Lady Gaga is a controversial figure, not least for wearing dresses made of meat. But is she a good role model and innovator or a leader of sheep? Two writers fight it out.
Gaga has created a flock of ‘monsters’ – by Luke Labern
No one could argue with the message ‘rejoice and love yourself today/Cause … you were born this way’: such thinking is refreshing when contrasted with the glut of trite songs about heartbreak commonly found on the radio – that is, if one accepts that this song isn’t a platitude in itself.
Personally, I do not think it is: I think ‘Lady Gaga’ (AKA Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta – you can see why she chose the stage name) really means what she says. A gay icon and a global superstar by any definition, I have no qualms with her attempt to promote self-love in her listeners. Add to this her insatiable passion and she can cut quite the inspirational figure. This, in itself, is fine – no wonder she has so many millions of fans worldwide.
The problem I have, however, is not with the woman herself: it is with these ‘monsters’ of hers. ‘Just put your paws up,’ she orders: and the monsters obey. You can no longer escape from this collective bunch who, under orders from their ‘Mother Monster’ , spawn endless Gaga-inspired costumes, face-paint, hand gesticulations and other inane media.
This is more of a problem of ‘by extension’: anyone who obeys anyone is generally in trouble, and probably doesn’t quite grasp the full import of Lady Gaga’s message. None of her monsters were ‘born’ Lady Gaga fans – they were born people. Yet they devote themselves entirely to the worship of this icon. This is indicative of the almost otherworldy, dystopian, celebrity-worshipping culture we are a part of. Indeed, by extension, the monsters stand for everything that is homogenous, unoriginal and uninspired about our civilisation.
‘We are all born superstars’, she sings; but how many ‘superstars’ do you know who spend all their time obsessing about another superstar? That is the definition of a fan, not a talent. Of course, there is nothing wrong with being a fan: the world can’t all be full of talents without people to admire and support them. But I should not be allowed to use the term ‘worship’ without being checked: what do I mean by worship in this context?
I mean it with its full import: adoration; revere; devotion. Monsters (and, by extension, those who promulgate celebrity culture by supposing that celebrities are something other than normal people – somehow better) define their meaning as part of the mass – subordinates – by way of looking up to these icons who lose their humanity via their wealth, influence and aura of fascination.
It is as if people forget that their icons are as flawed as the rest of us, as if they actually believe Lady Gaga in thinking that celebrities were ‘born [that] way’.
The point is that they weren’t: and it is not even correct to criticise the celebrities themselves. They have risen to fame (for the most part – I am only referring to those ‘celebrities’ like Lady Gaga who have a talent – I have nothing but bile and disdain for Kim Kardashian-types) through hard work; reflecting on their lives and deciding that they were going to devote themselves to what they love by engaging with their passion.
Through determination and a healthy dose of luck, they have made it: they weren’t born as anything other than a human being. They just had a drive and ambition that can’t be transmitted through the radio.
I think I can go out on a limb and state that Lady Gaga did not listen to lyrics like ‘you were born this way’ and then define her identity, or accept herself: she accepted herself long before anyone told her what to do, and it was only in her self-belief (rather than in worshipping anyone else) that she become the ‘mother’ of these monsters today (and a multi-millionairess to boot).
The problem is that the monsters do not seem to pierce the façade and attempt this reasoning: what are they waiting for? If they are content to simply grind through life and be told what to do, then perhaps this will fall on deaf ears: but if any of these monsters are in any way ambitious for an original or independent life then they need to accept Gaga’s message without being enslaved by her music, by being her monster, her possession: they need to define their own existence in terms of their strengths and weaknesses, not through Gaga’s all-encompassing message of self-love.
The business of living is a lot more complicated than following the imperatives embedded in the three-minute duration of a pop song.You may have noticed that this is not so much a criticism of Lady Gaga as of her fans, or the society that props her up: in fact, I will go further. Lady Gaga has successfully used all around her to catapult to an incredible position, and I applaud her for that.
