About a year ago, I reviewed Lady Gaga's Monster Ball show at American Airlines Arena. She spoke endlessly and earnestly with the audience, offering them a slew of unwarranted but well-received bits of advice. Though not the aesthetic, the activity and energy reminded me of an Ani DiFranco concert circa 1995. To mark my words:
Not since a 1990-something Ani DiFranco show has so much talking been heard coming from the stage at a concert. The funny thing is, Lady Gaga's performance last night was as heartfelt, loving, unironic, and sincere as an Ani show. (If you're too young to remember DiFranco, please use Google.) It's like Mother Monster's got all of Madonna's gimmicks -- the Jesus, the cone boobs, etc. But she still comes off like DiFranco -- kinda gay, caring but strange, though less earthy, definitely less earthy than Ani.
Since Gaga launched the Body Revolution 2013 this week, celebrating the human form in all of its many unusual shapes, my feelings on the subject have been solidified. And now I'm certain these two Italian-American non-trad divas are more than just a little similar.
Five Reasons to See Lady Gaga in Fort Lauderdale
Let me start by saying, I am no expert on Lady Gaga or Ani DiFranco. I've seen both in concert and know at least two handfuls of each's songs. OK, let's begin.
The first thing that struck me when watching Mother Monster on her busy stage was that she chatted comfortably with fans. In -- who knows? -- 2000, Ani took the stage of the then Jackie Gleason Theater on South Beach, and man, did that chick talk! She was, like Gaga is today, very much inspirational. Her crowd adored her and even sat through her spoken-word sesh, something that, today seems really corny and was always really corny, but, well, we all dabbled.
Both ladies have no sense of irony about their relationship with their fans, but they also don't lack a sense of humor generally. They are completely engrossed in the moment and experience of having this type of power. And they take their role as queen bee seriously and with the utmost responsibility.
Ani was, or is, bisexual. Like that was kind of her thing back in the day. But everyone was bi in the '90s. Lesbe honest. She gave a voice to the women of the day but also to the gay community. Her vibe isn't all party time, like Madonna-gay; it's more like it offers a safe space. Her ethos recognizes that it's hard to be gay or a woman and encourages us all to feel and be empowered by our differences. Very postmodern. Very feminist. Love it.
Just like Gaga came out this week as a sufferer of bulimia and anorexia, back in the day, Ani came clean about being raped as a young woman. Certainly women aren't the only people who have eating disorders or who've been raped, but these are largely understood to be female issues.
Before Gaga launched this Body Revolution, she was a musician who, it seemed, held feminist ideals, but with this new campaign, she's an activist, an actual feminist. Ani was an icon for female independence. When she launched Righteous Babe Records, she was a trailblazer for those in the music industry and for powerful gals. Both performers are doing what other pop artists only sing about. Gaga offers today's "weird" women the same kind of comforting environment and provides them with a good example of self-awareness and worth, as did Ani back in her heyday.
Though Gaga's stage is packed with painted dancers and gimmicky props and Ani's has merely a lady with a guitar (and, when I saw her, dreads), they both are conveying a similar message of empowerment. You don't have to look alike to be alike. Also, the '90s were all about a stripped-down aesthetic, whereas today, you have to have some flash onstage to compete with the internet. Their individual appeals are appropriate for their eras.
All superficiality aside and based on the above, I'm comfortable proclaiming that Lady Gaga is the Ani DiFranco of today.
Side note: There's a similar argument to be made here with Tori Amos, but, really, what has Tori done for us lately?
Ani DiFranco performs at 8 p.m. October 20, Culture Room, 3045 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale.
Lady Gaga performs March 15 at BB&T, 1 Panther Parkway, Sunrise.
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