Elvis in all his "hairspray and denim" glory in the film Jailhouse Rock.
By Christopher Cole
Lady Gaga sure does have a thing for Americana. In fact, all of her music incorporates American pop culture in some way. So for the very first song she recorded with her musical partner RedOne, “Boys, Boys, Boys,” Gaga treats the macho man as an American icon, but of course Gaga being Gaga, she establishes the status quo and then inverts it.
There’s logic to Gaga’s Monster Ball tour where Gaga follows “Love Game” with “Boys, Boys, Boys,” because the two songs are linked by one thing: glorification of the classic American male by way of cheeky signifiers. Gaga even used some of the trumpets from the “Boys” chorus and mashed them with “LoveGame” when she performed “LoveGame” on Saturday Night Live in 2009.
RedOne’s track is a two-toned rumble of 80’s slasher-film strings, jubilant trumpets and lots of bass. Gaga adds the lyrics and “top line” of the song (the melody driving the lyrics) in the style of AC/DC’s hard rock music. Think of AC/DC’s 1980 hit “Shook Me All Night Long” and you’ll get the picture. Writer Ann Powers explains the rock sentiment of “Boys” in her feature article “Frank Talk with Lady Gaga” on the Los Angeles Times website: “She notes that “Boys, Boys, Boys (…) is a club track that borrows its “gang chorus” from the hard rock of AC/DC . ‘I told him I want to make pop music that my heavy metal friends will listen to,’ she [Gaga] explained (Powers). The “gang chorus” is like a shout-out refrain that has some punk sensibilities underlying it.
It’s in this gang chorus that Gaga pays homage to American male icons like Elvis Priestly. Gaga sings the lyrics in full voice “We like boys in cars/boys, boys, boys/buy us drinks in bars/boys, boys, boy/with hairspray and denim/and boys, boys, boys.” The lyric “hairspray and denim” brings to mind Elvis in the 1957 film Jailhouse Rock, where he wore denim jeans and a hairspray-assisted pompadour hairstyle.
Still, it’s in the way Gaga brings those vivid lyrics to life through visuals that she’s most known for, and that comes when she performs. On her Monster Ball arena tour, Gaga has begun wearing a skeletal glove on hand complete with spindly fingers, looking like something she picked up from the costume shop for Halloween. When I saw the glove, I instantly linked it with the monster concept of The Fame Monster album, although “Boys” is from The Fame album. But the skeleton glove is related to the synthesized strings on “Boys” that play during the verses, and the strings sound like they came from a John Carpenter horror movie from the 80’s. I get the sense that the skeleton glove is related to the usually male villain of those 80’s horror movies, like Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees, who also qualify as male American icons. The dark, ominous backing track on the verse parts is a stark contrast to the euphoric chorus; the chorus is the light to the verses’ dark.
Lady Gaga performs "Boys" wearing skeleton glove.
Another way Gaga brings the songs to life visually is through the choreography that the renowned Laurie Ann Gibson creates for Gaga. The choreography that Gibson created for “Boys” connects to the main theme of man as icon. So that’s explains all the muscle-flexing. There’s also simulation of driving a car (“we like boys in cars”), guzzling beer (“buy us drinks in bars”), and washing a car (“we hairspray and denim,” which is a signifier of not only Elvis, but the 50’s in general). The gyrating of shirtless bodies and codpieces signify the sexual element of the “Boys” performance. Unsurprisingly, Gaga performs “Boys” with only male dancers, and she doesn’t interact with them at all during the performance. She doesn’t even take one look at them. Gaga does this deliberately for the purpose of letting her male dancers exist as fantasies for the many gay and bisexual men in the audience, so she doesn’t want to interfere with the fantasies of her audience. In relation, when Gaga intros the “Boys” performance with “Sing about your gay pride, you just kicked Prop 8’s ass,” the song’s gay context is clear, and this context links back to the horror strings of the verses and the skeleton glove, which seems to ask the question: what do you consider scary? Many people view homosexuality as scary, and Gaga points to this in a creative way.
Eventually, Lady Gaga leaves the stage halfway into the song, leaving her male dancers to show off their cheeky dance moves; Gaga leaves the stage because she wants the audience to soak in the gayness without compromise, without heterosexual sugarcoating. Gaga is giving her gay and bisexual male fans a moment dedicated to them.
Link to performance of "Boys, Boys, Boys": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QnF0QmUHlIk
Powers, Ann. “Frank Talk With Lady Gaga.” Los Angeles Times. 13 December 2009. Web.