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The Fame Kitchen

Lady Gaga - Telephone video - image from http://www.sirensofsong.com

The world’s (or at least 34,226,046+ people in it) obsession with Lady Gaga continues. As we countdown the release of Born This Way on May 23, I can’t help but wonder how Gaga became this big (as statistics prove here, there, and somewhere else) when she only has one and a half album + a handful of singles under her belt? How did she get this famous? Or, perhaps, how did she manage to make herself this famous? We need to look back to the past three years when Gaga first emerged on the scene and climbed the stairway of stardom.

Gaga started off with Just Dance. It was a great song and a #1 in many countries, no less. She already had some style that was “out there” back then. Not as outrageous as Gaga from The Fame Monster era then on, but it was enough to separate herself from others and catch people’s attention. Both her music and her style was a fresh alternative to whatever was dominant in Pop music back then (Beyonce’s I Am… Sasha Fierce?).

Gaga’s fame built up with Poker Face, another #1 song from The Fame, plus dozens or hundreds of more outrageous wardrobe. Gaga had established herself as an anomaly in the music industry. Sure, Gaga has been compared to or accused of ripping off Madonna, Grace Jones, and other artists, but let’s be honest and admit that none of them ruled the music industry when Gaga appeared on the scene. So, though Gaga may have copied someone else’s formula of fame, she had no guarantee that it would work in the 21st century. At least the bravery is original.

The Fame Monster + Gaga’s collaboration with Laurieann Gibson, Nicola Formichetti, and more creative people in Haus of Gaga + her embrace of the fashion industry only served to bring Gaga’s fame and artistry to an even higher level. At this point the world (I know I am) can’t help but suck on whatever she had to offer with full pleasure. And now with 4 singles out from Born This Way plus a handful of snippets and exclusive previews, 2011 is looking like another year of Gaga’s.

People are always on the look for novelty. That’s how Gaga won a lot of people’s attention and affection with her fresh music and style. I said fresh, I didn’t say original (which is another source of problem I’ll discuss elsewhere). Yeah, Madonna had been there but she has been absent for long that people forgot what it was like to be shocked. And how people responded to Madonna in the 90’s (which I consider to be Madonna’s era) is different, at least scale-wise, to how people respond to Gaga now. With the help of Internet and social media, Gaga’s eccentricity and shock value are just magnified. Nevertheless, Gaga is also backed with some talents that Madge may not have.

Gaga was right to move fast and upward with her artistry and style, breaking boundaries by exploring different sounds and different visual presentations at a very quick pace. So when followers of the similar “fast sound + abnormal style” formula started to appear (Nicki Minaj, Ke$ha, red-headed Rihanna, and Christina “Bionic” Aguilera, for example) Gaga seemed like an original and is far above the rest. Thus Gaga scored another point in popularity contest. That’s how you do it: when a copycat appears with your recipe to try to beat you at your own game, show them that you’re the best in delivering the goods no matter how perfect your formula has been copied by others.

Now that the competition has gotten fierce, it’s time to diversify the music and the style, showing the people that you are not “one note”. Gaga has done that with Alejandro, then Born This Way’s facial prosthetics, and now the Catholic-nun-goes-heavy-metal-biker look she’s been sporting since Judas then on. The latter seems to be the new manifestation of Gaga’s artistic vision, considering the design of Born This Way album covers and the fact that the album has a lot of rock and metal influence. Gaga herself did call the genre of her new album “avant-garde techno rock”. This diversification means another novelty (in Gaga’s career, not necessarily novelty in the history of music and performance) and people are always excited about that. That’s how Gaga became so famous.

But that’s not all. There’s more to Gaga’s fame than all the novelty and qualities that she presented. It is her mixing of quantity of those qualities. Allow me to elaborate on that point. To me, the maintenance of fame is like trying to satisfy hunger. When you’re hungry, you would want to eat something that tastes good with enough portions to make you feel full. Sometimes you’re hungry for something specific and that hunger can only be satisfied by something specific as well. But regardless, we will always appreciate some good new tastes that come to us at a surprise since we don’t prescribe what’s good and limit ourselves to it.

