was inspired by Marilyn Monroe + political mistresses. I wonder what they were privy to + what they affected.”
The Seven Year Itch is one of Marilyn’s most enduringly popular films, yet for some reason it is rarely included in cinema revivals (Some Like it Hot, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and The Misfits are all frequently shown.) So I was glad to hear of a recent outdoor screening via the San Diego Reader.
Over at Pop Matters, Oscar-watcher Matt Mazur challenges the Academy in Best Actress Rewind: 1959. Contending that Elizabeth Taylor deserved to win for Suddenly Last Summer, he also states that Marilyn should have been nominated for Some Like it Hot. (Actually, Marilyn won a Golden Globe. Simone Signoret won the Oscar that year for Room at the Top, while Marilyn was filming Let’s Make Love with her husband, Yves Montand.)
Lady Gaga was interviewed by Google this week, and explained how her father, Joseph Germanotta, reacted to her tattoos:
“My father asked that I remain on one side slightly normal. So I only have my tattoos on my left side. He’s asked I don’t have any more on my right side. I think he sees that as my Marilyn Monroe side and the left as my Iggy Pop side.”
This month’s Vanity Fairinterview with singer Lady Gaga took place close to one of Marilyn Monroe’s old haunts….
“Bungalow 9, the Beverly Hills Hotel…the pink stucco bungalow stands between No. 10 – where Marilyn Monroe had a torrid affair in 1960 with her ‘Let’s Make Love’ co-star Yves Montand – and No. 8, home at one time to Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.”
During the interview, Gaga referenced MM while discussing her controversial ‘Paparazzi’ video of 2009.
“And while my fascination with celebrity has almost left the building, I had this incredible fascination with how people love watching celebrities fall apart, or when celebrities die; I wanted to know, what did they look like when they died? Marilyn Monroe, Princess Diana, JonBenet Ramsey…I think about all those dead girls, all those dead blonde icons. What did they look like when they died? So then I thought, well maybe if I show what I look like when I die, people won’t wonder. Maybe that’s what I want people to think I’ll look like when I die.”