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
Lady Gaga – The Fame (2008) on (Streamline/Konlive/Cherrytree/Interscope)
Oh snap. Yes, I just said it. Lady Gaga’s music is feminist. Why do I say such things? Because I can back it up. And because I love her music, videos, and persona. She is the reason I have actually started to listen to pop music again. So, let me tell you about feminist music….
Why do I say that her music is feminist? Whether or not she herself claims to be a feminist, her work criticizes gender, sexuality, the body, pop culture’s representations of women, and the nature of power. This in itself is a feminist act. Now, feminism, I guess we must define in some form, considering most representations of it are: man hater, bra burner, lesbian, ugly, want power over men, bitchy, hate children…..not true. Feminism is the political and social movement for women’s social, political, and economic equality. In that social part lies music, and Lady Gaga knows exactly what she is up against in the music industry. Feminist Music therefore, can be made by anyone, male/female/trans, as long as it fulfills the goals of fighting for equality and justice based on gender.
How does she present feminist ideas? I will give you a few examples.
1. Paper Gangsta
“Midnight rush with a pen in my hand
Inkin Lincoln sand-script with a fan
Remembering me before it began
Sometimes I felt so def in the jam
But the ones who loved me told me to stop
Like home girl can’t catch shit if it drops
A superwoman chick you know that I am
Some shit don’t fly by me in a man
‘Cuz I do not accept any less than someone
Just as real, as fabulous”
These lyrics first speak as an individual as an active subject of their reality. Lady Gaga is not being talked about as an object, through the Patriarchal Gaze, as someone who does not have any ideas, emotions, or power of her own. She is not a tool. Instead she proclaims herself a superwoman, she won’t stop being who she is, and that she knows what she wants in a man. She then states what she wants, not what she thinks she should want to please someone else. She will not accept anyone who is less than “real.”
The chorus then, I think sums this statement of independence and freedom.
“Don’t want no paper gangsta
Won’t sign away my life to
Someone whose got the flavor
But don’t have no follow through
Don’t want no paper gangsta
Won’t sign no monkey papers
I don’t do funny business
Not interested in fakers
Don’t want no paper gangsta
Don’t want no paper gangsta”
Once again, someone here who is real in the sense that they are not your typical dominating player. She will not accept someone who just puts on a show to impress her. She will not “sign her life away.” Basically, she will not commit to a relationship that will just use her. Hence, a “paper gansta” is someone who uses tradition patriarchy to get what they want from her. Criticizing that, and fighting against that IS feminist.
Finally, the last verse:
“Got something really shiny to start
Want me to sign there on your range rover heart
I’ve heard it before yeah the dinners were nice
‘Till you diamond words melted in to some ice
You should have been rapping to the beat of my song
Mr. California paper gansta
I’m looking for love not an empty page
Full of stuff that means nothing but ‘you’ve been played'”
Here, her themes of empowerment and independence from power are clear. At first, all the attention from a man seems great. Yet, his intentions were not honest, not “real.” The man in question was not “rapping to the beat of her heart.” He was not looking for love, but it seems a good time. Hence, if she signs (stays) with him, she’s been played. She knows this. She refuses this traditional masculine power structure as defined in relationships. She will not be a tool. She will be herself, and anyone who wants to be fabulous with her, must be true to her heart, to the beat of her song. She knows what she wants. She will not accept anything less. She is smart, confident, and is an active authority in her life. That IS feminist.
2. Her female-form distorting outfits
If you are just going to continue to judge women’s intentions, ideas, value, and indeed empowerment based on their appearance and how they dress, then that is still SEXISM, no matter if they are wearing a bustier or a habit. Valuing women as “less than” via what they wear is one of the pillars of domination. Most criticism I have seen about Lady Gaga has been on her appearance. Typical. That is first thing anyone goes at when it comes to female musicians. Their value is still based off how they look, not how talented they are, or what statements they are making or what they doing. For women who are musicians, you are in a double bind. If you do what they guys do, you’re a freak. If you do what women are supposed to do, well, that just proves how much you are not as good as the guys. You’re just a girl after all. Know you place, be a little sex kitten, ready and willing, talentless and voiceless. But Lady Gaga defies it all by reversing the Patriarchal Gaze of how we view women in pop culture. Like Madonna before her, it is a fine and hard line to walk. Most people see her half-naked and assume negative from the start. But her image is carefully crafted for a purpose. And that purpose is not objectification.
