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Lackluster Lilith Fair Sales Blamed on Gaga Nation

July 29, 2010

[caption id="attachment_9393" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Lilith's 2010 mission to "just have fun" thwarted by poor sales (courtesy of chartrigger)"]Lilith's 2010 mission to "just have fun" thwarted by poor sales[/caption] Is the outrageousness of the Lady Gaga era to blame for the lackluster ticket sales to this year’s revival of Lilith Fair? New York Times writer Jon Caramanica certainly thinks so, as evidenced in his recent piece titled, “Girl Pop’s Lady Gaga Makeover.”   He opens with a blunt undercut to Gaga, saying that “no one in recent pop memory has been a greater enemy to the authentic than Lady Gaga,” and continues on to describe her songs as “perfectly blank, mere skeletons to drape herself around.” Caramanica further cites Gaga’s brand of meticulously constructed performance both onstage and in life as a death knell for Lilith Fair, whose “aesthetics,” he contends, “haven’t aged well” by comparison. Caramanica also dips his toe into defining a “new feminism” that has supposedly arisen out of Lady Gaga’s “Halloween-costume empowerment,” writing that it “is more about the opportunity to make choices than about any specific choice itself." He contends that the hyper-sexual nature of Gaga and her contemporaries are the “assassination” of Lilith Fair ideals, and thus responsible for Lilith’s disappointing ticket sales and recent cancellation of ten dates. Caramanica’s article is confusing, not because the argument is inherently so but because while he makes some good points and all the right connections, I’m honestly tired of Lady Gaga being the catalyst for this kind of conversation. The constant shift and readjusting of mainstream pop is the nature of the beast, and it’s been long established that Gaga’s pop empire builds upon the success of Madonna’s sexualized precedent (a fact that Caramanica also acknowledges). Even as someone who likes her music and admires her open sexuality, I admit that Lady Gaga is not an entirely original concept. Her outrageous, aggressively alternative persona and larger-than-life sets are also completely at odds with the basic pop music she produces—delivered with a wink, to be sure, but basic nonetheless. With that out of the way, I came to the following conclusion—the lackluster ticket sales for Lilith Fair are, when it comes down to it, Lilith’s fault. I got there by recognizing that the only shaky logistical point that Caramanica makes in the article is, in fact, the most important to his argument. “The age of Gaga actually began a decade ago,” he writes, “with the arrival of Britney Spears and [Christina] Aguilera. At the time it felt like the assassination of Lilith ideals: these singers were young, they were visually ostentatious, and they gave little away emotionally.” He forgets, however, what I as a Generation Y girl who counted down to the arrival of Britney and Christina’s albums cannot—that they burst onto the mainstream pop scene in 1997, the year that Lilith 1.0 was launched. The fact that Lilith Fair grossed $16 million in that first year (and was the top-grossing festival of 1997 to boot) proves that both extremes of “Hit Me Baby (One More Time)” Britney and Lilith Fair co-existed quite peacefully, with Lilith even winning out. So why not now? [caption id="attachment_9398" align="alignright" width="300" caption="a 1998 Lilith Fair crowd"]a 1998 Lilith Fair crowd[/caption] The fact of the matter is that Lilith and those who participated could never be identified as mainstream “girl pop.” On the contrary, Lilith was a beacon for people who identified outside of that mainstream. Lilith ultimately failed to get off the ground this year because it forgot its original message, and failed to reach out to their feminist roots as a result. I just graduated from hyper-feminist Smith College and am known amongst my friend groups as “The One Who Has An Eerie Knowledge of Pop Culture,” and yet I only heard about Lilith Fair returning on Facebook by accident because two students were campaigning to take part. Lilith needs to remind us why it is special if it wants to thrive and inspire future generations. It needs to remind us why the “new feminism” Caramanica describes as creating opportunity where there is none has always been a part of feminism, and publicly celebrate Lilith’s part in helping it be part of today’s mainstream. It needs to reclaim its message and remember that the Fair didn’t attract 1.5 million attendees by sole virtue of its all-female lineup, but because of its defiance of industry norms and showcasing of extraordinary talent. Lilith’s feminist roots are timeless; it’s high time that Lilith Fair itself recognized them as such.