Liz Smith: Lady Gaga — Born That Way, Or Merely "Reductive?" (Let's Ask Miss Ciccone)

And more from our Gossip Girl: Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony — youth must have their bling … Rosie O’Donnell’s great CNN interview … Seth Rogan — thinner, but still a FatHead


Those two words, uttered by Madonna, in response to ABC-TV’s Cynthia McFadden’s question about a Lady Gaga song, has “gone viral,” as they say.

Even better, when McFadden, who certainly knows what the word means, asked Madonna to define it, M coyly said, “Look it up!”

Apparently, a lot of people have. Now, I keep hearing the word, generally accompanied with a laugh and a reference to the pop icon. Madonna has taught us much over the years, now she’s revived a word rarely used. (Well, I’ve always said if Madonna hadn’t gone into music, she would have stayed in Michigan and become Miss Ciccone, the stern English teacher.)

It was this benign answer about Gaga that became part of the Elton John/ David Furnish’s attack on Madonna, after she won a Golden Globe for best original song on Sunday night. The song is titled “Masterpiece” from her coming film, “W.E.” (Elton’s effort was “Hello, Hello” from the flop animated movie “Gnomeo and Juliet.”) Aside from ripping Madonna’s song, the pair declared — on Twitter and Facebook — that Madonna’s “attack” on Gaga “shows how desperate she is.”

Goodness, I didn’t get that at all. Madonna has no inclination to trash Gaga. But she is certainly within her rights to imply, gently, that Lady G. has appropriated some aspects of her image, sound and message. Music critics were the first, in fact, to point out the similarities between Gaga’s “Born This Way” and M’s “Express Yourself.”

Elton John, who has been a star since 1970, feels he has earned the right to be perennially cranky and opinionated. Fine. And he does wonderful charity work.

But I think Madonna, who has been a star since 1983, has earned the right to answer a question honestly, from her point of view. Or to accept an award, if she wins one.

Elton has had a bee in his bonnet about Madonna for years. At various times he has criticized her singing, dancing, her right to be a star, even. She has rarely responded.

In this case, however, it is Elton who appears to be “desperate.” Back in the day, Madonna could be ungracious and careless in her remarks, but I never recall her attacking another performer in this manner, or publicly declaring she should have won an award instead of somebody else. (Perhaps she learned her lesson when, in the midst of a wave of positive reviews and publicity for “Evita” — and a Golden Globe win — she said she thought she deserved to be nominated for an Oscar, too. The Academy was not amused.)

The truth is, most of the public has never heard either Elton or Madonna’s song. Why carry on so?

Oh, “reductive?” It means something is the same, only less.

* * *

WHEN JENNIFER Lopez and Marc Anthony married seven years ago, they said it would last because they had so much in common — their careers, ethnicity, language. Alas, all that wasn’t enough, but at least they got two beautiful babies out of it.

Now, speeding toward divorce, they still have a lot in common. The 42-year-old Lopez is dating a 24-year-old dancer. The 43-year-old Marc is dating a 24-year-old model and beauty queen Shannon De Lima.

Both couples appear blissful in their shiny new relationships. Of course, it is Miss Lopez, the woman, who is taking more heat for her May-December romance. And yet, I just spotted a photograph of Jennifer and her guy, Casper Smart, strolling in Miami. They are casually dressed, wearing trendy shades. He looks older than 24. She looks younger than 42 (By the way, that is still quite young.) In fact, in this picture, both appear to be sexy, well-put-together 30-year-olds.

Nothing creepy at all. And none of anybody’s business, either.

* * *

KUDOS to Rosie O’Donnell. She appeared earlier this week with CNN’s Piers Morgan, and gave one of the most sensitive, intelligent, positive interviews I have ever seen from this remarkable star. She looked terrific (still working that earthy Elizabeth Taylor-in-the-“Sandpiper” thing) and was utterly serene. Piers was his usual self, but Rosie rose above it.

