It may come as a shock, but Lady Gaga is in the news again. This time, she's being accused of being a shill. Critics are barking up the wrong tree.
Pop music's most (insert personal feelings) artist of the moment can now be credited with a new "most" achievement. Her "Bad Romance" video is now the most watched YouTube video of all time. Yes, more than "Baby Dances to Beyonce" (11 million and counting views). Yes, more than "JK Wedding Entrance Dance" (47 million). And yes, more than the orange-suited Filipino prisoners who re-enacted the zombie dance sequence in Michael Jackson's iconic "Thriller" video.
Of course, as we've noted, Gaga is ga-ga for product placement in her videos. Her hits "Bad Romance" (above) and the new "Telephone" alone boast, amongst others, an iPod, Philippe Starck Parrot speakers, Polaroid, Virgin Mobile, Nemiroff vodka, Dr. Dre's Heartbeats earphones, Diet Coke, Wonderbread, Carrera, Nintendo Wii, Miracle Whip, Hewlett-Packard, Burberry, Alexander McQueen and Plentyoffish.com, an online dating site.
In some of the cases, such as with Polaroid and Virgin, Gaga has off-screen endorsement deals. In other cases, the brands paid to be featured, such as Miracle Whip. Yet, as is the case with a lot of product placement, much more was free, such as with Diet Coke and Wonderbread.
Paid or not, there is is no doubt that an artist like Gaga can create buzz around a product, especially one her audience may be unfamiliar with, such as Lex Vodka.
So is it performance art? Or is Gaga turning into a dancing, singing ad? Does it matter?
To other artists it does. The London-based pop artist M.I.A. slams Gaga's commercial ways, saying, "Lady Gaga plugs 15 things in her new video. Dude, she even plugs a burger!" Heady words from an artist who licenses her songs for Honda Civic commercials.
For Gaga fans, it doesn't matter, and it shouldn't. Unlike, say, a b(r)and like Pearl Jam that prides itself of bucking corporate anything, Lady Gaga's brand is inseparable from the idea of over-commercialization, post-modern and otherwise, and winking nods to pop culture.
Artists are heralded for recognizing and tapping into the deep core of who their fans really are. And, for better or worse, just as her legions of young fans, Gaga speaks a language in which brands are central to their identity and represent ideology as much as they do "a thing you buy."
For Gaga and her legions of "little monsters," sometimes a brand is a desirable product and sometimes it's just cool because of the colors in its logo—kind of like the meaning of Lady Gaga's videos and costumes themselves.