“No one gives a fuck about Lady Gaga anymore” wrote Kat George, author of the 2014 Vice article, Drowning, Not Waving: The Slow and Bitter End of Lady Gaga’s Career. A few paragraphs later, George continues with her excessively obscene language, “Lady Gaga has always done weird shit for attention — like wearing a meat dress or being birthed from a giant egg”. What critic Kat George fails to recognize here is that these artistic choices are more than mere stylistic choices for “attention.” In fact, the only thing that George is right about in her unsupported and entirely opinionated claims is the fact that Gaga, indeed, did wear a meat dress to the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards. And though it did catch eyes, it did so for the right reasons. You won’t see Gaga limiting her vocals exclusively to the studio, but rather, you’ll also see her getting extremely vocal in her truths and her beliefs outside the studio as well. Through her eye-catching and defiant stylistic choices and the bold decisions she’s made throughout her career as an artist for more than a decade now, one thing remains true about Lady Gaga: she is an icon who has not only used her platform to bring positive change to the world, but who also laid the foundation for many women in today’s music industry.
Let us begin in 2009 with the drop of her EP, The Fame Monster (2009); a selection that Gaga made that literally marked an EP renaissance in the music industry. Once you’ve struck gold in the music industry and gotten on that chart, it’s all about how you will follow-up with your next project. It is often said by many pop artists and pop music producers that the second album for an artist is always the most difficult one to make, as it’s extremely vital that they follow-up with something even bigger and better, in order to keep them on the charts. Essentially, the second album all comes down to… will the world bop or allow the artist to flop? Here’s where Lady Gaga steps in and lays down a major (I cannot stress this enough), foundation for artists in the industry today; male and female. Gaga didn’t seek fame, she wanted to make good music with an important message behind it, and put it out. That was all. In fact, she wanted her second album to be an EP, or extended play, which is only a few select songs compiled together, but not enough to classify as a full album. This is a huge no-no for someone who had just been made in the public eye and was being told she needed to remain on the pop radar. However, her bold choice introduced a new wave in the music industry, unlike any other. She paved the way with her drop of The Fame Monster (2009) and though it was an EP, 8 songs with only a half-hour of play time, it charted at number 5 on the Billboard 200, with 174,000 sales within its first week. This is something that is typically unheard of for a sophomore album release, that’s only an extended play. The Fame, Gaga’s first album, assembled the records that made her famous such as Poker Face, Just Dance, and Lovegame, debuted at number 17 in the United States with only 24,000 unit sales. Gaga had anticipated early-on, the ways in which the internet was constantly craving new content to stream. Rather than waiting until she had enough tracks for a full-length album, she boldly insisted on green lighting the EP.
Lady Gaga advanced the music industry; a year later in 2010, Ke$ha, another big name in 2010s pop music, hopped on board making bold decisions and duplicated the same exact move that Gaga did. Ke$ha made her second album, Cannibal (2010), an extended play to her first, ended up with the same result: a major success, landing spot #15 on the Billboard 200. Fast forward to today, in modern-day pop music, EPs are constantly being put out by pop musicians. In fact, they’re just as common in release as regular albums are. Sometimes, it’s the only option for a big name to drop an EP, as millenials are always eager for new content to stream. Gaga saw it coming first, however, big names in today’s music such as Miley Cyrus, Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber, Lil Nas X, Selena Gomez, and JoJo have successfully released their music in the style of EPs and I think it’s only right that we thank the daring woman who ran with this bold choice in her career, so others could walk with it years later; Lady Gaga.
