Caitlin Moran in How to be a Woman terms Lady Gaga as “the woman being touted as the next big feminist icon in the broadsheets.” Moran then describes how she interviewed Her Gaganess, how well they got along and how that led to a wild night of partying in some bizarre kinky club. Her gushing conclusions on the pop phenomenon smack of starry-eyed fandom from where I am standing, but they also intrigue me, as I had not taken Lady Gaga for a feminist icon.
Moran goes on to say things like “Gaga is an international female pop star on the side of all the nerds, freaks, outcasts, intellectual pretenders and lonely kids”, and “Gaga’s take on sexual mores is to examine female dysfunction, alienation and sexual neuroses.” Then comes the drunken conversation in the said club, where Gaga replies to Moran’s thesis about her wearing little clothing but not to titillate men that “’No! ... It’s not what straight men masturbate over when they’re at home watching pornography. It’s not for them. It’s for ... us.’ And she gestures around the nightclub, filled to the brim with biker-boy lesbians and drag queens.”
Since then, Lady Gaga was photographed slightly plumpier than usual and got some nasty comments in the media, prompting her to start a campaign called Body Revolution – aimed at getting people to accept themselves as they are. The goal is obviously laudable, and definitely feminist, but what continues to rub me the wrong way is the fact that she is still a slightly underweight, very attractive woman. Not that hard to accept yourself in such circumstances, I would have thought.
As for her art, I’m not a huge connoisseur, but it had never occurred to me to describe it as feminist. I’ve obviously heard my fair share of her songs and seen the videos, but the feminist-sexuality-as-dysfunction-go-nerds message somehow passed me by. And it still does. I did some research (read: googled the lyrics to her songs and watched videos on YouTube), and here are some examples:
Poker face that started it all: Unless playing hard to get is “feminist”, this one, with its writhing around a pool scantily clad* doesn’t really cut it.
Bad Romance, my favourite among her songs: The message is just about kinky love with visual theatrics. “Want you in my rear window, baby, you're sick” seems a pretty clear allusion to anal sex, which I would not have thought to be among top feminist agenda items.
Born this way, with the promising title: On the one hand the lyrics are what it says on the tin, which is a nice message of loving yourself the way you are. The video, on the other hand, contains some weird stuff, but basically when the chorus comes on, it is Gaga in underwear and long, lushy blond hair looking mighty sexy. So what are we to take away from this? It’s ok, Lady Gaga, you were born really sexy?
So I remain to be convinced. And what bothered me from the start was that if Gaga was indeed being a feminist torchbearer, she was taking a leaf from the book of my own favourite pop star P!nk. P!nk really IS a feminist icon. I won’t bore you with my “fanalysis” of her songs, but in case you need convincing, check out some of her excellent work, such as U + Ur Hand (“I’m not here for your entertainment, you don’t really wanna mess with me tonight”), Stupid Girls (“What happened to the dream of the girl president? She’s dancing in the video next to 50 Cent”), or Raise Your Glass (“So if you're too school for cool, and you're treated like a fool, you could choose to let it go, ... we can always party on our own”).
Lady Gaga, take note. This is how it’s done. Make it less about you and more about your message and then we’ll see.
What’s your take on Lady Gaga – or another pop culture phenomenon that has gotten you thinking lately?
*The videos don’t work from Germany – sorry!