It is those who listen to (and worship) her unthinkingly that need stimulating. Those monsters wishing for success need to turn away from Lady Gaga’s image on the television screen, and towards the mirror.
Gaga is a ‘tireless innovator’ of pop – by Anna Husbands
Lady Gaga is a breath of fresh air in a world of pop that continues to churn out the same manufactured acts year after year: Simon Cowell-produced acts who sound the same, act the same, and are about as unexciting as the news in August, yet disappear as quickly as they appear.
Not that you’d notice, as there’s always a Syco-endorsed replacement model waiting in the wings: indistinguishable boy band after boy band, identical near-nude girls singing about how much they love sex, or just another Leona. Lady Gaga rails against the banality and boredom of this mainstream pop.
She manages to create records that are more than that, combining her passions of fashion, music, pop culture, and art to wonderful effect.
She understands the intricacies of pop music and her first album, ‘The Fame Monster’, was everything a commercial pop album should be.
Her image is about more than selling records, however. She’s not afraid to shake it up with every new video and performance. She remains acutely aware of her audience.
When performing at the Royal Variety Show she wore a gown – admittedly it was red latex, but somehow she managed to look demure – while Miley Cyrus performed a raunchy pole dance in her underwear for the Queen.
Gaga’s always aware of her audience and despite often dressing outrageously, she rarely engages in anything inappropriate for her young fans.
Fans who she’s always ready to talk to at every occasion: so much so that her father reads – and keeps – every fan letter she receives.
It is this personability that makes her accessible despite the crazy costumes.
Not only does she frequently contact some of her biggest fans, but she has taken it upon herself to be the voice of outsiders. She embraces who she is and uses her platform to encourage others not to be ashamed of themselves. She rallied against Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and frequently involves herself in anti-bullying campaigns.
Yes, she’s over the top and in your face, but she has the talent to back it up. Her duet with Tony Bennett demonstrated the incredible versatility of her voice, and she regularly strips her electro-pop songs down to simple piano pieces with great success.
What truly makes her unique, for me, is the way she toys with gender and sexuality. With Rihanna releasing song after song about sexual endeavours and a pop landscape littered with barely dressed starlets, Lady Gaga represents something new.
She is regularly un-sexy: she has performed dripping with blood, on the toilet, and made up as a man. Yes, she often performs in her underwear, but she presents her body as something creative and not as a sexual commodity.
Her meat dress at the MTV Video Music Awards essentially showed her refusal to be seen as a piece of meat and exploit her sexuality.
She refuses to buy into the blonde pop-star stereotype and successfully challenges the gender typecasting that’s rife in the music industry.
In ‘Bad Romance’, she sings “I want your ugly, I want your disease” and in her most recent and most epic video ‘Marry the Night’, she explores a past sexual assault.
Unafraid to shy away from controversial and volatile issues, she neither glamorises nor ridicules potentially volatile subject matter; instead she simply presents them artistically.
She puts them in Calvin Klein dresses and places them out there for all to see, unashamed. She exposes the fraudulent nature of the sexual femininity expected of starlets, saying that “the last thing a young woman needs is another picture of a sexy pop star, writhing in sand, covered in grease, touching herself.”
She makes us question how women are presented today, and whether we’ve bought into it.
Lady Gaga brings to mind pop legends such as David Bowie, Elton John, and Freddie Mercury.
She is a tireless innovator who understands that there’s more to being a pop star than churning out records. Her undeniable passion and creativity are plain to see, and her ability to always be self-aware means that she is always growing as a performer, as a singer, and as an icon.
I love her because she stays true to herself: her music evolves as she does. I think she’s fascinating. She’s not ashamed of who she is and is proud to present herself, warts and all, for everyone to see.
At the end of the day, who else is going to perform sitting on a toilet? Leona Lewis certainly won’t, that’s for sure.