The Fame Monster didn’t stop there, however, with unlocking the avenues for artists in the industry today. Not only did she unusually drop an EP as her follow up album, but she dropped it with two variant album covers. Some physical copies were released with one cover, while others were released with the other. Same exact EP, same tracks; just different covers. No significant meaning to them, other than a choice of aesthetics that she made to satisfy her fans in collecting the various physical copies (and to satisfy sales, of course). Today, many major pop artists continue on with this sale-satisfying idea. We saw it with Miley Cyrus’ Bangerz (2013), who dropped five different versions of the album — same album, same tracks, just different covers for the purpose of securing that #1 spot on the charts. We saw it with Taylor Swift’s Speak Now (2011), Ke$ha’s Warrior (2012), Beyonce’s 4 (2013), Demi Lovato’s Tell Me You Love Me (2017), Ariana Grande’s thank u, next (2019), and so-on and so-forth. Once again, Lady Gaga boldly pioneered a movement with her sales-boosting techniques for pop-artists, that is still being carried out today. Everybody say, “Thank you Lady Gaga!” This was only the start of her daring decision-making for such a strictly-structured industry to be in.
So here we are, the end of 2010, with the answer you’ve been eagerly seeking for. “So… about Lady Gaga’s meat dress,” was the headline that flashed across every media outlet, including CNN, The Guardian, and LA Times Blogs, following the airing of the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards. I know, I know — a woman decked out in nothing but raw meat. Sounds a bit crazy, doesn’t it? I assure you, however, it’s not at all crazy; it’s political. In September of 2010, Gaga delivered a tear-jerking speech which she titled The Prime Rib of America. The motive behind her speech was to fight for equality. Lady Gaga urged the United States military to stop discriminating against LGBTQ+ Americans from serving in the Army. Written almost entirely metaphorically with the image of meat, she stated that the gay men and lesbians of the country are the “greatest cut of meat [her] country has to offer” and that the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” law prevented the military from enjoying that meat. A few days later, one of the biggest moments of her entire career took place: wearing a meat dress to the MTV VMA’s. While many turned their heads, called it disgusting, and shamed her in some of the most degrading manners possible, the meat dress was in reference to her speech and was a political statement that aimed to prove that the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” law was just as controversial as her dress, and extremely unjust. One year later, on September 20, 2011, under the Obama administration, the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” law was abolished. Out of nothing but love, care, and loyalty for her LGBTQ+ fans, Gaga made one of the most daring decisions of her career; one that the media is still referencing and criticizing her for, ten years later.
In 2013, Lady Gaga arrived at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards with something a bit more flashy than a meat dress, per say. To promote the Greek and Roman mythological theme for her fourth studio album, Artpop (2013), Gaga wore a sea-shell bikini and an absolutely extravagant yellow wig. I was totally thinking yass queen, but that certainly isn’t what the public was thinking. Kat George states loud and clear; “She’s making records and dressing a little pervy. That’s the formula for her existence…tricks are what a whore does for money”. The formula for her existence, as I see it, is actually to use her platform in a controversial and purposeful way to be on the right side of history; quite the opposite of what Vice critic Kat George has to say. In fact, Lady Gaga’s intentions behind these actions were to address and break the harmful mold and sexist stereotypes of a woman in the music industry.
As most music producers in the LA and NYC-based industry are men, (do better– seriously.) women have certainly felt the wrath of being objectified and told what to look like in the public eye — for example, what they will wear and how much they will be allowed to speak. In 2018, Gaga delivered yet another remarkable speech at Elle’s Women in Hollywood Awards with this one, however, pertaining to feminism and her life as a woman in a male-dominated industry. With dignity and bravery, Lady Gaga voiced, “As a woman who was conditioned at a very young age to listen to what men told me to do, I decided today I wanted to take the power back. Today, I wear the pants.” Gaga has defied the most powerful men in the music industry since day one, and she not only tells us that, but shows it as well, in her MTV Movie Award winning documentary Gaga: Five Foot Two. Gaga touches upon the challenges of facing sexism among male music producers: “When producers, unlike Mark [Ronson], start to act like ‘you’d be nothing without me,’ for women especially, since those men have so much power, they can have women in a way that no other man can. And then I walk in the room, and it’s like eight times out of ten, I’m put in that category and they expect from me what those girls have to offer, when that’s just not at all what I have to offer. That’s not what I’m here for.” Lady Gaga sacrificed years of her life battling criticism, backlash, and slutshaming from the public, just so women today could stand up on a stage and sing whatever they want, wearing whatever they want, and expressing themselves freely. While Kat George stands strongly behind the position that Lady Gaga does ‘whore tricks’ for money, that’s not at all why Gaga dresses as the liberated woman she proves to be. In opposition to Kat George’s claim, Gaga stated in 2011, after her career well-kicked off, but before this critique was even written, that financial gain was very, very low on her priority list. She quotes in 2011, “The only big things I’ve purchased are my dad’s heart valve and a Rolls-Royce for my parents, for their anniversary.” While George strictly stated that it was only ‘a matter of time’ before Gaga was forcefully stripped of her enigma, someone should have told her to educate herself on the subject matter before ruthlessly pulling opinionated garbage out of thin air.
