Lady Gaga, Lolly Pop, and Fashion Piracy
Did you know Semi Precious Weapons are coming to Xcel Energy Center on August 30 & 31? Did you know Lady Gaga will be with them? Yeah, you probably did. It was nice of those guys to let her hitch a ride on tour with them. They’re a great band, and did you know Semi Precious Weapons had an inspirational role in the creation of Borangutan back in 2008 when they played a Tuesday evening show at the 7th Street Entry? No kidding. They’re just one of a few connections I have to Lady Gaga – not personal connections, mind you, but experiential ones.
With Lady Gaga coming to town next week it seems like a good time to lay bare another experiential connection I have to the Fame Monster. That connection is local POP INC artist Brooke Aldridge who I’ve been acquainted with for many years and who possesses distinct Gaga connections of her own. What does Brooke Aldridge have to do with Lady Gaga? The truth is – not much, but there is one important sticking point that makes her connection to Lady Gaga tragically unoriginal. Brooke Aldridge (aka. Lolly Pop) is one of the many beneficiaries of Lady Gaga’s fashion piracy.
What is fashion piracy? For this article’s purpose, I might just define it as the mining of fashion ideas from images on websites and the follow-up implementation of those ideas through fashion designs offline. This is a crude yet instructive definition and may or may not be representative of legal terminology that is currently being used to pass legislation on this issue (in fact, it’s most likely not). Rather than burden anyone with too much info on the topic, I’ll instead encourage people to visit the website of the legal movement at http://www.stopfashionpiracy.com. Fashion piracy (as I define it) as it is practiced today would have been impossible or only marginally useful 15 years ago. People certainly stole the fashion ideas of others back then, but without the worldwide web in place it was difficult to accomplish it on the level now so easily attainable.
Lady Gaga has been accused of fashion piracy (implicitly, if not explicitly) by various artists including Grace Jones, Britney Speares, Roisin Murphy, and Kerli. Heck, even Timbaland has gotten in on the action! But what exactly did Lady Gaga do? She stole ideas as evidenced by the artists (Timbaland aside) – but what she didn’t do is steal the design off someone’s back and don an exact replica of someone else’s wardrobe. Nevertheless, this has understandably angered many, and in Lolly Pop’s case, the examples are no less poignant than in others. See for yourself. Lady Gaga photos are from 2010, Lolly Pop photos date 2004-2007 and earlier.
This is only a sample of the examples made available on the Lolly Pop Has Been Knicked by Lady Gaga fan page.
The reality of the situation is that Lady Gaga has not blatantly broken any American laws by piggybacking off the ideas of other artists. Has she tightrope walked ethical boundaries? You bet she has, but as a marketer it’s worth mentioning that what she (or rather, her people) has been doing is par for the course, and actually, it’s good practice. Lady Gaga’s marketers obviously partake in regular coolhunting expeditions online. How do I know this? Because, I give them a lot of credit – they’re very good at what they do (and I mean very good), and if they didn’t coolhunt, well, let’s just say Gaga would still resemble a Beetlejuice character as she did in 2006. If nothing else, two things can be said of great marketers: they never miss a beat in their industry, and they never reveal their precise methods (which in most cases, are pretty straight forward in practice… like a coolhunt).
Yet if Lady Gaga isn’t breaking any laws in her home country, and the ethical boundaries aren’t clearly drawn, and her marketers are in effect “just doing their jobs,” then what is the fuss? Many of the artists that have been subjected to Lady Gaga’s fashion piracy would like some acknowledgement or recognition, but a search through cyberspace reveals that vocalizing this can be risky business with armies of Gaga fans lurking around every corner waiting to defend their sweetheart tooth and nail. Their first inclination; hate the “Gaga haters,” and then vehemently discredit them.
As a means to establish some credibility for someone who hasn’t the name recognition, I did a little background work to get more details about Lolly Pop’s pedigree of ideas, origination, and originality. I spoke with Monte Moir of Morris Day and the Time, who performed alongside Rhianna at the Grammy Awards back in 2008. Moir was also a band leader on Lolly Pop’s Glamorous Tour in 2006. I also spoke with Nadine Light, a former member of pre-Lolly Pop outfit Telephone! (another Brooke Aldridge project) and later an on-air personality at ENERGY 92.7 FM in San Francisco where she worked with DJ Trevor Simpson, an early Gaga supporter and reputable re-mixer of her song “Just Dance.” Here is what they had to say about Lolly Pop and the peculiar touchpoints between her and Lady Gaga.
(Interviews were conducted separately, not in conjunction)
A Short Q&A with Monte Moir
Skelly: How did you and Lolly Pop initially meet?
Monte Moir: We met after a Time show in Minneapolis. She introduced herself and handed me her Telephone CD.
Skelly: What was it about her that captured your attention and ultimately led to your collaborations?
MM: I thought she had some great musical and conceptual ideas. She’s also highly energetic and driven.
Skelly: You were band leader on Lolly Pop’s Glamorous Tour. There was definitely a strong artistic element to that tour set apart from the music – could you tell us a little about that?