For example, her outfits reveal skin, but often distort things that out culture associates with being a feminine woman. Long legs, big breasts, full lips, figure eight body shape, hips ect. This distortion catches you because it is not what you expect or want. We want the pornified female form. The image she presents is not pornified, but an exaggerated caricature of femininity. Thus, she is taking the things pop culture wants women to be, reveal and stretches it so far so that we can see how silly and confining it is. She cinches her waits to the extreme, extreme high heels, overdone makeup to make you see how made-up women are. She wears masks and sunglasses, a symbolic hidding of parts of her herself, so you can’t see….but she can still see you. She is the one doing it; it is not being done to her. She is returning the gaze, looking at you looking at how you look at her, and she is laughing in your face. She is deciding about her, not you. She is not duped by the patriarchy just based upon her looks. Assuming that women have no agency is sexist. She is purposefully throwing back femininity in your face, and it is not the kind you want. That IS feminist.
3. Paparazzi Video
The Paparazzi video does this extremely well too. Lady Gaga’s form is distorted in her outfits that twist her feminine body in ways that are extreme. She is portayed sexed up, even when in a neck brace and bloody. This video is a criticism the violence against women in pop culture.
It is extremely fashionable to show women dead, being beater, or assumed violence upon them in popular media. Whether it is to sell vodka, shoes, video games, or security devices, violence against women in advertising is everywhere. It is often sexualized, and combined with objectification. What this means is that often if violence is enacted upon women in ads/videos, it is made to be sexy, appealing, what the women want, and hence deserve. It is sexy to be violent, and women love it. This is the paparazzi video in a nutshell.
Lady Gaga’s rise to fame in the video coincides with her being abused. She refuses the man’s advances in the video, hence she is called a “c*nt” and tossed of the balcony. If she won’t give into male entitlement to her body, and use of it to take pictures for his gain, she will be punished. Hence she “dies” and comes back her body broken. The sequence continues, showing her with a neck brace and crutches while showing other images of glamorous looking women dead. The images of women being murdered are everywhere in the video and they are everywhere in our pop culture. Just look at the Hitman ads as an example.
In the video, the female dead bodies are sexed up. But it does not stop there, even when she is alive on the couch, she is being sexed up, and in some cases licked up. Finally, near the end of the video, she is back with her old flame (disguised as the “new” girl toy”), in her yellow outfit. She is the newest disposable female body for this guy. Or is she? She quickly reassumes her agency, poisons her boyfriend’s drink, and acts all feminine and coy. Oops! Even her outfit, a sorta Minnie Mouse hides her revenge. Appearances are deceiving in this video. If may seem in this video that women are helpless, powerless and just tools to be used. But underneath it, lies a women’s refusal to succumb to that end, hence Lady Gaga freeing herself from her boyfriend via poison. The end is also very telling when she is arrested for enacting the same type of malicious violence against her boyfriend. He got away with it, she doesn’t, symbolizing the double standard in so many ways. Lastly, she poses for the camera for her mug shots, does so with exaggerated sexiness, which we see then is being directed at her to do. Finally, the cameraman tells her to walk away.
This video blatantly reveals violence against women in pop culture. Lady Gaga analyzes it, shows the impact of it, and symbolically comes back from the dead to take justice for it for her and all women. Her arrest in the end reveals the double standard of treatment for not only her actions, but also that when a dead male body shows up in pop culture it is rare, and not sexualized, but a tragic event. Oh no! Can’t have any of that. This type of video-activism, playing with these ideas, yet still remaining artistically valid and not further objectifying women IS feminist.
So, that’s all for this post. I will continue with more on her work from The Fame and The Fame Monster. Thanks!