Gaga is like a Degustation Menu. The appetizer is called “styling”, one main course is the “singing”, another one is called “dancing”, still another main course goes by the name “music”, “choreography” would be the dessert, and we snack on the “humor” and drink on the “news”. We eat the menu and it varies from one day to another. The level of satisfaction that we get from each dish in the menu also varies. Sometimes the music is great, the singing is good, but the dance is just fair. We always like every degustation menu offered on the table, yet we often end up with the feeling that something was missing on this dish, or the entire menu would’ve been greater had this dish were that way or that dish were this way. In the end, however, we always look forward to eating another menu with the hope that the new menu would be improved. Something about the menu keeps us excited about it.

That is the best analogy I could come up with for Gaga. She is such a great artist and performer but she isn’t the best at everything, there’s always something that could be improved about her acts, something that often makes me go “ugh, why did she have to do it that way?” And when I said that she isn’t the best at everything, I didn’t mean to point out to her imperfections. Rather, I was implying that I can’t quite tell just how good Gaga is at what she does. I’ve listened to audio records of Gaga’s live performances and I thought she sounds quite average when live. But then I heard her sing on Oprah’s Harpo Hookup Show (where Johnny Depp was in the audience) and also her rendition of Nat King Cole’s Orange Colored Sky at BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend and I thought “hey, I never heard her sing this good before.” The same goes for her dancing, she often makes me go “oh, Gaga, move your feet!” She did say that she herself wouldn’t say that she was one of the best dancers, but the flux in her performances gets me confused. At BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend, Gaga looked like she was gasping for air, but when I saw her for the first time in that LoveGame video, she moved like a real pro. The Judas rehearsal that was recorded on Gagavision no. 41 also proves, to me, that Gaga is actually a good dancer. So, what caused the fluctuation?

The cause might’ve been Gaga herself and the flux might’ve been intentional all along. It is very possible that Gaga holds back on her performance on certain occasions, sometimes delivering great singing but average dancing or vice versa, but never to disappoint entirely. The flaws might’ve been intentional to keep the fans expecting the better and for the critics (and the haters) to make comments that will then spark discussions about her over the Internet. That’s free publicity for Gaga, and I believe that there’s no such thing as bad publicity for her. Only Gaga and her team know whether it was all intentional or not. But even if it wasn’t, that is what you should do to keep your level fame.

It is important to remember here that as an artist or anyone seeking fame you should be talented and able to bring a lot to the table. You have to have what it takes to satisfy the fans’ hunger, yet you should never fully satisfy them. Give them something good but never make them full, just like the degustation menu: you have great pieces of, say, Foie Gras, and Lamb Chop, and Cheesecake, but they are all just pieces that make up a full course. When you eat a degustation menu, you’ll get full because of the small dishes combined, not because of one dish with a big portion. And eating degustation menu is actually never about getting full, but about tasting different things that are good (Tasting Menu is the synonym of degustation menu). Degustation menu shifts your attention from filling the stomach to refining the palate, and that’s what Gaga does with her art and her self-presentation: she gives you a taste of everything but never lets you be full of either one.

– Taws Up! –

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The Edge of Release

The Edge of Glory - art from http://jannmarrythenight.devianart.com

Lady Gaga’sThe Edge of Glory” was probably one of the most anticipated songs from her new album, Born This Way (out this May 23). The release of that song a little more than a week ago felt so abrupt, as if Gaga was trying to make people immediately forget about Judas that didn’t do as well as Born This Way (the song) on the charts. But that didn’t change the fact that The Edge of Glory was highly anticipated and much welcomed by the fans, becoming a #1 song, reportedly, in 22 countries where iTunes was available.

The Edge of Glory, written by Gaga after and inspired by the passing of his grandfather, was boasted by Gaga in an interview as “fucking beautiful”. Rolling Stone’s Matthew Perpetua also commented about the song that “if any of these new Gaga tunes demands to be a big fat hit, this is it.” And Stephen Hill, BET’s President of Music Programming, reportedly was also calling the song “phenomenal”. Naturally, all those praises built the fans’ expectation and judging by the song’s performance on the charts, a lot of people were satisfied.

I’m one of the Little Monsters that fell in love with The Edge of Glory. I didn’t love the song instantly on first hearing like I did with Judas (yes, that’s true), but after hearing it for three times I have grown to love it. The song, however, did not sound like what I expected it would. I tried to digest the pre-descriptions that some sources have provided and I thought the song was going to be faster and louder than it is, like Judas. But, no, the song is entirely something else.

