Queer Art of Failure: Notes on Camp and the 2019 Met Gala

Last night, the baddest bitches went to the Metropolitan art museum in their baddest bitch clothes. This year’s Met Gala was arranged by Anna Wintour and was hosted by Lady Gaga, Serena Williams, and Harry Styles. Lena Waithe also sat on the planning committee.

As a whole, people didn’t read the essay and had no clue what “camp” was. There were lots of earnest trials and failures, however, and I think that’s the embodiment of camp! Straight people failing at camp is campier than I could’ve hoped for, friends. So overall, I’d say it was a success. Here are my favorite looks paired with my favorite sentences from Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay, “Notes on Camp.”

Also, Ciara and Big Freedia did…this together. It’s so campy I could quote the whole essay under it, so instead, here it is without commentary:

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Janelle Monáe

“The whole point of Camp is to dethrone the serious.”


Billy Porter

“So, not all homosexuals have Camp taste. But homosexuals, by and large, constitute the vanguard — and the most articulate audience — of Camp.”


Lady Gaga

“For Camp art is often decorative art, emphasizing texture, sensuous surface, and style at the expense of content.”


Harry Styles

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“To perceive Camp in objects and persons is to understand Being-as-Playing-a-Role.”


Céline Dion

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“That way, the way of Camp, is not in terms of beauty, but in terms of the degree of artifice, of stylization.”


Katy Perry

“Camp is art that proposes itself seriously, but cannot be taken altogether seriously because it is ‘too much.'”


Gigi Hadid

“Camp is a woman walking around in a dress made of three million feathers.”


Miley Cyrus

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“Without passion, one gets pseudo-Camp — what is merely decorative, safe, in a word, chic.”


Jared Leto

“The hallmark of Camp is the spirit of extravagance.”


Danai Gurira

“Camp is the answer to the problem: how to be a dandy in the age of mass culture.”


MJ Rodriguez

“One is drawn to Camp when one realizes that “sincerity” is not enough.”


Janet Mock

“Camp taste is, above all, a mode of enjoyment, of appreciation – not judgment.”


Robyn

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“Camp is the triumph of the epicene style.”


Natasha Lyonne

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“Camp responds particularly to the markedly attenuated and to the strongly exaggerated.”


Dominique Jackson

“To camp is a mode of seduction — one which employs flamboyant mannerisms susceptible of a double interpretation; gestures full of duplicity, with a witty meaning for cognoscenti and another, more impersonal, for outsiders.”


Yara Shahidi

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MET X @prada 🌟

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“Camp involves a new, more complex relation to “the serious.” One can be serious about the frivolous, frivolous about the serious.”


Dee Hilfiger

“The Camp sensibility is disengaged, depoliticized — or at least apolitical.”


Tiffany Haddish

“Camp… makes no distinction between the unique object and the mass-produced object.”


Saoirse Ronan

“Camp is a solvent of morality. It neutralizes moral indignation, sponsors playfulness.”


Jordan Roth

“It seems unlikely that much of the traditional opera repertoire could be such satisfying Camp if the melodramatic absurdities of most opera plots had not been taken seriously by their composers. One doesn’t need to know the artist’s private intentions. The work tells all.”


Zoe Saldana

“What the Camp eye appreciates is the unity, the force of the person.”


Awkwafina

“Camp is the glorification of ‘character.'”


Whembley Sewell

“What is most beautiful in virile men is something feminine; what is most beautiful in feminine women is something masculine.”


Caroline Trentini

“Only that which has the proper mixture of the exaggerated, the fantastic, the passionate, and the naïve.”


Hamish Bowles

“All Camp objects, and persons, contain a large element of artifice.”


Regina Hall

“Many examples of Camp are things which, from a “serious” point of view, are either bad art or kitsch.”


Serena Williams

“…In their relative unpretentiousness and vulgarity, they are more extreme and irresponsible in their fantasy – and therefore touching and quite enjoyable.”


Kacey Musgraves

“Camp is as well a quality discoverable in objects and the behavior of persons.”


Tracee Ellis Ross

“Camp is either completely naive or else wholly conscious.”


Alicia Vikander

“Camp taste nourishes itself on the love that has gone into certain objects and personal style.”


Emma Stone

“It incarnates a victory of “style” over “content,” “aesthetics” over “morality,” of irony over tragedy.”


Zazie Beetz

“The androgyne is certainly one of the great images of Camp sensibility.”


Diane von Furstenberg

“Style is everything.”


Kerry Washington

“There is seriousness in Camp… But there is never, never tragedy.”


Sarah Paulson

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LOOK AT THIS QUEEN HOW- @mssarahcatharinepaulson #sarahpaulson

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“There is a sense in which it is correct to say: “It’s too good to be Camp.” Or “too important,” not marginal enough.”


Kristen Stewart

“Camp refuses both the harmonies of traditional seriousness, and the risks of fully identifying with extreme states of feeling.”


Lily Collins

“[Camp]…is not a natural mode of sensibility, if there be any such.”


Jennifer Lopez

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“Some art which can be approached as Camp… merits the most serious admiration and study.”


Dua Lipa

“Camp asserts that good taste is not simply good taste; that there exists, indeed, a good taste of bad taste.”


Ciara

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“Camp taste transcends the nausea of the replica.”


Hailee Steinfeld

“Camp introduces a new standard: artifice as an ideal, theatricality.”


Cardi B

“Pure Camp is always naive. Camp which knows itself to be Camp (“camping”) is usually less satisfying.”


