To fan the flames for her new single, Lady Gaga strode into the Abbey this weekend in a bra and booty shorts, waving to her army of gays like Marilyn at the USO. Gaga made a highly publicized pit stop the following day at another seminal (cough cough) Boystown club, Micky's, where she filmed a video in front of a crowd that was a bit more composed than tweeners tearing their larynxes at a One Direction concert.
But not all gays were impressed by Gaga's walking tour of West Hollywood. Scott McPherson, the creative director of Here Media, the owner of this website, was not enthused. Where once he could tell you who handled craft services for the "Paparazzi" video, this 20-something says he now "doesn't care" about Gaga's every move. Me, a cynical 30-something oldster, made him laugh by saying her new single "Applause" should be renamed "Golf Clap." He wouldn't have found that amusing when "Born This Way" was shaking his core.
"It's the way she carries herself now," Scott says. "She walks around with her teacups and saucers, and her updo, and she's just different than she was when she was making good music. Her lyrics are a bit big-headed, and she's losing that 'pop' factor. Most people predicted she would take the avant-garde too far, and I thought she knew better. But every album just gets more and more artificial and 'artsy.'"
I've heard other gay gripes about Gaga and wondered if it had less to do with Mother Monster and more with an approaching expiration date with the gay man-diva treaty (signed around 1900 between Sarah Bernhardt and Oscar Wilde, possibly). Most modern gay males like Scott and I have exhibited diva worship at some point in our lives. We sensitive creatures and our glamorous goddesses typically share a few defining moments that cement our relationship. I fell in love with Madonna after salivating over her "Vogue" video and doing the choreography in my mother's kitchen while the meatloaf browned. My commitment to the provocateur (Madonna, not my mother) grew more profound five years later, when I imagined "Take a Bow" was about my teenage love. Our ecstasy hit a crescendo in the late ''90s when my gay pal and I tried a party drug for the first time and proceeded to play Ray of Light from beginning to end ("She doesn't get the respect she deserves!" I screamed at my friend, our eyes saucer-size). Madge and I had fun through Music and even American Life, but hit a rocky patch around '06 and broke up for good around 2011 or '12, or whenever that hellacious MDNA album came out.
It wasn't my descent into middle age and all its time-consuming trappings that prevented me from worrying about Madonna's latest choice of producer or spot on the Billboard 200. She started making lazy music, in my opinion, that said nothing about her real life or spoke to mine. She became more and more fixated on her appearance, while her outfits and videos lacked imagination. She became boring.
While I think Gaga is fun and interesting, Scott experienced a similar seven-year itch with his diva -- he knew of her way back when she started in New York -- that I felt with Madge. But divas aren't all passe, Scott says, just tired ones.
"I don't think gay men lose the need to follow a diva as we get older," he says. "We all still love music. But as we get older, we refine our taste levels and they improve, and if our divas don't refine as well, we lose interest."
If they don't grow and challenge us, they turn into nostalgia divas like Britney Spears, Scott says. Christopher Harrity, Here Media's web producer and patriarch of the editorial team, validates Scott's point. Christopher is a sleek 50-something who holds every piece of useless and wonderful pop culture ephemera in his brain like a breathing gay Wikipedia. He loves his tragic women -- we thought we'd have to scrape him off the floor after Karen Black's passing, but he recovered nicely -- but is certainly discerning when it comes to who captures his attention.
"As I get older my divas have more to do with style rather than performance, although great style is a performance," Christopher says. "Nazimova, the lesbian Russian actress, has been one since my teen years. Marchesa Luisa Casati is a more recent favorite. Diana Vreeland endures."
Diva backlash is cyclical "and a natural part of the deification process" since the days of Tallulah Bankhead and Mae West, Christopher says. Luckily for Gaga, he's almost always right. I am dubious, though, that divas will remain as integral a part of gay culture. The phenomenon may be a vestige of a time when gay men had few to no role models in popular culture -- we want to identify with people like us who struggle and persevere, but there are very few gay male singers or actors, especially those with outsize personas, embraced by the mainstream. Their ranks will likely grow at a glacial pace, so the gay male-female diva pact is safe for the next few decades or so. In the interim, I've glommed onto my own lady to worship, Fiona Apple. Though she's a million miles and few hundred Botox injections away from Madge, Fiona still fits the classic diva archetype carved out by Judy, Liza, and Billie: she likes drugs, seldom eats, and makes music that will destroy you.
NEAL BROVERMAN is a columnist for The Advocate and the editor in chief of Out Traveler. Follow him on Twitter @nbroverman.