She didn’t even bite when asked about her perennial nemesis, Donald Trump — no attacking, no criticisms. She shrugged him off. (The very worst thing you can do to Trump.) Rosie did say, with a laugh, “I only hope I can lose some more weight. Then he can’t call me fat anymore. Just disgusting!”

CNN tends to re-run Morgan’s interviews and I urge you to catch Rosie at her best. But of course, see her everyday on Oprah’s OWN network, which is finally catching fire.

* * *

IF YOU’VE noticed that many of your favorite Hollywood funnymen are slimming down and buffing up, your eyes are not playing tricks. The Hollywood Reporter tells us that actors such as Jonah Hill, Jerry Ferrara, Seth Rogan and others do not want to go the way of Chris Farley and John Candy, both of whom feared they’d lose their audience if they lost weight. So diet and exercise have become essential not just for women and traditionally handsome men, but even the average actor.

Unfortunately, the slimmed down Seth Rogan provided the recent Golden Globes with its most unpalatable onstage moment. I won’t repeat his remark, but his co-presenter Kate Beckinsale looked neither amused nor flattered.

Apparently, the fat still lingers in Mr. Rogan’s brain.

20 Responses so far.

  1. avatar rick gould says:

    I have not drank the Lady Gaga Kool-Aid, but then, I never drank the Madonna Kool-Aid…
    But for Lady Madonna to call anyone else’s work “reductive” is a case of the pot calling the kettle black…

    And Elton John is just crazy…
    What’s even crazier is for these over-inflated egos vying their schlocky movie ballads for a second-rate award like the Golden Globe.

    • avatar Mr. Wow says:

      Dear Rick…

      I believe I am older than you, and when Madonna first arrived, in the 1980’s I was already too old to be fascinated by the latest pop music sensation.  But, I got over it.  And then spent years hypnotized by MTV, becoming familiar with a whole host of artists, who would never have interested me, had it not been for the visual concepts of their music.

      I don’t recall that Madonna ever sounded like other artists, but  in those early years she often appropriated various vintage looks–Marilyn, Marlene, Louise Brooks, etc.  I seem to remember those early videos as being quite original. Then again, the concept of videos was so new…

      Elton seems so inexplicably bitter.  He reminds me of Crawford in her later years, opining about other stars.  Usually negative.  But she always said she was “just trying to help.” 

  2. avatar Barbara says:

    Rick, Sorry you can’t appreciate both Madonna’s and GaGa’s talent. Both have a very unique and creative approach. Whether GaGa learned from Madonna or is reductive is for the two of them to figure out. Whatever the answer, the audience benefits.

  3. avatar DH1959 says:

    One can rightly criticize the comments of Elton and David, but under what definition was Gnomeo and Juliet a “flop animated movie”?  The pciture grossed around $100 million at the box office.

  4. avatar Anais P says:

    In defense of Elton John, I have always thought his voice, musicianship and originality were much greater than Madonna’s, though of course both of them can criticize whomever they want.
    But I don’t think “language” is especially pertinent when it comes to things Jennifer Lopez and Mark Anthony had in common. Lopez spoke no Spanish when she met Anthony, though her skills in that area may have improved during the marriage. 

  5. avatar TheRudeDog says:

    Oh, brother.  Her lessers can always tell when M learns a new word.

  6. avatar Wiley Canuck says:

    A big fan of dear Rosie. Yes, it was an excellent interview. She showed so much compassion, humour and class. Can’t stomach Piers. Trump is a snake oil salesman – nothing more nothing less.  

  7. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    Neither Madonna nor Lady Gaga are really artists but merely performance artists. Take away the “sound mixing” and you have an alley cat in heat. Sorry, but some of us remember Madonna early on when she “did the discos” so to speak. The same is true for Michael Jackson. And Elton John. People really have no idea what an artist is any more but then most never had the pleasure of the “goosebumps” sitting in an audience listening to a Lena Horne or a Frank Sinatra.

