REVIEW: 'Lady Gaga: Behind the Fame' by Emily Herbert
That's right. I'm caught in a bad romance with Lady Gaga. Finding true lahve, lahve, lahve (love) with this biography by Emily Herbert, however...eh. It's hard to relate my feelings about it. On the one hand, it was SO GREAT having all those Lady Gaga quotes together in one place, and the professional photos placed throughout are always a bonus. On the other hand, the writing was amateur, more of a framework for the quotes than true storytelling or journalism. Think of your 9th grade paper on the person who most inspires you. I came up with that analogy when I realized Herbert tries too hard to transition between her paragraphs; the work doesn't flow. Many of her paragraphs don't even need transition, but there they are, and always at the beginning. Much too often, her thoughts repeat. And speaking of repetition -- just as with J. Randy Taraborrelli's The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe, I again find myself wondering where Herbert's citations are, what source material she used. I really doubt the 2-album discography she lists on the last page got her all this insight into the Lady's present life, not to mention background. Not even an About the Author blurb lines the cover to give her credibility. You may be wondering by the end how much of this book isn't made up. I was wondering by the end what happened to my dream of being a book editor. It's probable that only die-hard Gaga fans will enjoy this book, but it's also probable that's how it was meant to be published. In spite of all my negativity, I am in fact a die-hard Gaga fan. The book was marketed to me perfectly.
There were several themes giving this book its backbone. I have self-titled them and included a short analysis of each, in order of the prevalence I perceived.
Gush, Gush, Gush
As well she should. While objectivity would have been a plus in a biography, it is fairly well known that Gaga is becoming more and more respected in her industry and by her consumers -- all for good reason. I recently saw her in concert, and she is one of the most honest and eager performers I've watched. She gets so into her music, and you can tell she's extremely educated in her field. As Herbert puts it, rather innocently, "Many pop stars can sing and dance, but few can play an instrument and almost none of them compose their own material. Lady Gaga can do all those things..."
Gaga is also hailed as being one of the most down-to-earth pop stars around. As evidence of this, I can tell you she took the time to actually hold a "conversation" with her audience in the middle of her show, sincerely acknowledging them and thanking them for their support. She doesn't really put on airs. She has a way speaking that makes you feel like you've been friends forever -- so much so, that I could have sworn I was meeting her for drinks after the performance. Emily Herbert has obviously become as swept up as I have by Gaga's inner fame, which is completely, absolutely infectious.
Who Cares? It's Lady Gaga!
Herbert explained many of Lady Gaga's more eye-catching public appearances and fashions with this proclamation (if in more indirect language than I've worded it here). To her credit, she did include the many criticisms of Gaga's fashion sense, and also of what Herbert believes to be publicity stunts (like the infamous teacup). But she counteracted every criticism with this argument. At the end of the day, who cares? It was Lady Gaga, and she can do whatever she damn well pleases. Herbert makes the claim that everything Gaga does is for her career (a claim Gaga herself has also made, but I wonder if that goes right down to boarding a plane, as Herbert might tend to believe). The sense of justification gets a little obnoxious, but I think it was supposed to remind us more of the empowering "I AM WOMAN, HEAR ME ROAR" type of credo. Herbert was trying to point out that Lady Gaga is a strong, unique individual, who made her success on her own terms. Great concept, just bad execution.
Anything for Publicity
Several times, Herbert mentions Gaga's entertainment industry savvy, but especially draws attention to the idea that Gaga would go just about anywhere as long as it kept her name in the papers. It was a nice parallel to the Who Cares theme. It makes you question, however, if Herbert has actually ever interviewed Lady Gaga herself. From what I've read, and maybe I just don't want to believe, it doesn't seem to me like Gaga is in it for the publicity. In fact, she's admitted that she hates the paparazzi side of fame. Herbert does not address this admission in her book, and in fact seems to want you to think the opposite. I am not arguing that Gaga is naive to her industry; I'm sure she very well knows what will keep her famous. I'm arguing that Gaga seems more honest in that if she's staying famous, it's because of her art, her interviews, and her fans -- not because of a cheap stunt. Herbert's hinting at the latter makes me uncomfortable as a Gaga fan, but who knows? She did write the book, not me.
Undercover Catholic Girl
Despite all the hype, good or bad, Herbert also sticks to the idea that underneath all the makeup and all the fame, Gaga is still the good Catholic school-girl she was back when she was still known as Stefani Germanotta. She reminds us that Gaga's music and performances are heavily influenced by her background, which is very true. However, she also brings to the forefront a thought that "Gaga" may be just a facade -- something that is contradicted by Lady Gaga's quotes throughout the book. From these quotes, we are led to believe that Stefani is Gaga, Gaga is Stefani -- there is no line in between. Herbert seems to have a bit of trouble wrapping her mind around this, though. She views Gaga's experience and rise to fame as more of a transformation, like Superman. Stefani turned herself into Gaga, but she occasionally melts back again during any interview that makes her feel particularly vulnerable. In my view, Stefani and Gaga were always one being (now whose Catholic background is proving an influence?). It's an interesting point of debate.
Trying To Find a Balance
A parallel to the transformation theme, last but not least are the subtle hints of Gaga's desire for domesticity, and her attempts to balance that with her desire for success. Herbert believes Lady Gaga gets these cravings because of her Italian-American background and the strong sense of family instilled in her while growing up. I think Herbert is twisting Gaga's words here. After reading all the quotes in the book, in addition to listening to countless other interviews of hers, I don't think Gaga is quite as upset by her biological clock as Herbert makes it appear. She has admitted to wanting love, but who doesn't when they're 24 years old and single? Or for that matter, who doesn't when they're single? I believe Gaga when she says she's married to her work. She may want a family someday, but Herbert somehow contradicts all the empowering parts of Gaga by trying to untangle the mystery. By trying to decipher the reasons why Lady Gaga may not be disclosing the details of her love life, Herbert creates a negative focus that sheds an unflattering, angsty (and most likely untrue) light on her instead. It was like I Love Lucy up in there, all the meddling.
Overall, Lady Gaga: Behind the Fame was exactly what I expected it to be: a quick read, interesting to me because of the subject matter, but with writing that wasn't so interesting at all. If you're a fan, I think this is the first biography, and therefore a nice addition to your collection. If you're not a fan, but curious at all, do a good deed instead of spending your money, honey: visit your local library to pick up this read.