Met Gala 2019: Lady Gaga and The Question of Camp on the Red Carpet

Posted on May 07, 2019

The question on everyone’s lips last night – everyone following the parade of attention-seeking known as the Met Gala red carpet that is – was “Yes, but is it camp?”


When the Met Gala announced the theme of its exhibit and accompanying gala this year, there was an immediate question of whether or not it was even possible for celebrities and fashion people to utilize current high fashion (as opposed to vintage pieces which would have made the prospect of nailing the theme a little easier) to express or pay homage to the classic idea of camp as defined in Susan Sontag’s immortal 1966 essay “Notes on Camp.”



Sontag herself only made passing reference to fashion in her essay, describing camp as “a woman walking around in a dress made of three million feathers.” We can all debate the various nuances of her essay until we’re blue in the face. Countless others have. But it’s notable that Sontag didn’t center the dress itself as camp but the idea of a woman walking around in it. In other words, the item itself isn’t necessarily campy; it’s how the item is approached and presented. A showgirl might wear an outfit with three million feathers and it’s totally understandable and makes sense for her position. But someone like, say a society matron walking around in one and trying to pass it off as serious fashion was a notion that Sontag found filled with camp because of the juxtaposition of the exuberance of the design and the seriousness of the wearer.



The point here is that for the people of fashion and celebrity; people whose entire careers if not their lives are bound up in presenting a serious, self-affirming, promotional form of fashion, could only truly reach levels of camp when they’re not trying to be campy. A campy fashion catch-22. In fact, we’d argue that prior years’ Met Gala red carpets were loaded with camp, from Kim Kardashian’s couch dress to Rihanna’s omelette cape; instances where the seriousness of the look was met with a response that treated it much less seriously and an audience that came to conclusions about the looks completely independent of the designer or wearer’s intentions.



For that reason alone, we predicted that this year’s offerings were more than likely going to be incredibly disappointing. Anna Wintour and the Met had set the celebrities and designers up to complete an impossible task. To our complete surprise, the crowd overall did fairly well. Even if they didn’t or couldn’t produce moments of true camp, there was a sense of fun, exuberance, and performative artifice (a la drag) that showed a greater sense of camp than we would have given them credit for. And more than a few of them came close to nailing the brief, against all odds.



Gaga, with her art school education, love of drag queens and large gay fan base, is too aware of what camp actually is to not know how to wield it or at the very least mimic it. To our thinking, even when folks came close to offering pure camp on that red carpet, the self-awareness; the almost intellectual approach to pulling it off – all made it decidedly not camp. Like we said, it’s a catch-22. Even so, in Gaga’s case, as the first arrival and by pulling the extremely Gaga move of making her entrance last something like 15 minutes through four costume changes, she set the tone for the night. Even if you can’t be campy, you better come correct in your efforts.





What makes this work so well is that drag-like sense of artifice; the way she play-acted through several personae (ending more or less on a drag version of herself) utilizing props and almost Kabuki-like acting. The ridiculous enormousness and her accompanying train and umbrella-wielding attendants played with camp. The movie star persona with the retro mobile phone and oversized sunglasses played with camp. The doll-like hair and drag queen eye makeup played with camp. The multiple drag queen-esque costume reveals are playing with camp expression.




Both Gaga and her designer Brandon Maxwell (who has, ironically, spent most of this season of Project Runway cracking jokes every time a designer pulled a reveal on the runway) approached this with a sense of humor and then presented it as if it were serious as a heart attack. Is that camp? That’s as close to it as you could possibly get in this setting with these people. And it set the tone for the night. In fact, several attendees met Gaga’s level of camp or even exceeded it, to our complete surprise.



Style Credits:
– Custom Brandon Maxwell Ensembles and Bags
– Linda Farrow Sunglasses
– Tiffany & Co. Necklace and Rings

Styled by Sandra Amador + Tom Eerebout | Hair by Frederic Aspiras | Makeup by Sarah Nicole Tanno

[Photo Credit: INSTARImages]

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