Here’s the part that’s NOT in debate about the May cover of Washingtonian magazine: Barack Obama looks pretty darned good in a swimsuit – especially for a president. What IS being debated are issues of propriety and ethics. Was it disrespectful to display the presidential pecs – alongside a headline calling the chief executive “hot”? And, in a separate journalistic flap, was it wrong to alter the color of his swimsuit from black (or dark navy) to a bright red? Before you ask the obvious – why would they WANT to change the color? – let’s first recall the photo, one of those paparazzi shots that surfaced on the Web in December during Obama’s preinaugural trip to Hawaii. The president-elect wore dark sunglasses as he strolled in his swimsuit, water bottle in one hand, what looked like a bunched-up T-shirt in the other. At the time, some thought the photos from the Bauer-Griffin agency unseemly – and wondered how the photographer managed to get them. But there was also plenty of praise for, well, the state of the presidential bod. This wasn’t exactly the rotund William Howard Taft we were talking about: “O!” was the succinct headline on the Huffington Post Web site. On Thursday, when news spread that the photo graced Washingtonian, a monthly geared to affluent residents of the capital, the chatter bubbled anew. “I don’t care to see my President in his swim trunks, any more than I would care to see my Senators or my doctor,” wrote one reader, Amy, on the magazine’s Web site. “I think it’s inappropriate, and disrespectful to President Obama,” wrote another, Kathleen. “I think the photo is great,” wrote another, Summer, from Germany. “Moreover it has to be mentioned that it looks sexy!” The magazine’s publisher said the whole thing was meant as a compliment – and to capture a feeling that, she said, is sweeping Washington. “Washington’s in a golden age,” Catherine Merrill Williams said in a telephone interview. “We thought this cover captured the energy this president has brought to the city.” It also hasn’t hurt, Williams noted, that “our Web site traffic is through the roof. We love that!” And as for that altered swimsuit color? “We changed it so it would show up against our dark background,” Williams said. “Also, we were trying to convey the concept of love, and red is the color of love. And it’s hot!” That didn’t hold water, hot or cold, with some commentators and academics, who felt the magazine should have adhered to a central tenet of photojournalism: You don’t alter photos: period. “There needs to be integrity to a photo,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. “Otherwise, what are your boundaries? Where do you stop?” Media critic Howard Kurtz, who hosts CNN’s “Reliable Sources” and writes for The Washington Post, agreed. “Journalistic organizations shouldn’t doctor photos of the president of the United States,” he said in an e-mail message. And besides, he asked: “What, the black swim trunks weren’t alluring enough for Washingtonian?” Williams argued that her cover was different from news photos that must document a specific moment in time. “We’re a lifestyle magazine, doing a feature article,” she said. “This is not adding another missile to a photo from Iran. We were trying to get across a bigger concept.” She was especially taken aback by the accusation that Washingtonian hadn’t just changed the swimsuit color, but had actually adjusted the color of Obama’s skin. “The sun striking Obama’s chest makes him appear more golden, almost glistening,” wrote Susan Moeller, an associate professor at the University of Maryland, on The Huffington Post. Williams was adamant that the skin had not been changed. “The color may appear different, because of the background we used,” she said. “But we definitely did not change it.” There was no immediate reaction from the White House. But this is hardly the first time Obama has been the subject of flattering but possibly over-intimate treatment. During the campaign, the racy and ubiquitous Obama Girl video – “I’ve Got a Crush on Obama,” the song went – was seen by millions. Though Obama made clear he didn’t approve of the gyrating, bikini-clad Obama Girl, many speculated she helped him win at least the attention of some young voters, in a competitive Democratic field. Likewise, the Obama swimsuit photo probably doesn’t hurt. “It shows that he’s youthful, he’s fit and he’s vigorous,” said Jamieson, an expert in political communication. But she’s troubled by the invasion of privacy. After all, Obama was in a private place, accompanied by his young daughters, who were also photographed. And unlike Ronald Reagan, who allowed himself to be seen lifting weights to offset worries he was too old, or Bill Clinton, who often jogged publicly in (very short) shorts, Obama clearly didn’t intend to be photographed in his swimsuit, Jamieson said. Otherwise, traditional news outlets would have gotten the photo. “Where do you draw the line?” she asked. “If they had a lens trained on his private living room or bedroom at the White House, would editors use the shots?” Williams, though, was adamant in her defense of the cover, saying in an e-mail to staffers: “I strongly believe that people, and especially our readers, are able to distinguish the difference” between a traditional news photo and a creative magazine cover. And, she added in the phone interview, Washingtonian readers are able to understand something else, too: “We believe they’re capable of appreciating that our president is hot.” On the Net: http://www.washingtonian.com
Robert Pattinson finds it funny that tabloids are reporting that he and his Twilight costar Kristen Stewart are dating. “It becomes a joke,” he tells Entertainment Tonight on the set of the New Moon sequel Thursday. “There was some magazine the other day about me and Kristen, and when you look at it and realize it’s on the front of a magazine… You realize that people are actually reading that even though how ridiculous it is. He adds: “It’s really bizarre.” Still, the star finds his sudden rise to fame to have an adverse effect on his personal relationships. ”I’m always really worried about ruining their lives,” he says, adding that he worries he can’t please his fans. “Especially with people that aren’t famous. It’s such a massive change. I’m kind of a paranoid wreck.” The paparazzi don’t help, he says. ”It’s getting photographed…” Pattinson says. “You have people who analyze your facial expressions to the tiniest degree. So you’re just trying to avoid getting photographed. You’re like, ‘Jesus, you can’t win.’” Pattinson’s interview will air on Entertainment Tonight on Friday.
