When Lady Gaga proclaimed ‘‘I’m a power bottom!’’ in an interview promoting her latest LP ARTPOP, she sounded at best like an exceptionally self-aware sitcom fag hag, and at worst like a pandering dumbass. Stripped of their proper context, her words might seem a groan-worthy sound bite if there ever was one, but framed by the Zedd-assisted LoveGame-on-steroids G.U.Y., they are conferred unforeseen dimension. The release of this third single (whose initialed title stands for ‘Girl Under You’) happens at a moment where it is hard not to perceive Gaga’s brand of fizzy electronica and larger-than-life theatricality as pretty superfluous to the current pop climate. ARTPOP’s not-terrible but generally underwhelming sales and light radio presence confirmed just that. Not helping things at all was the shelving of a Terry Richardson-directed video for Do What U Want, a fantastic song done wrong by under the wire marketing and legal issues.
And yet, helmed by Gaga herself— her second directing credit following the similarly gonzo epic Marry The Night– G.U.Y. proves to be a stunning ass music video. Sure, shooting roughly 80% of it at Hearst Castle tends to help with such things. But what strikes the fancy here isn’t at all the postcard prestige of a site on the National Register of Historic Places, but rather how well-kneaded the Lady’s grab-bag of crazy, incongruous references reveal themselves, and how shrewdly they fill up the grandiose décor. Whereas her contemporaries and even herself in past have been heavily reliant on two-dimensional soundstages as music video backdrops (the brain-dead cartoon Ancient Egypt scenery of Katy Perry’s recent hit Dark Horse comes to mind), here the immersive Hearst Castle property is simultaneously inhabited by Gaga’s mythology in arts 101 class imagery, modern day ‘low culture’ signifiers like Minecraft or TV’s The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, nods to contemporary artists such as Nathan Sawaya and the iconic figures of Gandhi, Michael Jackson & John Lennon.
As stated by the singer, the short film is basically an extended metaphor for the turbulent past year of her life. It is given two intros that showcase abridged versions of the title track and the loopy Venus. The former, depicting the diva as a fallen archangel surrounded by men in suits battling each other as heaps of green bills float around, illustrates periods of career struggle such as when a hip injury forced Gaga to cancel remaining Born This Way Ball tour dates, and later when she cut ties with a sizeable portion of her management team, letting go of those Judases who could only back her up during the most lucrative of days. The latter is a Felliniesque/Juliet of the Spirits garden party 60s extravaganza symbolizing her time of convalescence and reinvigoration, when her new real-life boyfriend sexually reawakened her and she relearned how to take some time off for herself, namely by watching Bravo (Andy Cohen of the network cameos as God’s face in the clouds, because why the fuck not).
And so begins the portion of the so-called ‘power bottom anthem’ G.U.Y. ‘‘As a new age feminist, I would say I quite like the transference of strength I feel by submitting to a man – being under him (…) Wearing make-up, smelling delicious and having suckable, kissable, edible things between your limbs is something I find strengthening because I know that when I pick the right guy, I can let him have it. Some women feel oppressed by make-up and clothing, and here’s to them, they have every right to feel that way as well.’’ Gaga’s discourse, if not particularly well-documented, is a most unusual topic to be brought forward by the lyrics of a dance-pop single. ‘‘I’m gonna wear the tie / The power to leave you / I’m aiming for full control of this love’’ she sings, the camera gliding around her skinny yet shapely figure at the center of K-Pop sets populated by her troupe, and the straight viewer salivates over her shit-hot physique while the homos scan every frame for every fucking fabulous bit of avant-garde fashion.
Right when the whole affair seems at a risk of lulling us by its succession of such tableaux’s, something special happens around the song’s middle eight. G.U.Y. departs Castle grounds to follow Gaga and her crew of black leather-clad avengers, housewives comprised, on their way to exert revenge upon the suited executives seen in the prologue. The men are assaulted in their own office space, their existence to be swapped with a perfect clone breed of chiseled Versace models all thanks to a serum genetically concocted from the blood of Ghandi/MJ/Lennon/Jesus Christ. The supreme g.u.y.’s end up right about to roam the earth as the video comes to a close. Points taken out for having the lousy MANiCURE randomly play over the credits, which roll for four of the video’s eleven minute runtime, but really, you can’t make this stuff up, and the gesture comes across as a generous acknowledgement of a whole collaborative team of artists and craftspeople whose individual contributions breathed life into a production of such monstrous scale.
‘‘I don’t need to be on top / To know I’m wanted / ‘Cause I’m strong enough to know the truth’’ is a line which, seen through the lens of Gaga’s manifesto for willing submissiveness in a relationship, is sung so defiantly it can’t help but sound persuasive despite being so divisive by nature. It would be all the more interesting to read it as emblematic of the current state of the superstar’s career, which during the ARTPOP era has witnessed her shrink from ‘only real pop star around’ status (quoting Pitchfork!) to just another quirky big-budget act on the side. But G.U.Y. is a great return to form for being so damn compelling as it declares that even though Lady Gaga might now occupy far less space than she did during her phenomenal entry within the pop sphere, she remains unbothered knowing she is in full control of her relationship to the public.