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Sunday, September 26, 2021

Column: Why Lady Gaga?

If you are a human being – or a just monster – then you love Lady Gaga. I love her, and I know you do, too. If you don’t, you just haven’t been brought around yet, or you’re too ironic to admit that she is awesome. But she is, so just admit it already.

Maybe you don’t want to because you don’t want to accept you’re that easy to please. I mean, we all want to be deep. We all want to love obscure, glitter-free music that doesn’t cater to the unwashed masses, music that has a uniquely artistic bent reliant on your particularly developed intellect.

Same here. And since I want my Gaga-love to have more to do with her aesthetic, and her feminism, than the obvious fabulosity of her clothes or the pitch-perfect poppiness of her music, I want to justify Lady Gaga as a legitimate artist. My conscience won’t let me sleep at night until I do.

To accomplish her coup of 2009, Lady Gaga used some of the same weapons as her predecessors: like Madonna, she wears sexy clothes and plays off of our culture’s prurient fascination with bisexuality; like Debbie Harry, she is retro-iconic and likes inserting French lyrics into her songs.

But the inevitable comparisons to other pop stars are mere attempts to pigeonhole her. The simplicity (or even inadequacy) of her lyrics, her platinum blond hair and the dry-humping are all they really have in common. These similarities are only superficial.

Thomas Mann says in Dr. Faustus, a novel about a histrionic and damned musician (Gagaesque, right?), that art always manages to throw off the appearance of art. What began as a hot chick with great wigs and a fetish for gothic decor has developed into something far more complex, interesting and culturally valuable. From a hopeful feminist’s perspective, it’s more than sex appeal that makes her special. I mean, she’s inspired by Cindy Sherman and Freddie Mercury!

What distinguishes Lady Gaga is an awareness of the artistic value of her exploitation and perversion – God bless her. Madonna was aware of this in the sense that a businessperson is aware of their product.

Gaga, taking her cue from the full-exposure culture of the naughty Noughties, pushes sexual and musical boundaries (as all good pop stars must) with her eye on post-modern artistry, with the hope of recreating pop by deconstructing the old standard first. She’s like the Apocalypse, only more interested in supporting LGBT and female communities.

Fire and blood and sparkles aside, want to know the real reason I’m allowing myself to go full Gaga? Her feminism. Earlier this year she said, “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.'”

Lady Gaga is great. She’s great for pop culture, she’s great for her fans and I don’t think it’s ridiculous to say she’s a symbol of feminism. It’s only ridiculous that we’ve gone so long without her.

HALEY DAVIS loves Lady Gaga almost as much as she loves Rachel Maddow. She can be reached at hrdavis@ucdavis.edu.

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