Right before I arrived at my office to download The Edge of Glory, the read a tweet from @GagaIndonesia, saying that the song sounded like a Disney theme song. After I heard the song, I would have to agree with @GagaIndonesia and I think they provided the best description of the song. Not only that The Edge of Glory sounds like a Disney tune (I can’t be specific which one, it just sounds like one) but it also feels like one, especially because of the way the song makes me feel and the sort of images that the song impresses on me.

What do we usually find in Disney productions? Magical landscape, enormous castle, colorful trees, animals that can’t stop smiling, and fireworks in the sky (please, this has nothing to do with Katy Perry). I imagined all of that when I heard the song and I started getting tears on my eyes, much like Popjustice.com’s reviewer did and some Little Monsters out there. It wasn’t because I felt Gaga’s emotions through the song, but because when I was playing the Disney scenes in my head, I imagined the characters being either on a roller-coaster ride up to the sky with fireworks blowing and colorful hot air balloons flying on the sides or running so fast up on a hill, with big smile on their faces, ready to jump off the cliff with the sun on the horizon.

Both are the kind of situations that get you feeling exhilarated, like you have been freed from your problems and pains and just set free without any burden whatsoever. Listening to The Edge of Glory made me feel like I was finally in that state and it felt so good to finally be freed and let go whatever it was that I needed, unconsciously, to let go. The song gave me some sort of release and that state felt like glory to me.

– Taws Up! –

Ability Crisis

The intersection. Which direction to take?

I left my office with a bad feeling last night. It began when I was just about to finish managing this blog for that day. I decided that I would make some subscriptions to some other blogs, most of them belonged to my friends and the remaining two were Bryanboy.com and Diana Rikasari’s blog, Hot Chocolate & Mint. That’s when it hit me and the bad feeling started to build up on me.

Try to check out Hot Chocolate & Mint, if you haven’t, and you’ll understand why that blog is #1 in the country according to Indonesia Matters and receives more than 2,000 visits per day. The blog is very fun to look at, the photos are great, the clothes look cute, and Diana always looks like she’s having fun and she sort of infects that on you through the screen. Hot Chocolate & Mint is both hot and cool.

Then I look at this blog of mine, and I think you’ll shout “amen!” when I say that my blog looks like a damn collection of philosophical essays. My writings are often lengthy and not made more beautiful with visuals, which are potentially boring. To be fair, I have been absent from my blog for more than two years and Diana has always been active on hers. Moreover, lengthy argumentative writing is my style. Not that I cannot make short posts loaded with photos like Diana does, but when I have thoughts on something, I’d like to vomit all of them out. Given this difference of style, why the jealousy, then?

I just got really interested in blogging again and now I care about my blog way more than I did before. And when I care about something, I could get frustrated when I know that what I have or what I have done hasn’t been the best of its kind. Add my own impatience to this mix and you’ll understand why I felt like I needed to rush myself to Diana’s level. But it’s not about being #1 in the country, or receiving 2,000 visits per day, or being a professional blogger like Diana is. Well, not at first. But it’s about being able to put all I’ve got into my blog (and everything that I work on) and make the best out of it.

I got frustrated that I haven’t been able to do that. I got frustrated knowing that I have so much creativity to offer yet still unable to manifest that in a tangible work that is my blog. It frustrates me even further not knowing how to get started. It seems like there is a lot to do, so many skills (like design and photography) to master, and so much catching-up needed to be done. It seems that my frustration and panic have culminated in creative paralysis.

When it comes to battle between bloggers, we can unanimously say that I’m still the loser, but in general I’m not always one. Many people have praised me for my command of English, and my eloquence, and my writing skills (if you happen to disagree, maybe it’s because you’ve seen someone better. I didn’t say I was perfect, darling!) and I really appreciate that. How I feel right now is like Christina Aguilera: I and the people know that I’m a good singer/performer and they praise my mastery of the techniques but I just never really had a hit and establish myself as the best in anything. And then Lady Gaga comes along with her average vocal ability, complemented with some piano and song-writing skills, helped by fantastic styling and image-making, and suddenly she’s the biggest Pop star in the world that makes me sound like an old news.

Like Aguilera, I feel like I haven’t found what I’m really good at and try to stick with it. I feel like I still want to venture into different territories and try to cultivate different skills (which is a good thing) before I can establish myself as the brightest star of a certain constellation, if you know how to decipher that metaphor. What feels bad for me, about all of these, is knowing that I’m about to turn 25 and I have just begun trying to discover my path and decide which direction to take, something that I should’ve done years before.