On the topic of men, Gaga’s had enough of them. In Gaga: Five Foot Two, Lady Gaga shares her new perspective on relationships with men, “My threshold for bullshit with men is… I don’t have one anymore, I just don’t care. Maybe ‘cause I’m thirty and I feel better than ever, you know? All my insecurities are gone, I don’t feel insecure about who I am as a woman. I’m not embarrassed or ashamed of what I have.” Mother Monster, the title that her dear fans gave her, has been very open about her bisexuality since the very start of her career. It’s no secret that she’s loud and proud with her LGBTQ+ fans, known as the “little monsters.” Moreover, Lady Gaga uses most of her fame and popularity in pop culture to defend human rights and oppose the discrimination of minority groups, such as the LGBTQ+ community. In light of this, backtrack to 2011, Lady Gaga released her third studio album, Born This Way (2011), as a message to the world that, as the song says itself, “rejoice and love yourself today, cause baby – you were born this way.” The number one charting and now four times platinum album, quickly became the holy bible to the LGBTQ+ community. In a time where it was controversial to release such a ‘loud’ message, unsurprisingly, Gaga threw herself out on the edge, (of glory), and did it anyway. She laid her career on the line and sacrificed potentially losing an entire support group and poor album sales, all because she insists on being on the right side of history. She has been, since day one. Rather than staying quiet, she stayed true to her belief and she put out an album that, quite literally, said, “no matter gay, straight, or bi, lesbian, transgender life, [you’re] on the right track baby, [you were] born to survive.” Lady Gaga is an artist who uses her pop culture platform to bring positive change to the world.
Vice critic, Kat George asserts her ruthless opinion once more: “Being that Gaga has built a career on being a social warrior, calling that into question has called her whole persona and indeed how genuine her advocacy might be into question” (George). The only thing that’s being called into question, as far as I’m concerned, is this: could she possibly do anything more to show her support for the LGBTQ+ community? Just when you think she couldn’t, Gaga, a proud bisexual woman, and her mother, Cynthia Germanotta, founded the Born This Way Foundation. Their mission statement is as follows: “Born This Way Foundation is committed to supporting the mental health of young people and working with them to build a kinder and braver world. To achieve these goals, we leverage innovative programming and partnerships to model and convene healthy conversations about mental wellness, connect youth with resources and services that support their mental health – online and offline, and build communities that prioritize mental and emotional wellness.” Between her music that’s self-written, her recognition of gay fans all over the world, her confident expressions of her bisexuality, her perserverant actions to stop bullying and highlight the importance of mental health, and everything in between, her advoacy is far more than a publicity tactic. Rather, it is indeed genuine.
By all counts, and with proven factual evidence, it is no wonder that Lady Gaga is the face of pop music. Between her impact on human civilization and her bold and impeccably brave sacrifices and decisions to enable future generations of women in the music industry to have the ability to express themselves more freely; Lady Gaga is not only an icon, but a woman of power, strength, liberation, and love.
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Anthony Drapos is a junior at Worcester State University studying English and Communications. His scholarly interests include Mass Communication, Graphic Design and Digital Imaging, LGBTQ+ Narratives, and Creative Writing Poetry. When Anthony isn’t dedicating himself to his work and readying for his future, he enjoys traveling, music, graphic designing, going to concerts, being a full time Miley Cyrus fan, and teaching those around him his very simple belief system; that we should always treat one another with kindness.