A couple days ago, as part of a “First Look” online teaser for their new print edition, Esquire UK shared a few quotes from their new cover story on Jack White, and those quotes included what appeared to be a shot at Lady Gaga. Said White of La Ga, “I don’t think she lives it because it’s all artifice. It’s all image with no meaning behind it. You can’t sink your teeth into it. It’s a sound bite. It’s very of this age, because that’s what people want.”
As disses go, that’s pretty benign — Gaga would probably embrace that description, frankly. However, the line was immediately picked up by news outlets Rolling Stone and NME, among others, who repackaged the quote to be not a critique of celebrity culture, but of Gaga’s music. Now FWIW I’ll bet White absolutely hates her music, but that was plainly not what he was being asked about, nor what he was trying to communicate. Anyway, in response to the tabloid sensationalism, White reacted with a post on his Third Man Records site today, in which he said more or less exactly that (sans the part about hating her music, which is purely my own assumption):
I’d like to address the recent tabloidesque drama baiting by the press in regards to Lady Gaga. I never said anything about her music, or questioned the authenticity of her songs in any way. I was in a conversation about the drawbacks of image for the sake of image, and that it is popular nowadays to not question an image in front of you, but only to label it as “cool” or “weird” quickly and dispose of it. I don’t like my comments about lady gaga’s presentation being changed into some sort of negative critique of her music. If you’re going to try to cause drama, at least get the quotes right. I think journalists should also be held accountable for what they say. Especially publications like the NME who put whatever words they feel like between two quotation marks and play it off as a quote. Maybe somebody with more lawyers can take them to task, but i’ll just use the Internet and Twitter instead. I also think that kind of tabloid drama encourages artists to not express their opinions in the press, and instead give polite soundbites that don’t stimulate thought about creativity and the consumption of art in its many guises.
Peace to Lady Gaga and I fully congratulate and compliment her on her championing of gay rights issues and the momentum it’s given to help create change.
He’s right, of course, although it bears noting that the original quote — the one eventually distorted by NME and Rolling Stone — was provided with virtually no context as part of a preview via Esquire — the magazine on whose cover White is featured. And the lead-in for that quote was:
Amongst other things, the fiercely opinionated White gives his take on Twitter (not keen), the state of modern celebrity (also not keen) and Lady Gaga (even less keen).
So yeah, NME and Rolling Stone misrepresented the quote, but it’s hardly as though Esquire is blameless here; I’d argue they were the worst offenders in this dispute. (When did White say he’s not keen on Lady Gaga?) Maybe White doesn’t realize that? Or maybe he’s hesitant to rip the magazine while also starring as its cover boy? Anyway, Pitchfork got their mitts on the quote in context, and it’s no more exciting or inflammatory than it was in truncated form:
Many of our conversational strands end up being rerouted to what celebrity means in the current age, about what it is to be an artist. It’s obviously something that he’s thought about a lot, and which troubles him sometimes.
“The goal of modern celebrity,” he begins, “is to make yourself into the lowest common denominator. ‘Hey, I’m a guy just like you. I like a beer, a football game…’ Especially in reality television, you’ll see people will go so far as to make a fool out of themselves just to prove that. I don’t want to see a reality show about Michelangelo. You know, Clint Eastwood is doing one with his family [Mrs. Eastwood & Company] and it’s such a disappointment. Forget the speech, man,” he says, referring to the Hollywood actor’s bizarre monologue at the Republican National Convention in Florida in August. “The speech was cool compared to that. There’s no reason to put yourself in a position that makes things completely unspecial.”
Does that mean Lady Gaga, who has been known to cook pasta at home in a wig and Louboutin heels, is an example of a celebrity who really lives their vision?
“I don’t think she lives it,” says White, “because it’s all artifice. It’s all image with no meaning behind it. You can’t sink your teeth into it. It’s a sound bite. It’s very of this age, because that’s what people want. They want a Twitter line, a Gif, a Jpeg, an MP3. Twitter is the most perfect example of modern living. It’s very interesting. You know, just a side opinion about Twitter,” and he’s off: “I think the only people who should have [Twitter accounts] are comedians. Because it’s all about one-liners. I would love it if Conan O’Brien or Reggie Watts or Stephen Colbert were to walk into a room and tell me one joke and leave. But you don’t want Gore Vidal telling you ‘I’m doing my dishes right now’.”
Yeah. Eh. The standard refrain; pretty tame stuff. Unless … maybe someone can spin this into a story about a Jack White/Gore Vidal beef?