March 14, 2014

Lady Gaga's keynote at SXSW: No compromise

Don't sell out, sell in. That was the crux of Lady Gaga's keynote Friday at the South by Southwest Music Festival.

Don't sell out, sell in.

That was the crux of Lady Gaga's keynote Friday at the South by Southwest Music Festival.

During her one-hour Q&A with moderator John Norris of MTV in the grand ballroom of the Sheraton hotel in downtown Austin, Gaga (born Stefani Germanotta) addressed several issues, including corporate sponsorship of music events, but her recurring theme was about authenticity. Music is a business, she acknowledged, but the true artist stays true to her creative spirit and doesn't compromise or conform for the sake of success.

All power and control should be in the hands of the artist, not the bean counters, she said, and the motivation should be to create, not become rich and famous.

Her remarks were delivered the morning after her performance at Stubbs on Thursday night, a show that generated a lot of reaction for its provocative content, which included some self-induced vomiting by performance artist Millie Brown and Gaga getting basted in barbecue sauce and roasted on a spit, as if she were a pig.

"We wanted to do something in the spirit of what South by Southwest has always been about," she said, "which is creating a real connection between the fan and the artist.

"I actually spent the first four days I was here going out to see music and experiencing the atmosphere. I really built a set around Austin.

"It was exciting to see people taking about performance art on the internet and debating whether it's art or not. I'm so deeply passionate about any person who has a talent, who has an artistic spirit they believe in.

"Sometime things that are really strange and feel really wrong can change the world. I'm not saying vomit is going to change the world. What I'm saying is it's the idea of a moment where it's truly just what we wanted to create and us just respecting each other as artists was enough for the performance to be worth it."

Addressing her latest album, "Artpop," and a new video she will release next week, Gaga said she only wants to express a spirit that is deeply creative and rebellious.

"(It's) about freeing yourself of the expectations of the music industry and the expectations of the status quo," she said. "I never liked having my skirt measured for me in school or told how to do things or the rules to live by. As you become more successful, they start to push the rule book closer and closer to you and say 'Now you're here. How are you going to maintain it?' Really what 'Art Pop' is all about is the truest way for us to maintain the music industry is to put all the power back into the hands of the artist."

The root of the problem is the importance of sales and charts, she said, and an industry that channels its artists toward being commercially successful foremost.

"When you do that, you take the power out of the hands of the artists and into the hands of a corporation," she said. "That means you, at home with your guitar, have less of a chance of making it happen on your own because you need someone in a corporate tower somewhere telling you, No, this is how you do it; this is how you're going to make it.' I don't think any of us want that to be dictating the music we listen to."

The topic of corporate sponsorship was raised because Gaga's show at Stubbs was sponsored by Doritos. She was not having the griping over it.

"Whoever is writing or saying all that, they don't know (bleep) about the state of the music industry," she said.

"It's about how the artist chooses to engage in these sorts of relationships. What's the type of the relationship? What's the philosophy behind the collaboration? Do you have things in common? When you come to do the performance, how much time do you out into it? Do you really care about the show or are you just taking a check and showing up? Are you coming to Austin for the press or do you want to have a real connection with your fans?

"The most important thing to remember is that all these things people are saying are just to inspire clicks to their web sites. They want to be the first person to say the thing that everybody reads. But the truth is Without sponsorships, without companies coming together to help us, we won't have any more artists in Austin, we won't have any more festivals because record labels don't have any (bleeping) money."

And she reiterated her mantra about individualism and her passion about nurturing and expressing the creative spirit.

"At the end of the day, nobody's going to remember what you tweeted when you die. No one's going to remember your web content. What's going to be remembered is those magical moments you have helped create, bringing artist and the arts community together ... I've been talking so much about creative rebellion because it's like, what are we as an industry if we are not telling ourselves to be creative? What are we? What are we doing? What is happening? Why is it a prison? Why are we allowing it to be a prison?"

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