I’ll admit this before I start: I love Lady Gaga. It’s taken me a long time to admit it, but I am finally jumping on the Gaga bandwagon – and everything from her catchy music to her crazy aesthetic has won me over. But most of all, Lady Gaga’s increasing media presence has led to discussion of whether she is that magical creature, the feminist pop culture icon. These conversations float around controversial female celebrities every few months or so (see my post from November about Megan Fox, who I concluded did not really fit the bill for feminist icon status), but I am increasingly impressed by Lady Gaga, or Stefani Germanotta, the pop singer who rocketed to stardom after her album, “The Fame,” was released in August 2008.
The question of whether Lady Gaga is a feminist may not seem like a pertinent topic for an activist blog like Care2, or indeed for anyone who does not listen to her music. But as a blogger who writes consistently about celebrities who serve as less-than-feminist role models (Kate Moss joins Megan Fox here), I am frustrated by the lack of positive portrayals of female sexuality in the media, and in pop music in particular. The idea that Lady Gaga might fill this void is thus exciting to me, and her popularity has interesting implications for gender in pop culture generally. Gaga is also something of an activist – most recently, she spoke at the National March for Equality in Washington, D.C. last October.
An article in the L.A. Times on Sunday explored Lady Gaga’s feminist leanings, which the author, Ann Powers, suggests have grown as her career and music have matured. Gaga told Powers about her own brand of feminism, saying, “I find that men get away with saying a lot in this business, and that women get away with saying very little . . . In my opinion, women need and want someone to look up to that they feel have the full sense of who they are, and says, ‘I’m great.’ “
And in an interview with Barbara Walters, Gaga said that one of her goals as an artist is to “try to be a teacher to my young fans who feel just like I felt when I was younger, I felt like a freak. I guess what I’m trying to say is I wanna liberate them, I wanna free them of their fears and let them know they can create their own space in the world.”
Lady Gaga herself certainly seems to be fearless, in her music, her aesthetic, and her willingness to be open about her life. One of her latest music videos, for the song “Bad Romance,” depicts her kidnapping by a gang of supermodels and subsequent sale to the Russian mafia. Describing the video, Gaga said that she wanted to show “how the entertainment industry can, in a metaphorical way, simulate human trafficking — products being sold, the woman perceived as a commodity.”
The song “Poker Face,” according to Gaga, describes a woman fantasizing about another woman while in bed with a man. Gaga herself is bisexual, although she later said that she regretted disclosing this because of the way the media spun her sexual orientation, explaining, “”I don’t like to be seen as somebody who is using the gay community to look edgy. I’m a free sexual woman and I like what I like. I don’t want people to write that about me because I feel like it looks like I’m saying it because I’m trying to be edgy or underground.”
Gaga also walks an interesting line between “the desirable and the grotesque,” unlike other celebrities, who merely project a sense of unnattainable sensuality. She focuses on the bizarre, trying to convince her fans to accept and even be empowered by “a deeper and more psychotic part of themselves. The part they’re always trying desperately to hide.” She says that she wants this “freakishness” to become something that they cherish. And certainly, her videos show up the ridiculousness of high fashion, and the unnaturalness of the female ideal.
Grotesque imagery runs throughout her videos, and Gaga’s aesthetic is unabashedly bizarre (as Jezebel’s slideshow of a year of her outfits shows). But the disturbing aspects of her work are also intensely appealing, and her fame is very real. So what does Gaga’s popularity mean for pop music? I will certainly have my eye on her, especially with the release of her new album, “The Fame Monster.” But I completely agree with Ann Powers, who says that Gaga is a “a monster talent, with a serious brain.”
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.