When Lady Gaga rips off someone else, it’s high art; a loving homage in the finest tradition of pastiche – even when the results look more like theft than mimicry. But it appears that Gaga takes a somewhat dimmer view of her own admirers’ attempts to celebrate her all-consuming narcissism. She can dish it out, it seems, but she can’t take it. This remarkable, almost comical lack of self-awareness deserves a fresh mention today, in light of her High Court triumph over London technology startup Mind Candy
, the company behind Moshi Monsters. Mind Candy’s Lady Goo Goo, a parody character of the singer, has been banned from YouTube. Mind Candy isn’t now allowed to sell Goo Goo’s single, The Moshi Dance
, either. The parallels, though incidental, between Moshi Monsters and Gaga are admittedly striking: Gaga even calls her fans “little monsters”. But there is no suggestion that Mind Candy has sought to gain commercial advantage from these coincidences. And the vacuous popstrel seems to me to have missed a trick in deploying such heavy-handed tactics. A commercial partnership with Mind Candy would have been a much smarter way of addressing any perceived trademark infringement, and a route the company would no doubt have investigated enthusiastically. Quite what her legal team was hoping to achieve with this injunction is therefore unclear, since it seems plainly obvious that no-one, not even the children to whom Moshi Monsters is marketed, could confuse the singer with her pint-sized digital imitator. What’s more, the implications of this ruling for tribute acts and satirists, a staple of British culture in particular, are troubling. The ruling suggests that names similar to the act being imitated could cause problems for tribute artists if rights holders turn nasty. No-one wins when trademarks are so brutally enforced: the additional attention to “original” works (itself a troublesome definition) are cut off and creativity is strangled. In any case, for a singer who makes a living doing a bad impression of Madonna, you might think it odd for Lady Gaga to be as aggressive as she is about protecting her image. (But then, she has put an awful lot of work into distracting attention from the awfulness of her music, hasn’t she?) The image she is seeking to protect is nebulous and chameleonic at best, because, beyond her name, itself drawn from another act’s song title, there is little consistent about her from one day to the next, beyond her tiresome and commercially-oriented advocacy for gay rights issues. That and the dreary tunes. Beneath the meat dress, there’s a plain, modestly talented and obviously very unhappy young woman desperately trying to be interesting, but with none of the world-conquering swagger of the former Ms Ciccone without which she would be impossible. Even Simon Cowell famously branded Gaga “boring”, and, setting aside the silly but occasionally entertaining frocks, he is surely right (though Mind Candy chief executive Michael Acton Smith was quick to insist today over the telephone, despite facing what must have been hideously expensive legal bills, that he “admires her creativity”). I have a feeling Gaga would enjoy being spoken about in the same breath as celebrated pastiche masters like Arthur Conan Doyle, Mozart and Queen. So I’m surprised that she, of all people, isn’t more relaxed about pursuing innocent parodists. It would perhaps be going too far to call Lady Gaga the most derivative of the current pop crop; that honour is reserved for the likes of Avril Lavigne. But she is certainly more heavily reliant on derivation and imitation than pop icons of the stature she aspires to, which makes this bellicosity hypocritical and unattractive. Surely she recognises the sincerity with which admired names, ideas and images can and should be pilfered, remixed, reinvented, reimagined and re-served. That, after all, is very much her schtick.
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