MM: It was very artistic in the sense that music and theatre were combined. It was the telling of a story. It was indeed an electro-pop-opera albeit on a shoestring budget.
Skelly: I’ve read some materials online that reveal some interesting similarities between Lady Gaga’s Monsterball and Telephone efforts and those of Lolly Pop circa 2006-7, could you comment on that?
MM: Others have stated many similarities in detail which I don’t feel a need to go into again but I will say Brooke was on the cutting edge of the electro pop movement.
She was releasing electro-pop CDs a few years before Lady Gaga and even Gwen Stefani’s 2004 electro-pop type CD. Now I’m a fan of both Gaga and Gwen Stefani, but it’s unfortunate for those involved in pioneering a movement (as Brooke has been) because sometimes they don’t get the recognition they deserve.
A Short Q&A with Nadine Light
Skelly: When did you first meet Brooke/Lolly Pop?
Nadine Light: Lolly Pop and I first met around 2003 through another Twin Cities based musician.
Skelly: What was it about Lolly Pop that made her a unique artist?
NL: While other bands were simply playing their songs at shows she had an entire theme and performance set up, all the way down to choreography. There was a storyline that flowed through the songs, and in-character dialogue onstage that tied them together. Especially in the 2006 album, a story runs from start to finish- truly making it an electro pop opera.
To only listen to the album and not see an actual show would be robbing yourself of the full experience. Lolly Pop doesn’t play shows – she IS a show.
Skelly: I’ve been informed that you received Lady Gaga’s promotional material from Energy management while working on the West Coast. What was your reaction?
NL: As far as promotional materials go, I don’t think I ever saw more than just an autographed photo of her (Lady Gaga) in the studio, and quite frankly I thought “wow, that’s some weird outfit she’s got on. Lolly Pop would so do something like that.”
It wasn’t until I was online researching info about her to talk about on the air and came across her MySpace profile bio that I was really taken aback. Minus some of the [Lolly Pop] bits about spending time in Africa – it was practically like Gaga copied and pasted Lolly Pop’s background info.
I remember calling a few friends back in Minneapolis who had seen Lolly Pop’s shows and MySpace page and we were all pretty surprised at how strikingly similar the bios were. Adding to the possibility of it being more than pure circumstance was that Gaga and Lolly Pop were MySpace friends. (This of course being way before Gaga’s friend/fan numbers were in the hundreds of thousands.)
Skelly: What did you think of Lady Gaga’s stage show later that year?
NL: The winter of 2008, Lady Gaga was a co-headliner at the winter concert that my station (Energy 92.7) put on every year.
It was sort of sweet and sour to see Lolly Pop’s dream realized – but by someone else. Especially after the way-too-similar MySpace bios that I came across earlier. The Lady Gaga stage show seemed like something ripped from the pages of a Lolly Pop choreography book written long before. It was the show that Lolly Pop would have had if she had more financial backing than what you get when you are a starving artist.
Lolly Pop is in a situation that I don’t envy in the least. She has been working selflessly and tirelessly for years with electro artists from around the country (and producers overseas) to help grow the genre- whether it be organizing tours and fund raising shows, or contributing to compilation albums.
How thrilling for a genre to become mainstream that you’ve worked so long and hard to have recognized… and how discouraging to hear the face of that genre [Gaga] say that she is “The First” (ie: naming her tour “first ever/world’s first”).
When Lady Gaga comes to the Xcel Energy Center next week adoring fans will scream and swoon over the pop idol, something that local artist Brooke Aldridge has probably dreamt of since her earliest performing days. Yet for her and others (including Lady Gaga) who stand upon the shoulders of true giants such as David Bowie, Cher, Madonna, and Michael Jackson, they may likely never experience a similar reception. The crux of the issue is not a matter of artists emulating the generalities of their forebears; it’s a matter of artists pirating particulars from them and their contemporaries. Among artists, there is a difference between public anachronism onstage and the quiet assertion over ownership of a creative idea that did not originate from within (especially if money is involved)! The former is flattery, the latter is contemptuous, and once money is involved, exploitative.
Regardless of where anyone stands on the issue of Lady Gaga and fashion piracy, one thing is for certain: that which made her will ultimately decide her legacy as well. Lady Gaga has not only benefited from money, but she has benefited from the coolhunt friendly nature of social media (so much so, she’s now crowned herself the Queen of Twitter). On the topic of fashion piracy Lady Gaga’s marketing machine, like the government in the television show The X-Files, will likely continue to deny everything until the end, but as so many of us who study marketing in social media know, one ignores a social media storm to one’s own peril. That which perpetuated Lady Gaga’s alluring personality may ultimately leave it forever disfigured. That is, of course, unless her, her marketers, and PR people decide to address it.
What say you all? Is the better analogy for Lady Gaga’s fashion marketing strategies a slap to the face, or a slap on the wrist? For my part, I’ll just be interested to see how this all plays out.
More detailed and in depth information on the juxtaposition of Lolly Pop and Lady Gaga may be found through the following link.
posted August 26th, 2010 at 3:06 pm Music News