Photo courtesy of Lori Tingey.
I’ll begin by saying I have a lot of respect for Lady Gaga. The woman’s work ethic alone makes Mark Zuckerberg look like a couch potato, but it takes more than mere elbow sweat to make a humble human being into a cultural touchstone of her stature. In the (un?)holy trinity of top40 pop, rounded out by Bieber and Rhianna, she’s the only one who progressives and activists can get behind rallying for their success. This is also not to mention that the mere fact Stephani Germanotta is as successful as she is signifies pop progress in and of itself. I find it quite taken for granted that within ten years proceeding the great bubblegum revolution of the late ’90s at the hands of the Mickey Mouse Club, she has almost single-handedly made freakishness chic once more in the eyes of the mainstream.
Let me explain what I mean by freakishness, because it doesn’t necessarily have to do with the fact that she wears meat dresses to awards shows. In between the years of 1998 until the minute “Just Dance” went to number 1, the only discernible pre-requisite to being a popstar was to have supermodel good looks. Obviously, Stephani Germanotta is endowed with many, many gifts, but magazine cover beauty is not one of them. By any Joe Six Pack’s standard of beauty, based on a pre-pregnancy Jessica Simpson conception of being a pop princess, Gaga is pretty hideous. I’d go on like a bitchy tabloid columnist about some physical flaw she has, but my heartlessness ends here, so I’ll assume you get my point.
For a woman who is less than Maxim‘s “Sexiest Woman of the Year” material to have usurped all the relevance Britney once wielded says as much about our changing culture as state referendums legalizing marijuana or buzz phrases like “the new sincerity.” For the crowd who likes to pine over the next coming of a Cobain-like messiah to save us all from being force fed the ramblings of dimwit pixies who dominate our “reality” ridden idiot boxes, Gaga is halfway to a St. Paul. She’s no Christ, but at least she is preaching the good word.
The thing is, I’d argue, her empathetic, egalitarian, and rugged individualist appeals aren’t best represented by her musical output. Very few Gaga songs, if any at all, deal with topics that her public persona so arduously and admirably confronts – human rights, youth empowerment, body image issues, LGBT pride – which is no crime, just ask Paul McCartney.
In fact, the only Gaga song that does so in the vaguest sense is, ironically, widely panned as a direct rip-off of a Madonna hit. (Insert a long rant about originality and ’80s nostalgia you read a hundred times in the week that “Born This Way” came out here.) But what we forget is that music for Gaga is merely a means to an end; the way she has obtained a megaphone loud enough for the entire nation to hear her every fleeting concern. If you want to know the Gaga that deserves the clout that engulfs her, turn to her Twitter account.
Much has been made of the Lady’s “little monsters,” but one thing can’t be taken away from them — there have been few marketing campaigns as successful at courting the unwavering attention of what is generally considered a thoroughly evasive demographic in the eyes of brand managers. I’d argue this is because the synergy involved in following Gaga includes you into a community that can serve many different kinds of institutional functions. It can be a support group, an activist organization, or an outlet for disenfranchised artforms with greater pull than Oprah’s Book Club, all peppered with the humanizing and occasional reference to substance abuse.
Why is hers different than any other celebrity Twitter account? Because she invented the damn game. Where other accounts brandish their handler’s philanthropy and various hobbies, none really transcend past the point of obligatory celebrity exercise in courting public appearance. Much of this can be blamed on critical mass, and 32 million people seeing anything is bound to court a noteworthy reaction. But the only reason such mass has accumulated around Gaga’s Twitter is because it’s the only place to get her full artistic package – the bawdiness, the unrelenting aesthetic excess, and the social concern, all under one roof.
By bucking conventions of beauty and making an auteur something worth being in the world of pop, she deserves all the props in the world. However, it is a bit disconcerting when tweets can be so much more substantive than songs when coming from such a well-rounded and clearly dignified artist who calls herself a musician first. You could say the same thing about Frank Ocean and the cathartic open letter to fans detailing his first same-sex relationship, but only if “Bad Religion” wasn’t such a once-in-a-lifetime achievement in songwriting.
Gaga has yet to write one of those songs, but if her tweets say anything, it’s that she’s perfectly capable of reaching as many people in such a heartfelt way. For now, we’ll just have to enjoy these nuggets of activism and empathy in 140 characters or less at a time.