Rupaul

“If tragedy is an experience of hyperinvolvement, comedy is an experience of underinvolvement, of detachment.”


Solange

“The new-style dandy, the lover of Camp, appreciates vulgarity.”


Cara Delevingne

“Camp proposes a comic vision of the world.”


Ezra Miller

“Camp taste identifies with what it is enjoying.”


Michael Urie

“[Camp] is the love of the exaggerated, the “off,” of things-being-what-they-are-not.”


Lena Waithe

“The relation of Camp taste to the past is extremely sentimental.”


Zendaya

“So many of the objects prized by Camp taste are old-fashioned, out-of-date, démodé.”


Tessa Thompson

“But since no authentic aristocrats in the old sense exist today to sponsor special tastes, who is the bearer of this taste? Answer: an improvised self-elected class, mainly homosexuals, who constitute themselves as aristocrats of taste.”


Lala Anthony

“Time liberates the work of art from moral relevance, delivering it over to the Camp sensibility.


Lizzo

“Camp is a tender feeling.”


Bette Midler

“Things are campy, not when they become old – but when we become less involved in them, and can enjoy, instead of be frustrated by, the failure of the attempt”


Lupita Nyong’o

“Successful Camp… even when it reveals self-parody, reeks of self-love.”


Indya Moore

“…The Camp sensibility is one that is alive to a double sense in which some things can be taken.”


Hari Nef

“And Camp is esoteric — something of a private code, a badge of identity even, among small urban cliques.”

Alaina is a 20-something working on a PhD in Performance as Public Practice. They are a mom to three cats, they listen to a lot of NPR and musicals, and they spend a lot of time on Pinterest lusting over studio apartments. They are actively trying to build A Brand on twitter @alainamonts. One day, they will be First Lady of the United States.

Al(aina) has written 270 articles for us.

36 Comments

  1. Thank you for this glorious roundup that matched photos with essay quotes! Love seeing your interpretation. I definitely watched coverage initially for the disappointingly understated Harry Styles, but LOVED. Loved. LOOOOOVED so many others. Billy Porter’s every moment!!! The Black Power combs in Lupita Nyong’o’s hair! Kacey Musgraves arriving in a giant barbie car?! Janelle Monáe’s BLINKING eye!!!!! Lena Waithe continuing her truth to power sartorial choices! Also, their clothes weren’t particularly remarkable but for sentimental reasons, Annie Leibovitz being there made me 😭😭😭

  2. Three things:

    1. This post is a work of art in its own right and I salute it accordingly.

    2. This quote paired with Miley’s look… I chortled in the workplace: “Without passion, one gets pseudo-Camp — what is merely decorative, safe, in a word, chic.”

    3. “What is most beautiful in virile men is something feminine; what is most beautiful in feminine women is something masculine” – A MOOD.

  3. I have lurked Autostraddle for years! Never signing up for an account. Today I did, just so I could comment on this post… Ugh so well done! I thoroughly enjoyed it from start to end! Thank you for this!

  4. I AM DEAD
    I AM DECEASED

    some of these quote pairings – tessa! miley! ZENDAYA! BILLY! – were just *chef’s kiss* PERFECTION

    also “Straight people failing at camp is campier than I could’ve hoped for, friends” hard same

  5. I feel so EMOTIONAL about this, every outfit, every caption, a night of QUEER ASS FASHION and Lena Waithe’s outfit and…everything! The brightness of the folks who really GOT it!

  6. I’m disappointed that most of the men didn’t even try to be on theme for what seems like fear of looking too feminine or “gay”. They had the perfect excuse. Why even come if you are not even going to make any sort of effort? As many people on Twitter pointed out, the two actors they chose to play Freddie Mercury and Elton John respectively showed up in the blandest outfits of the night when they could have easily borrowed something from wardrobe and been the talk of the event. And I’m not even going to say what I really want to about Shawn Mendes because that boy seems to be going through it at all times. I just hope one day he is more comfortable with myself whatever he identifies as.

    • This!!! I couldn’t have said it better myself!!! And I agree wholeheartedly on Shawn Mendes, he’s clearly got some things to figure out and work through and I hope one day he can be comfortable in his own skin.

  7. Perfect shade of shade, Al(aina)! I have two burning questions–How did Katie Perry sit down? How many handlers did Cardi B have to help with that quilt/train situation?

    • She changed into a hamburger…. dress thing? I guess it was a dress? (Google is much more helpful than I am here)

      She always tries so hard but it always feels super soulless to me. Like, both of her looks were weird af, but without the poise OR the (creepiness/gaudiness/surrealism/whatever that THING is) that makes it actually camp.

      Plus I hate her.

      • Thank you for articulating the “soulless” aspect of her outfit here. Because all I could think was the “plus i hate her” part of the equation, and I thought it was clouding my judgment.

  8. I didn’t think I could be any more attracted to Kristen Stewart than I already am, but I guess having her dress as David Bowie will do that

    (Also, I know she’s not on this list but I thought Elle Fanning looked so adorable)

  9. Alains, I just made an account after 4 years of never-quite-getting-round-to-it because this was PERFECT. Thank you! I love the Met, I love the essay, I love queer people flourishing and straight people being out of their depth (and straight people detangling). I love people being, joyful, unapologetic, nervously, confused. Thank you thank you for uncovering all these photos that I have not seen on any other recap or news website, on your brilliant picks from the brilliant essay – I’ll be going back to this again and again.

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