Friday, April 9, 2010

Who is Stefani Germanotta?

Who are Robert Zimmerman, Gordon Sumner, Paul Hewson, Brian Warner, Marshall Mathers III, Shawn Carter, Alecia Moore, and Stefani Germanotta? What do they all have in common? At first glance this looks like any other list of randomly selected individuals, but each has created a public persona which has actually supplanted their original identity; this is easily demonstrable from the fact that we didn’t identify them by their given names. In the eyes of the public, Zimmerman is Bob Dylan; Sumner, Sting; Hewson, Bono; Warner, Marilyn Manson; Mathers III, Eminem; Carter, Jay-Z; Moore, Pink; Germanotta, Lady Gaga.

It seems that musical artists have a penchant for flair when it comes to self-promotion. They will do just about anything to gain the public’s eye and to extend their marketing reach into our minds and wallets. Many artists opt to go by a first name alone (Madonna, Prince, Jewel, Beyonce). Some prefer to abbreviate their names (J-Lo), while a precious few are known by their full given names (John Mayer, Gwen Stefani). The most curious of all, though, has to be Miley Cyrus who rose to fame with her Hannah Montana persona only to discard it by re-branding her given name; she legally changed her first and middle names from Destiny Hope to Miley Ray, but kept her surname. Finally, there are those who hold on to a modest degree of privacy and anonymity behind a creative band name (Coldplay, Maroon 5) rather than focusing the public’s attention on one member of the musical group.

Of course, this all boils down to name recognition and cold hard cash. It is an advertising gimmick that works because these names have a certain ring to them that lodges in the mind and refuses to let go. It helps to sell CDs, DVDs, concert tickets, t-shirts, posters, and every other manner of paraphernalia under the sun that crazed fans just have to have. In short, a memorable name can make an artist with a modicum of talent millions of dollars.

As fascinating as the business side of it is, however, what interests me even more than that is the existential implications of daily life for these celebrities. We have all seen how the paparazzi hound these people, so that has to make life miserable, but I wonder what it must be like to have such an all-consuming mask on 24/7. I imagine it is both intoxicating and asphyxiating, liberating and paralyzing. They probably exploit their stardom to personal advantage in many ways, but doing just that time and again must take a toll. Like with Dorian Gray, vice begets vice marring what otherwise might be a beautiful life and soul. Not that I'm judging them, mind you, for these artists probably blur the distinctions between their stages names and their personal lives all the time whether they want to or not. One minute they may be their original self, the next their public persona for the fans. But this begs all kinds of questions: Which is their true self? Are they both their true selves? How do you balance multiple personalities?

It’s no surprise that so many of these artists experience difficulty in maintaining stable relationships, frequently marrying and divorcing again and again and again. Since their lives border upon a voluntary schizophrenia, it must be very difficult to live with, let alone marry, someone who can never be him or herself, whichever self that may be at any given moment. Fame may open the door to a materialist’s heaven, but it also opens the door to personal failure and incredible temptations to addiction. I mean wearing a mask for the public day in and day out must qualify as a kind of commercial addiction, right?

This brings me to the crux of the matter. As entertaining as I may find Lady Gaga’s music, I would much rather spend the day with and get to know the quirky Stefani Germanotta than her theatrical persona. Unfortunately, that past self may have fallen into oblivion with the genesis of her alter ego, but maybe, just maybe, her first self is there, too. And that goes for the rest of these artists as well. I wish they would just be themselves and not strive to create some marketing guru’s notions of what we really want to see or should see.

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