But maybe I’m just being too impatient and not enjoying the journey. Diana, Bryan Boy, Perez Hilton, none of them became super-blogger overnight, right? They, too, have worked so hard for what they earned today. So I just need to accept the fact that I have dues to pay. But, still, I’m about to turn 25 this November. I’ll be damned!

– Taws Up! –

Underwear, Underneath My Skin

Confidence Underwear Cookies, sweet in every bite

Attending CLARA Revival Night Lights on May 13 this year was a valuable experience for me. I got to be there because I won a contest, I got to watch three collections being presented (one of them by Tex Saverio whom I looked forward to the most), I got to get introduced to Didit Hediprasetyo (for whose recent haute couture collection I drafted the press release), I got to meet again with my friend from Junior High School that I had not met for 10 years, and I got other valuable things too.

Sadly, I was not entirely happy. There was nothing wrong with the occasion, the fault was entirely mine. During that night, again for the hundredth time in my life, I felt insecure. Why? Basically I felt intimidated by the people that attended the event with what they wore, how they looked, and they fact that they seemed to know each other and I knew nobody. I felt really under-dressed and out of place.

For the record, I dressed quite properly for the occasion: I wore a Monday To Sunday shirt on top of a 16DS jeans and a pair of Zara high top sneakers. But I can’t deny that, compared to the other guests, I felt like I should’ve dressed . . . more. So, had I dressed “more” for the occasion, would I have felt secure? Presumably not, because I realized that my insecurity did not root at what I wore. It rooted at something deeper.

Someone who was among the guests did wear just this: shirt + shorts + a pair of hiking sandals. Less proper than what I had on, isn’t it? But that same person gave and received dozens of kisses during the event. That person was well-connected and knew and known by a lot of the guests there, I was not and that fed into my insecurity. That person was secured by his connection and enormous wealth (I know this for sure), I was not and I guess that was the biggest blow to my security.

Had I not come to the event with my boss, I would have gone to the venue by public transportation or maybe taxi (I did have an invitation of my own as a contest winner). When I left the venue at Pacific Place mall, I had to walk all the way to Semanggi to catch my bus. It was later than 9 pm.

Whenever I’m in that kind of social situation and my insecurity kicks in, I would feel like everybody is looking at me. Not that they always do, but when they do I feel like they do it in disgust. “Ugh, look at your oily face”, “ew, what a shabby clothes”, “are you sure you’re invited here?”. Those thoughts probably pass people’s mind when they look at me. This is the same feeling that prevented me from going inside a boutique, even just to look at its collection of jackets and jeans, because I would feel that the shopkeepers knew I wouldn’t buy anything and think inside their heads “oh, please, these clothes are too expensive for you!”.

This is exactly an instance of Jean Paul Sartre’s idea of “the look”, and I would feel like an object, scrutinized and judged by the subject (others), whenever I felt insecure that way. I feel like when the others look at me, they could see right through my soul and my history, knowing where I came from, my social status, my level of economy, and every little facts of my life that I may not be proud of. I need a reversal, become the subject of my own world and not the object of others’ world. But how?

Stylists would often suggest us to be confident in what we wear. Implicitly: be delusional that you are somebody, that you are the star of the occasion. I guess they are right, and even if they’re not, the self-fed delusion certainly works to get you through the night before reality breaks in. Reality. Perhaps I was being too real and too good at perceiving the reality that a lot of people looked down on me. But what exactly is real? What if I wasn’t being real and that my insecurity was the delusion that I created, instead of creating the delusion of confidence? How am I supposed to tell what is real? How am I supposed to tell that I’m not paranoid?

I don’t know. All I know is that the delusion of confidence doesn’t work for me. “The look” is just too strong for my barrier to hold against. And it’s also because I know that it isn’t just clothes that I wear to any occasion, but it’s also my life: who I am, what I do for living, how much I make per month, what I have achieved, etc. I can’t change the “bad” things in my history, but I can make up for that by becoming a “better” person in many ways. Myself and everything about my life are my wardrobe that I wear wherever I go. What I need to do is clean this wardrobe, stitch up the holes, do what I can to make it look brand new and damn precious. Then I can wear it and be confident about it.

– Taws Up! –