Pop meets the Avant-Garde with Jay Z, Lady Gaga and Marina Abramovic
Two Top 40 icons’ desperate attempts to gain street-cred or the harbinger of an exciting new era of pop music?

If performance artist Marina Abramovic keeps amassing celebrity collaborators at the rate she has been, she’ll have altered the pop landscape for good by the time you finish reading this article.  Earlier this week, Lady Gaga released a video supporting the avant-garde Serbian’s Kickstarter campaign (the pop star purports to have become Abramovic’s protégé) and several weeks prior, Jay Z posted a clip entitled "Picasso Baby," during which he raps with the artist for 6 hours – an endurance piece inspired by her ‘long durational work.’  While the latter is nowhere near as outrageous as the former (Gaga walks around nude in the woods, chants, wears yellow horns over her eyes and lies in a pile of crystals – bizarre even by her standards), both seem indicative of one fact: pop music is getting weird.

There’s certainly something exciting about watching the provocative imagery and rebellious spirit of avant-garde performance art become absorbed by pop culture.  Mainstream artists have played it rather safe over the past few years and it’s refreshing to see music icons taking risks and broadening their creative horizons.  After all, Abramovic has forged a career by making work that includes filming herself screaming until she passes out, tying herself to her collaborator by her hair and handing audience members an arsenal of guns, knives, and a feather boa or two to use upon her as they wish.  It is difficult to imagine high profile acts such as Britney Spears, Katy Perry or Beyoncé drawing influence from an artist this controversial (if they had then it’s probably best not to imagine how the video for Baby One More Time might have turned out…) and for this, entertainers such as Lady Gaga and Jay-Z deserve some serious credit.

What is troublesome about these collaborations, however, is that neither Gaga nor Jay Z seem really to have grasped what performance art is about.  Both projects are executed in a way that seems clumsy and derivative--at best an amateur approximation of Abramovic’s work and at worst a desperate attempt to drum up publicity by appearing edgy and progressive (accusations that have plagued Lady Gaga’s career since day one).  That being said, it’s not surprising that neither artist has managed to recreate the spirit of Abramovic’s work within their own:  incorporating a form of art that defines itself by its authenticity into one that thrives on illusion and artifice is tricky business and creating copycat performances just doesn't cut it.  This is, however, interesting terrain for pop culture to traverse and it will be exciting to watch as these two entertainers continue to try and navigate it.