Wally Santana

Column So Lady Gaga is a 'control freak' who wants photos retouched ... can you blame her?

We can’t really whinge at Lady Gaga for wanting control over her own image – after all, her image is her livelihood, writes Lisa McInerney.

SO LADY GAGA is, apparently, a “control freak”. Who knew? The phenomenally successful, trend-bending, ever-touring, always-on woman with the ridiculous shoes and heavy metal eyelashes is deeply concerned with her million-dollar image. Mind-blowing stuff.

Photographer Kevin Mazur, who had exclusive rights to shoot her closing Roseland Ballroom show, has admitted to retouching the superstar’s photographs at her behest, and other snappers who have worked with her have indicated that Gaga and her team have final approval over which images are released. Because the images in question are supposed to be candid, fans and critics are questioning Gaggers’ commitment to that lauded “Born This Way” ethos, whether her body positivity advocacy was all just a sham, how real her ludicrously-costumed persona is, and if she’s not just a big ole’ Holden-Caulfield-baiting phoney.

An unnamed source (mmm, reliable) claimed that photographers would be requested to swindle fans’ eyeballs by smoothing Gaga’s jaw line or whittling down her limbs. Mazur coolly stated that his remit sometimes extended to such trickery as obliterating “say, a drop of sweat, an errant lock of hair or a shiny patch on Gaga’s forehead.” The deception! If photos of cartoonish divas with penchants for silly wigs and frocks made of flank steaks aren’t 100 per cent natural, what is there left in this crazy world to believe in?

Lady Gaga is a character

So OK, it’s tough not to be a little bit sarcastic. Gaga is such an over-the-top, augmented über-loon it’s a mystery how she ever became a body positivity advocate in the first place. Kind of like the rapper who demands we think of him as “real” even as he performs lengthy odes to his sports cars and dubious sexual magnetism, Gaga paints an irresistible picture of corporal harmony and soulful self-acceptance… in the guise of a cyborg Barbie from the 18th century. She is fun, gaudy, whimsical, fractured, daft, challenging. But she’s never “real”. To complain that her tour photographs are bereft of the odd sweat stain is missing the point by a country mile, and then some.

Lady Gaga is a character played by Stefani Germanotta. Lady Gaga is a delivery system for kitsch-pop and vaguely inspirational sound bites. Lady Gaga is all about image. It wouldn’t be going too far to suggest that Lady Gaga’s image is the performance. Of course she’s going to be a bit obsessive about it.

But we’ve already seen how badly this kind of thing can spin out of control. Remember Beyoncé’s Super Bowl photos? Aghast that Buzzfeed published six particularly unflattering images of her mid-performance (even if it was part of a gushing article about how “fierce” she was), Beyoncé’s team shopped just shy of demanding the images be shot out of a cannon into the depths of space, kick-starting a mischievous and utterly hilarious meme in which funsters photoshopped her into a series of silly scenarios. Beyoncé’s approved concert images, on the other hand, have her looking beatific and perfectly groomed.

The business of idol degradation

So coming across as too precious about your image is a no-no, but allowing unpleasant images into the public sphere is fraught with danger, because lord knows we love ugly celebrity photos. Anyone who’s seen Heat magazine’s old Circle of Shame and Hoop of Horror pages can attest to that (uh, I only ever looked at such trash at friends’ houses and doctors’ waiting rooms, honest). Images of celebrities looking silly are at once a soul salve and comedy gold. We feel better about our own wardrobe inadequacies while we’re sneering at the sweaty starlets; it’s a double-whammy of empty gratification. And it would be so nice to be able to downplay it, but the fact remains: there’s definite dough in idol degradation.

We can’t really whinge at Lady Gaga for wanting control over her own image and making super-doubly-triply sure that there’s nothing in her official concert photos that could provide us with malevolent delight and haunt her till the curtain falls on her very last Vegas farewell. It’s our ceaseless appetite for celebrity imperfection that’s at fault here, and not the yellow-maned, ersatz goddess simply trying to look like a bejewelled egg in a world full of cellulite and perspiration.

The line between performance and off-duty pics

But let’s not end on that note. There is another way to sate fans’ appetite for “realness” whilst dodging the clamour for famous spare tyres and acne: just admit you’re not flawless!

That’s the method currently employed by Emma Watson, who recently tweeted a photograph of a bewildering array of beauty products with the gentle reminder that her “natural beauty” is far from natural. Watson represents the beauty ideal, and at the same time counteracts it by stating that even she can’t even reach it without serious cosmetic assistance. Teenage star Lorde recently tweeted a retouched concert image beside an undoctored photograph from the same event, telling her fans that it’s OK to have flaws. It’s refreshing to see young stars being honest about the pressure to maintain an image, and the madness of candid photograph manipulation.

Gaga herself recently shared with her followers a no-make-up selfie and a cute, normal snapshot of herself and her boyfriend. That she wants to draw a line between her performance photographs and her off-duty pics shouldn’t upset anyone. Come on; no one really thought she was “born this way”, did they?

Read more of Lisa McInerney’s columns here >

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