On GaGa

11 Jan 2010


In 2009, mass culture became transfixed with Lady GaGa. More than 100 videos about her have +1,000,000 YouTube views and every publication has spilled ink about her.

I watched the Bad Romance video and fell under her spell. And so, wanting to understand more, I asked 3 smart people what they find compelling about GaGa.

Christine Huang (on GaGa)

Her blatant exhibitionism and absurdity. I’m not sure if she (or the people who made her) totally planned it this way, but GaGa has turned the media circus in on itself. It’s a meta-spectacle. other pop stars have done it too – obvs Madonna, and even Britney with Circus… but i think GaGa is so far out there, she’s really out to shock. Like Marilyn Manson, but with more talent. and more of a palatable message.


Johanna Beyenbach (on Bad Romance)

In the lyrics, her masochism; wanting something that you know is going to be a disaster because the impending doom adds an edge & makes it that much more exciting.

In the video, I love the clothes, but also how grotesque parts of it are. It’s in top 20 lists alongside mundane videos from Nickleback, Creed, Rob Thomas and Bon Jovi. The fact that she got her slightly disturbing, dark thread through mainstream culture by way of flashiness and haute couture is kind of brilliant.


Courtney Brecht (on GaGa & Bad Romance)

I’m thinking about GaGa in the context of working on my MFA thesis. Part of what intrigues me about her is that I can never get a real sense of what she looks like.

If it’s not the white mohawk vinyl suit that entirely covers up her face, or the jewel crown, or the weirdo computer exaggeration of the eyes when she has that pink hair, it’s something else. Like her body not even being real, note the accentuated back-boniness at one point in the video. She’s really cultivated this desire to make us look at her even more.

My thesis is based on the desire to understand another person based purely upon physical appearances, and how this synchs with approaching a painted portrait. I’m trying to understand this rupture or synthesis between the interior vs. the exterior facade/constructed exterior facade.  How do the visible surface and and the interior life come together and how to they diverge?  And how do people feed into this?

So as I watch this video, I’m thinking about the history of our efforts to deduce character from physical features, like Victorian social “sciences” of Phrenology and Physiognomy. This was all before psychology, and so people tried to predict criminality, intelligence, even predisposition towards madness based on angles and ratios of the cranium and face. 


Modern day, while the bent is less about distinguishing the “other”, we still try to manipulate genes and genetic inheritance (plastic surgery, genetic counseling, hairstyles, fashion, jewelry, etc.) in order to someohow make our exterior a reflection of who we think we are on the inside.  Often a transformation of the exterior can really bring about a change in the interior (think the fright wigs/cross-dressing of child soldiers in Liberia-linked to the idea that these things are mystic and bring certain powers), or “real-life superheroes” who put on costumes in real society in order to carry out good deeds  (why can’t they just do it in plainclothes?).

I think Lady GaGa, by having this totally outrageous fashion facade, feeds into our society’s desire to glean the inner essence of someone based upon her outward appearance. GaGa has built an entire wall and facade that never really answers any of your inquiries and perpetually keeps you curious and intrigued.

And at the same time, she might be vaguely insecure given that she seems to be able to be outrageous when her face or hair, etc. is covered by wigs or fashion masks or sunglasses. Maybe this is her way of being “LadyGaga the Performer”  rather than who she ‘really’ is? Or maybe that is who she is?  It’s mystifying….


  1. 14 Jan 2010 Johanna

    “Part of what intrigues me about her is that I can never get a real sense of what she looks like. ” – This is so very yes (me too).