When Lady GaGa was a little girl, she would sing along on her mini plastic tape recorder to Michael Jackson and Cyndi Lauper hits and get twirled in the air in daddy’s arms to the sounds of the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. The precocious child would dance around the table at fancy Upper West Side restaurants using the breadsticks as a baton. And, she would innocently greet a new babysitter in nothing but her birthday suit. It’s no wonder that little girl from a good Italian New York family, turned into the exhibitionist, multi-talented singer-songwriter with a flair for theatrics that she is today: Lady GaGa.
“I was always an entertainer.
I was a ham as a little girl and I’m a ham today,” says Lady GaGa, 22, who made a name for herself on the Lower East Side club scene with the infectious dance-pop party song “Beautiful Dirty Rich,” and wild, theatrical, and often tongue-in-cheek “shock art” performances where GaGa – who designs and makes many of her stage outfits — would strip down to her hand-crafted hot pants and bikini top, light cans of hairspray on fire, and strike a pose as a disco ball lowered from the ceiling to the orchestral sounds of A Clockwork Orange. “I always loved rock and pop and theater. When I discovered Queen and David Bowie is when it really came together for me and I realized I could do all three,” says GaGa, who nicked her name from Queen’s song “Radio Gaga” and who cites rock star girlfriends, Peggy Bundy, and Donatella Versace as her fashion icons. “I look at those artists as icons in art. It’s not just about the music. It’s about the performance, the attitude, the look; it’s everything. And, that is where I live as an artist and that is what I want to accomplish.” That goal might seem lofty, but consider the artist: GaGa is the girl who at age 4 learned piano by ear. By age 13, she had written her first piano ballad. At 14, she played open mike nights at clubs such as New York’s the Bitter End by night and was teased for her quirky, eccentric style by her Convent of the Sacred Heart School (the Manhattan private school Nicky and Paris Hilton attended) classmates by day. At age 17, she became was one of 20 kids in the world to get early admission to Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. Signed by her 20th birthday and writing songs for other artists (such as the Pussycat Dolls, and has been asked to write for a series of Interscope artists) before her debut album was even released, Lady GaGa has earned the right to reach for the sky.
“My goal as an artist is to funnel a pop record to a world in a very interesting way,” says GaGa, who wrote all of her lyrics, all of her melodies, and played most of the synth work on her album, The Fame (Streamline/Interscope/KonLive). “I almost want to trick people into hanging with something that is really cool with a pop song. It’s almost like the spoonful of sugar and I’m the medicine.” On The Fame, it’s as if GaGa took two parts dance-pop, one part electro-pop, and one part rock with a splash of disco and burlesque and generously poured it into the figurative martini glasses of the world in an effort to get everyone drunk with her Fame. “The Fame is about how anyone can feel famous,” she explains. “Pop culture is art. It doesn’t make you cool to hate pop culture, so I embraced it and you hear it all over The Fame. But, it’s a sharable fame. I want to invite you all to the party. I want people to feel a part of this lifestyle.” The CD’s opener and first single, “Just Dance,” gets the dance floor rocking with it’s “fun, L.A., celebratory vibe.” As for the equally catchy, “Boys Boys Boys,” Gaga doesn’t mind wearing her influences on her sleeve. “I wanted to write the female version of Motley Crue’s ‘Girls Girls Girls,’ but with my own twist. I wanted to write a pop song that rockers would like.”