    • avatar Mr. Wow says:

      Dear Baby…

      Michael, Elton and Gaga have excellent voices. Madonna’s can be quite effective.

      However, I want to kiss your toosties for mentioning Lena Horne, still so underrated, as far as I am concerned.   If nothing else, her album, “The Lady And Her Music” has to stand as one of the most electrifying live concert discs ever.   Maybe the most electrifying.  (Sorry, Judy–you know I love you!)

      I saw Lena four times on Broadway with that show.  My goosebumps had goosebumps. 

      I recommend “Lena In Hollywood,”  “Soul”, and “It’s Love.”     Just for starters. 

      • avatar Baby Snooks says:

        Performance art is entertaining. But an artist it does not make of the performer. It worked for Liberace. But it doesn’t seem to have worked for anyone else. Including Cher. It ruined Elvis.

        Lena Horne. So many, many others. Including Barbra Streisand. They could all have walked on stage in nothing but a pair of old drapes wrapped around them. It wouldn’t have mattered. The voice was the performance. Who has followed them? No one. At least we have Barbra Streisand left. And Aretha Franklin. Frank Sinatra. The same. At least we have Tony Bennett left. And Harry Connick Jr and Michael Buble. 

        As for Madonna and Lady Gaga they bump, they grind, they twist, they turn. Gypsy Rose Lee is in heaven in hysterics. They not only sound like alley cats, they look like alley cats. Throw them both in a cabaret with just a piano and a microphone.  I will wait patiently for their one-nighters at the Carlyle. One-nighter because the room will be empty by the third song. And that will be the end of that. I’m not sure even Cher could carry a cabaret. Not that all alley cats are bad. Eartha Kitt was an alley cat. But she bumped and grinded and twisted and turned with that fabulous voice! 

        • avatar Baby Snooks says:

          Cher of course could have dismissed Madonna long ago with a simple “reductive” but of course Cher has class. That’s a word Madonna might want to look up in the dictionary. Class.

          • avatar Klaire says:

            But what exactly has Madonna taken from Cher that no other woman in the entertainment industry has taken from? Including Cher herself who took from various other female icons in her time.

            This isn’t about the visuals, which Madonna clearly noted flattered her and she complimented lady gaga and actually says she likes it when she is inspired by her. She never called those inspirations of looks or images or even marketing strategies deducting at all. Unless you know something I don’t and Madonna plagiarized a Cher song?

            Anyway, this is about the song “Born This way” , which the whole world, at the time of its release thought sounded a LOT like Express Yourself. Did you honestly expect Madonna out of all people to deny this when being directly asked about the song in an interview? Yes, obviously the interviewer wanted to provoke, she knew Madonna’s answer, even if it were positive, would have been more interesting to the public if it’s rather controversial, and there, that’s what Madonna gave her. In fact, I would go as far as saying that if Madonna out of all people would deny that it’s influenced by Express Yourself, she’s obviously saying what she thinks the younger audience wants to hear and keeps it safe, in fact, if she’d lie and only gush about lady gaga and deny she is inspired by her, she’d be rather fake don’t you think? It’s like there’s a big elephant in the room but no one is saying anything.

          • avatar Klaire says:

            *reductive, not “deducting”, obviously.

  8. avatar Irena Slywkanycz says:

    I think Lady Gaga is way more talented musically than Madonna. Yes Madonna is a marketing genius but I’ve always resented her superior tone in taking on the responsibility to shock us, mostly for shock’s sake. Climbing on crosses, pushing sexual limits; I found it all condescending – she’s not the only one who went to Catholic schools after all. From the start, I’ve been disappointed in how Madonna used her wide reaching influence, especially over young girls, that she didn’t channel that into good. Born this Way is compassionate, affirms young people and gives them the green light to be who they are. Express Yourself is a great dance tune, not life changing.

