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Finally, part two of my analysis of Lady Gaga’s music. Since my last review, I have seen her live, and she has come out as a feminist! All I can say is I knew it and good for her! It is something that is hard to admit and I commend her for doing it. More women need to, especially successful women in music!
Now, I know there will be some Gaga haters out there, and still others who think her and feminism are like oil and water. They never mix. Nope, sorry, they do. Those who will chid her feminism based on how she looks or the style of music she writes are guilty of the same sexism they propose to be fighting. Judge not by the outfits one wears, but by the content of their character! Come on people!
Anyways, so here are some more thoughts on why Lady Gaga’s music is feminist!
4. Pop Music As Art
Now, there are many people who think that pop music (popular music and pop style music) is inherently valueless, talentless, and just stupid, mindless entertainment for and of the masses. This type of musical elitism is quite annoying. I can say this because I used to be one of those people, and I quickly grew up and stopped being a closed-minded a-hole.
First, popular music is the style of music that at the type reaches a wide audience and is popular with a lot of people. This changes over time. Pop style music is very “hook” based, radio friendly, with standard song progressions and formats, often focusing on the needs of the current youth. It is sometimes hard to distinguish pop music from other genres, since so many genres have a pop version, ex. pop-rock, pop-punk, power-pop, ect. But, nonetheless, I must stress that even if you do not like the genre of pop music, or what happens to be popular musically at the moment, you cannot ignore the cultural and social impacts it has, as well as, the messages it sends. To do this ignores a powerful source of reality shaping for so many people.
Lady Gaga takes the popular style of music and turns it into something full of depth while still remaining very accessable to everyone. It is not trying to be “full of itself” by constantly throwing in your face that “They’re REAL musicians, REAL talent, blah, blah.” If you have to constantly prove to people that you are REAL, you probably aren’t. I’ve seen Lady Gaga live, and she doesn’t have to prove a thing. You see how talented she is, how devoted and hard-working. You don’t need to flaunt talent if you’ve really got it.
Lady Gaga takes this popular style, the hooky, catchy driven pop song and subversively inserts positive and challenging messages that you may not even get on the first listen. As I had mentioned before, she does this in “Paper Gangsta” and “Paparazzi” but also with other tracks. What she does that is so subversive is that she takes topics and ideas that most people have determined are worthless, valueless, and artifacts of mass cultural that are excessive and challenges them in their own medium. She takes the celebrity, the glamour, money, fame, drinking, partying, sex, beauty….and writes songs that critique them while doing it in a style that no one thinks holds a lot of criticism or deep thought. A song that does this for example is “Vanity.”
For example “Vanity” on the surface, is just a song about how much people love themselves. But if you take another look at the chorus, it actually makes vanity seem silly, by blatantly stating just what it is.
“Touch me, t-touch me baby but don’t mess up my hair
Love me, l-love me crazy
But don’t get too attached, this is a brief affair
Vanity (pictures in magazines, movie screens)
Vanity (mirrors and cameras, so many beauty queens)
Vanity (it’s so good to be)
Fabulous and glamorous, we love ourselves and no one else”
Vanity is to love yourself to the point of absurdity, danger, and even alienation. Hence, you love yourself and no one else. This song takes an excessive aspect of popular culture, the emphasis on appearance, and turns it on its head intentionally. This isn’t a song taking about how awesome it is to be vain, but rather, reveals vain culture in a manner that is honest, and by being so honest, challenges vanity’s very place in our celebrity culture. It is very tongue and cheek, and a subtle critique of something many spend way to much time on.
It is Lady Gaga’s tongue and cheek style that makes her music so powerful and appealing to me. You could just say: “Hey, you’re all vain and shallow and wasting your time.” Make it into some angst tune, amid varying keys and instruments. Sure, it gets your point across. But Lady Gaga does it in a style you do not expect criticism to come from, hence, you are left dancing and bobbing your head going “Huh, we do love ourselves and no one else.” Boom. You’re in. You were not expecting a pop song to make you think twice about the current state of youth culture now were you?
The same goes for other songs of hers on the Fame. The title track “The Fame” does this as well.
6. The Fame
“I can’t help myself
I’m addicted to a life of material
It’s some kind of joke
I’m obsessively opposed to the typical
All we care about is
Runway models, Cadillacs and liquor bottles
Give me something, I wanna be
Retro glamour, hollywood, yes we live for the
Fame, doin’ it for the fame
’cause we wanna live the life
Of the rich and famous
Fame, doin’ it for the fame
’cause we gotta taste for champagne
And endless fortune”
More tongue and check lyrics here. Gaga is expressing the current cultures obsession with fame. From reality TV to crashing presidential dinner parties, anyone will do anything for 15 minutes. And Gaga makes it clear what they want and all that they care about. It is about personal gratification and excess. It is similar in effect to Madonna’s “Material Girl.” It’s all about getting the limelight. It’s all about me.
“Fame, fame baby
The fame, fame
We live for the fame, fame baby
The fame, fame
Isn’t it a shame, shame baby
A shame, shame
In it for the fame, fame baby
The fame, fame”
Yet, the way Gaga sings it and expresses it, it isn’t celebratory, but confessional. It is a shame.
