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From Camille Paglia/ The Sunday Times

Lady Gaga never saw it coming. After a relentless, mammoth, publicity extravaganza for her new album, ArtPop, she was upstaged by a comet seeming to swoop in out of nowhere — the release of Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP 2. Eminem’s sales boomed big, while Gaga’s embarrassingly fizzled, leading to quick deep discounts to keep ArtPop on the charts.

Eminem, now 41, did few interviews and personal appearances for this formidable double album. As with Adele sweeping the Grammys two years ago, his instant commercial triumph demonstrates the readiness of a discerning world public to respond to power and passion of voice rather than to manipulative gimmicks or exhibitionistic stunts.

The greatest irony is that Gaga, product of an affluent Manhattan home and a private-school education, had boasted that ArtPop would be the album of the millennium in fusing popular culture with art. She hired Jeff Koons to design the cover, which features a vacuous Koons sculpture of a spread-legged Gaga, backed by a crassly ripped strip of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. During a London TV interview, Gaga betrayed her limited art knowledge by bizarrely identifying that great Renaissance painting as the Venus de Milo, a notoriously armless late-Greek marble.

Gaga with her constant costume tat fatigues the eye, says Camille Paglia (Target Presse)

But it turned out to be Eminem, a high-school dropout from a squalid trailer-trash past, who has produced the true work of art. I have been arguing for years that the avant-garde is dead, that it ended the moment my hero Andy Warhol cheekily embraced commercial popular culture. But Eminem, with his churning nightmare visions and brutally raw hatreds, has proved that authentic avant-garde shocks are still possible. After a first listen, I wrote to a friend, “This album slaughters all p.c. taboos.”

I used to regard white rap – Vanilla Ice, the Beastie Boys – as little more than posturing, crotch-grabbing minstrelsy. Hence my shock and awe when I heard a tremendous song bursting from my car radio last year: it was The Monster, Eminem’s duet with Rihanna, his seething machine-gun delivery alternating with her robust, pensive contralto. It was like a conversion experience — Saul struck by lightning on the road to Damascus. . . .

His new album, with all its tormented veering between craving and disgust dramatically demonstrates how much deeper Eminem’s view of women is than that of his rap precursors and peers, who are stuck in tedious formulas of male sexual prowess and booty-wagging female compliance.

Note to Lady Gaga. Left is the Venus de Milo, a sculpture by Alexandros of Antioch (c100BC). Not to be confused with Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus (a 15th-century painting) (Sipa Press; Franco Origlia)

With amazing candor and clarity, Eminem has shown the full spectrum of male emotions on his albums, from a cooing tenderness toward children to ranting arias of betrayal and revenge. We see in him the agonizing ambivalence that is one of the principal engines of obsessive art-making from Michelangelo to Picasso…

Gaga with her constant costume tat fatigues the eye. Eminem in his simple hoodie looks like an ascetic monk, fed on apparitions and devoted to art.

To read the full article, go to The Sunday Times Magazine


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