The Metropolitan Museum of Art has announced its annual Costume Institute exhibition and Gala: "Camp: Notes on Fashion." As if that weren't enough to send us into gay rapture, the board of co-chairs includes (in increasingly campy order) Harry Styles, Serena Williams, Anna Wintour and Lady Gaga.
Before the most feared and revered night of fashion goes down on May 6, 2019, we're here to break down the theme. What is camp? Museum curator Andrew Bolton based the upcoming exhibition on Susan Sontag's seminal 1964 essay of the same name. In it, the paragon of discourse describes camp as "a sensibility...of artifice and exaggeration...something of a private code, a badge of identity even, among small cliques." Hamish Bowles expertly breaks down the history of the term and its relevance to fashion, from Louis XVI's court to the halls of Gucci, in the announcement piece for Vogue.
But what is camp in 2018? It can mean many things, but to this Taurus/Aquarius rising, camp is the spice of life, the functionally useless but why-the-fuck-not dash of panache that takes our species beyond survivalism and into the realm of the spectacular. Camp refutes the contemporary trend towards suffering that prizes the bleak and honors the "gritty," a silly adjective that's now even being used to describe formerly joyful things like superhero movies. What's wrong with frivolity, with joy? For those of us who don't want to be bound to the quotidian awfulness of things, for those of us who want to go too far because we can, camp is our greatest means of survival.
In 2018, Heath Ledger's Joker uttered the era-defining question—"Why so serious?"—launching a decade of irony and wry disengagement: If everything is a joke, why bother? But camp isn't salvation from cynicism and depression—it's a call to engage with life, not detach from it, to walk out of the house in furs and make it your own.
Camp is Eartha Kitt giving her Catwoman that extra purr, Divine eating a turd in Pink Flamingos, Naomi Campbell showing up to community service in head-to-toe Dolce and Gabbana, Alan Rickman going too far with his Snape line readings and Kim Petras's new Halloween-themed EP.
Camp is extra, too much. It functions with a wink, as in the fashion of Marc Jacobs, Yves Saint Laurent and Jean Paul Gaultier. But the most valiant camp is the earnest, blissfully blind attempt at high art gone too far. And no icon exemplifies the full spectrum of intentional and clueless camp better than Lady Gaga. Since the beginning, Gaga has compromised everything for the sake of fashion over function, spectacle over seriousness. Which isn't to say that Gaga can't be serious; in A Star is Born, she hits the nail right on the head at every beat. But peek at her red carpet promotional appearances for the movie, and you'll witness that sensibility of playfulness that catapults her out of this literal, boring reality.
Gaga's Met Gala takeover is a cosmic cultural course-correction, and not just because it goes down on my birthday. In 2008, she first emerged to breathe life into a culture-drenched country, and now she's here to save us once again, when we need her more than ever. Look back to 2016 (what a terrible year) when Taylor Swift co-chaired the Met Gala, themed "Manus x Machina: Fashion In An Age Of Technology." She wore black lipstick and a metallic dress. Meanwhile, Gaga, likely throwing on something from her sock drawer, showed up in a leotard made of circuit boards, easily annihilating it. I mean, the woman has a song called "Hair Body Face" in A Star is Born. What more do you need?
All this is to say: Look out for one of the most memorable balls in years, one that will hopefully signal a new decade of art, color and indulgence. The age of extra is finally upon us.