“I can see myself in the movies
With my picture in the city lights
Photograph my mind
And whatever else you’d like to shoot
All we care about is
Pornographic girls on film and body plastic
Give me something
I wanna see television and hot blondes in odd positions”
Here, more honestly about celebrity culture, with a bit of feminism. Women’s objectification in the media isn’t something new. But in the second verse, Lady Gaga knocks down three things about how women are portrayed in it. The fact that their bodies are pornified for consumption, full of cosmetic surgery and/or photoshopping, and that we want to see them “in odd positions.” Women are more likely in ads to be in compromising, uncomfortable and unnatural positions. These positions are often under men, restrained by men, or in positions where they are vulnerable. Confident, powerful people are always standing straight up, free to move. Women in ads, just take a look. They are not.
7. Dance In The Dark
On the surface, this song just sounds like a song about literally dancing in the dark, at a club or at home. But a deeper meaning lies here. This song is about a woman who is uncomfortable with herself and her body, and hence only will have sex (the dance) in the dark. Lady Gaga explain this herself: http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1628355/20091216/lady_gaga.jhtml. This song is another example of her subversive tactics to spread messages about women’s lives and feelings. Once again, taking popular style music and making it into art.
The ideal of self-esteem is a big issue for feminism and for women everywhere. It is hard for many women to have confidence, especially in the bedroom when they feel ugly about themselves. And the idea of having sex in the dark so your partner doesn’t see you, your imperfections, real or perceived, is a real thing, done by real women. I can say that I have done this myself when I feel ashamed about my body. And have had relationships where someone made me feel bad about my body yet “still give the dance.” Women are expected to “give” sex,(not really a choice if you feel like crap either way) no matter how they feel to their male partners. This is one of the cultural legacies of women being men’s property. Sure, there are laws against this now in our own country, but the idea that women must always please men, and that men are entitled to their bodies is real and current. If men didn’t feel entitled to women’s bodies, when, wherever and how they want, we wouldn’t have things like rape.
Wow, pretty darn deep for a pop song huh? But, let’s take the song verse by verse if I haven’t convinced you yet.
“Silicone, saline, poison, inject me.
Baby, I’m a free bit(ch)
I’m a free bit(ch)”
If this isn’t obvious, what can I say. These are things that women do to their bodies in attempt to feel more beautiful. They are poisonous and dangerous. She’s a free “bit” and “bitch” in two ways. One could be in the idea that she is a music industry artist, and can freely be molded into whatever they want her to be, whether she wants it or not. additionally, “bitch” still is used negatively toward women. Being a free bitch in this sense is about entitlement. Gaga is stating exactly how the girl feelings when she has to dance in the dark, when she doesn’t want to. It makes her feel like a free bitch. She doesn’t have the power to say otherwise. Her body is free for you to do with as you want, not hers.
“Some girls won’t dance to the beat of the track
Won’t walk away, but she won’t look back
She looks good, but her boyfriend says she’s a mess
She’s a mess, she’s a mess
Now the girl is stressed
She’s a mess, She’s a mess, She’s a mess, She’s a mess”
Another perfect example of feminist activism in music. Lady Gaga is writing about women, for women, from a woman’s perspective. This topic just happens to be about body issues and sex. The girl in the song wants to “dance to the beat of the track”, have sex her way, but can’t leave her current situation, nor face it. Her boyfriend doesn’t help ether, saying she’s not good-looking, that “She’s a mess” further adding to the low self-esteem the girl has. Now the chorus:
“Baby does her dance in the dark
Cuz’ when he’s looking she falls apart
Baby does her dance in the dark
Baby does her dance in the dark
Cuz when he’s looking she falls apart
Baby does her dance, does her dance in the dark”
Here is the main point of the song in the chorus. The girl has sex in the dark because she can’t have her boyfriend look at her. She can’t be herself, let her real self be seen. If she does, she will “fall apart.” So, she has sex in the dark. In the dark, she can hide all of her insecurities, at quite frankly, still have sex with this jerk.
“Around her kiss is a vampire grin
The moon lights away, while she’s howling at him
She looks good, but her boyfriend says she’s a tramp-she’s a tramp
She’s a vamp, but she still does her dance
She’s a tramp, she’s a vamp, but she still does her dance”
Again, this verse reiterates the girl’s insecurities, since her boyfriend trashes her self-esteem by calling her a tramp.
And the breakdown is especially awesome:
“Marilyn, Judy, Sylvia, tell them how you feel girls.
JonBenet haunt like Liberache
Find your freedom in the music
Find your jesus, find your cupid
You will never fall apart Diana
You’re still in our hearts
Never let you fall apart
Together we’ll dance in the dark”
The women mentioned here are: Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, Sylvia Plath, JonBenét Ramsey, Princess Diana. I am not sure all of them had body issues and low self-esteem, but I think partly the reason they are mentioned is that we look up to these women as beauty icons. They must not have any problems. Yet, we know, no matter how beautiful we think these famous women and young girl are, that doesn’t mean that you do not have your own self-esteem issues. Basically, Gaga is saying it’s ok, we’ll band together in the dark. At least we won’t leave you, we won’t let you fall apart. We understand how you feel. Women need to support each other. Before it’s too late.
Wow, this analysis of Lady Gaga’s music is going to be a multi-part posting that is for sure. I may just analyse all of her songs. So, enjoy this for now and I’ll be back with more insights! Until next time!
My previous posts on Why Lady Gaga is a feminist