    • avatar HannahS says:

      I have to disagree with you in your comparison of the two songs. Yes, Born this Way is a great message to send, but Express Yourself is, too, and both are political statements of their time. Madonna did many wonderful things for female empowerment and sexuality – now I certainly understand the arguments against oversexualizing children/women, but with Madonna, she was – and always has been – in control, a message that was certainly needed in her heyday and still is much needed today. The idea that a woman should be the one dictating a relationship, and that relationships outside of the bedroom – and a woman’s need for emotional and intellectual stimulation – are vital and important are still valid and necessary messages today.

      Gaga may be more musically talented (hell, “may”? She is!) – but she’s riding Madonna’s coattails. As a member of the gay community, I feel far less validated by Gaga than I do by Madonna, who was speaking to freedom and to a queer sensibility decades before marriage was even an option. She (and Elton, too) have done great service to the gay community and have always supported safe sex and promoted individual expression.

      Gaga, while musically talented, is reductive in all she does. She isn’t more than the sum of her parts – she is just her parts. Her only purpose is to be weird or shocking, there is no deeper meaning to any of her music (it is all surface, all the time), and while she supports anti-bullying legislation and clearly supports gay rights, one has to wonder if it’s just because of the monetary value therein. Madonna was supportive of gay rights before it was cool, and she built an audience that wouldn’t exist for Gaga today if artists like Madonna and Cher and Elton and Cyndi Lauper hadn’t come before. If you haven’t delved in to Madonna’s full catalog, you might be unaware of her music that deals with everything from domestic abuse to AIDS to freedom of religion and expression. And she was doing it all before it was cool. She’s never much seemed to care what her naysayers felt were negatives when speaking of her, and for that – and much more – the feminist movement certainly owes her a great deal. She’s owned her image, and made her own decisions. Her mark and her personal control, for better or worse, is on all her work (you can hear many of her speech patterns evident within her lyrics).

      Gaga seems 100% packaged, and always will.

      • avatar Mr. Wow says:

        Dear Hannah…

        Thank you for your intelligent  and accurate over-view of Madonna’s career and her stand on many vital issues.  Way. Back. When.  When. It. Was. New.

        Gaga has a great voice.  Madonna had the message. 

  9. avatar John Dillon says:

    Piers Morgan is one of the best interviewers on the media scene. He always asks the pertinent questions that the public is  interested to hear. Unlike Larry King, who I do admire, but his interviews were usually 40% inciscive and 60% nonsense. Piers tries to keep his people relaxed and seems well prepared, insightful and on-the-mark with his knowledge of back-up research. Rosie, one of my all time favorites since her early days, has indeed matured in her outlook and handling of life. She has never suffered fools, only now she doesn’t bust a gut when fools rush at her. She dismisses them with a shrug and veiled (or not) mockery.

  10. avatar maytaguide says:

    Ms Ciccone a stern English teacher in Michigan? Uhm, what could she, uhm, impart, uhm to her, uhm, students?
    Yes, she has been a star for almost 30 years now, but maybe she could use some tutoring in public speaking, especially if she would like the public to see her as a serious filmmaker. Becoming a star of her magnitude is no easy accomplishment, polishing up her speaking skills would not be difficult.

  11. avatar rick gould says:

    I don’t think that Gaga or Madonna are untalented, per se…I just have never bought into the mass hysteria and publicity that they get.

    Performers like Elvis, Sinatra and Judy had that kind of worship at various points in their careers, but they also had great talent and charisma…I say that realizing there’s a certain amount of subjectivity involved here. But to me, the difference between performers like this and stars like Gaga or Madonna is pretty obvious.

    • avatar Klaire says:

      There’s no such thing as “talented”. In Art school people who had never drawn in their lives are being taught it step-by-step. rather than teachers putting their attention on actual talents. Real talented singers are at the opera. lady gaga is not a better singer than the average generic singer we hear on the radio. Her voice is overrated, and she uses a backing track just like almost all of them do.

      Most male rockstars can’t sing but they never get any flack for it. No one questions their “talent”..