“Beautiful Dirty Rich” sums up her time of self-discovery, living in the Lower East Side and dabbling in drugs and the party scene. “That time, and that song, was just me trying to figure things out,” says GaGa. “Once I grabbed the reigns of my artistry, I fell in love with that more than I did with the party life.” On first listen, “Paparazzi” might come off as a love song to cameras, and in all honestly, GaGa jokes “on one level it IS about wooing the paparazzi and wanting fame. But, it’s not to be taken completely seriously. It’s about everyone’s obsession with that idea. But, it’s also about wanting a guy to love you and the struggle of whether you can have success or love or both.”
GaGa shows her passion for love songs on such softer tracks as the Queen-influenced “Brown Eyes” and the sweet kiss-off break-up song “Nothing I can Say (eh eh).” “‘Brown Eyes’ is the most vulnerable song on the album,” she explains. “‘Eh Eh’ is my simple pop song about finding someone new and breaking up with the old boyfriend.”
For the new tour for this album, fans will be treated to a more polished version of what they saw (and loved) at her critically acclaimed Lollapalooza show in August 2007 and Winter Music Conference performance in March 2008. “This new show is the couture version of my handmade downtown performance of the past few years. It’s more fine-tuned, but some of my favorite elements to my past shows – the disco balls, hot pants, sequin, and stilettos – will still be there. Just more fierce and more of a conceptual show with a vision for pop performance art.” It’s been a while since a new pop artist has made her way in the music industry the old-fashioned/grass roots way by paying her dues with seedy club gigs and self-promotion. This is one rising pop star who hasn’t been plucked from a model casting call, born into a famous family, won a reality TV singing contest, or emerged from a teen cable TV sitcom. “I did this the way you are supposed to. I played every club in New York City and I bombed in every club and then killed it in every club and I found myself as an artist. I learned how to survive as an artist, get real, and how to fail and then figure out who I was as singer and performer. And, I worked hard.”
GaGa adds with a wink in her eye, “And, now, I’m just trying to change the world one sequin at a time.”
Even before “queen of all media” Perez Hilton took the stage and proclaimed her “the new princess of pop,” Lady GaGa showed she’s a serious contender to Madonna’s crown Friday at the Wiltern. She might be a relative newcomer, but the artist born Stefani Joanne Germanotta commanded the stage with a royal air during her hour-long set, at times even sporting a glowing scepter.
With two chart-topping singles to her credit and her debut album, “The Fame,” climbing the upper reaches of the Billboard 200, GaGa’s first theater tour is a hot ticket — and the Lady did not disappoint. Borrowing from Madonna, Grace Jones, David Bowie and Daryl Hannah‘s “Blade Runner” replicant, GaGa put on a compelling show revolving around her mysterious persona, a trio of leather-jacketed dancers, multiple costume changes and props and a lone DJ providing musical accompaniment.
Old-schoolers might bemoan the lack of a live band, but GaGa’s eye candy and an onslaught of beats delivered by DJ Space Cowboy filled the void effectively. Opening with the dance-pop basher “Paparazzi,” trapped on a platform that complemented her angular modern ensemble, GaGa focused on the beat-heavy pop that comprises most of “Fame.”
But midset she pulled out a surprise: a translucent purple piano she claimed was designed specifically to match her dress, made of giant plastic bubbles. At the keyboard she proceeded to perform a drastically rearranged bluesy lounge version of her current hit “Poker Face,” proving her talent extends beyond the dance floor.
It’s the sort of stunt a veteran artist pulls after performing one of their biggest hits for decades, but GaGa had the chutzpah to circumvent the wait and go directly for the kill. She followed with the not-yet-released doo-wop-flavored space oddity “Future Love,” again performed on piano while she serenaded a glowing mannequin.
In an age of too much information, one of the most refreshing things about GaGa is her mystery. She often hid behind shades, and her mostly incomprehensible, coy and semi-robotic stage patter did little to tell us who’s that Lady.
“Some people say Lady GaGa is a lie, and they’re right,” she said at one point. “But every day I kill to make it true.”
Whatever the case, by the time GaGa pulled out her big hits, “Just Dance” and the more familiar version of “Poker Face,” she had transformed the Wiltern into a joyous dance party that might have made even that other Stefani a little jealous.