As an international popstar, Lady Gaga is a product of a capitalist market. She is part of a major record label, releases commercialized products, and is involved with endorsements. However, her point of view as a popstar is a deeper critique on certain aspects of the capitalist market, specifically, their ideology about women in the music industry being sexualized commodities with no intrinsic value and that the Other should be rejected. Gaga expresses her resistance towards these hegemonic ideologies by rejecting the norms for what a traditional starlet should be and stand for, creating a pop subculture where artistry is more important than economic worth and where it’s safe to be different. This is seen throughout the trajectory of her career, evident in her “authentic” fashion and art and “carnivalesque” concerts. Ultimately, with the use of other capitalist markets, Gaga’s subculture eventually infiltrates into the mainstream, re-standardizing the way women in the industry and the Other in society are perceived.
Lady Gaga’s music video, “G.U.Y.” reveals how these capitalist ideologies are reinforced through the exploitation of particular fashion trends and their meanings. In the video, Gaga becomes part of the capitalist marketplace and emerges wearing a long, platinum blonde wig, and is in a white, revealing leotard. Here, what normally would be considered a fashion object dancers wear with a tutu is now an outfit for a female popstar. Therefore the fashion code is entirely different, “what some combination of clothes or a certain style emphasis ‘means’ will vary tremendously depending upon the identity of the wearer, the occasion, the place, the company…” (Davis 151). In this capitalist pop context, the leotard does not represent a delicate dancer, but instead suggests that she is sexually promiscuous for not wearing anything else with it. The long blonde wig accentuates Gaga’s femininity and perpetuates gender roles. Another scene shows Gaga’s dancers all wearing the same pair of jeans, although, according to John Fiske in “The Jeaning of America,” jeans are “semiotically rich” because they can be worn in many different styles and can represent many different things; Gaga’s dancers look exactly the same and are wearing the same exact color, style, and cut, out of fear of rejection if they deviate from the norm.
The rejection of these ideologies portrays that they are neither right nor neutral, laying the framework for a subculture. A subculture shows that there is a different way of thinking, “deviations briefly expose the arbitrary nature of the codes” (Hebdige 91). Gaga is doing something different to show that it could be different, and that these codes are not concrete. She will wear outfits covered in bubbles or stuffed animals to portray that there is no fixed way to be a starlet. Gaga uses different symbols to challenge the originals, saying that they are actually wrong. Gaga maintains her artistic value through her fashion. As Hebdige would put it, Gaga’s subculture is a spectacular one because it is a spectacle in the sense that it is meant to be looked at. Members are marking themselves as being different because effort has gone into their style choices, “Subcultures can be said to transgress the laws of ‘man’s second nature’. By repositioning and recontextualizing commodities, by subverting their conventional uses and inventing new ones” (Hebdige 102). The meat dress Gaga wore to the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards was meant to be a challenge to mainstream norms because the style is obviously fabricated. Meat is not supposed to be worn. In an interview with Ellen Degeneres, she says that adorning herself with actual meat connotes that she is not a piece of meat free for the taking (Mapes). The message she is trying to spread is to not let society objectify people. Once we allow ourselves to be trivialized, then we lose our intrinsic value. Gaga represents this in “G.U.Y.,” when we see her with a Lego body, signifying that she was constructed piece by piece and is nothing more than what meets the eye.
Lady Gaga’s pop subculture is similar to that of the fashion blogging subculture in that they both stress the importance of authenticity. Gaga focuses on the fashion as true artistic expression rather than a means for sexual exploitation, “’authenticity’ has emerged as this incredibly powerful narrative that is often contrasted to the presumed inauthenticity of the corporate, commoditized object” (“Fashion and Celebrity 2.0”). Every fashion object that Gaga wears is meaningful. At the end of “G.U.Y.,” Gaga is seen wearing an all black outfit that doesn’t reveal any skin or show off her figure. This is a direct contrast from the earlier image of her in the white leotard showing that she will not give into capitalist standards of women.
AliceMarwick in “Fashion and Celebrity 2.0” says that, “to do fashion blogging work successfully, one must share and engage with an audience in a way that really does necessitate repackaging one’s self and intimate feelings into something that’s consumable by others” (“Fashion and Celebrity 2.0”). Gaga exemplifies this through her tours. Her tours are a celebration of Otherness, centralizing around the theme of equality. During her concerts Gaga is known for talking about acceptance of self and of others. Not only does she actually tell her fans these messages, but incorporates them into the lyrics of her songs. “Born This Way” has been an anthem for youths all throughout the world to never be ashamed of who they are. Gaga’s songs reflect how relatable she is and also brings youths together by making them aware of each other to show that they are not alone. Gaga also named her fans “Little Monsters” so they can identify with each other and launched a website specifically for Little Monsters so they can stay connected with each other. Gaga’s subculture would never have been created if the members didn’t share a similar experience for subcultures cannot exist without certain circumstances (Hebdige 45).
Nonetheless, Gaga’s actions are all calculated. Her tours take on “the Carnivalesque,” similar to the notion of a carnival. “According to Mikhail Bakhtin in “From Carnival to Transgression”, “the carnival celebrates temporary liberation from the prevailing truth of the established order; it marks the suspension of all hierarchical rank, privileges, norms and prohibitions” (Stallybrass, White 294). Gaga’s tours become carnivalesque because they promote semantic disorder and actual chaos. She names her tours “Balls” and “Raves” to promote social transgression by removing boundaries that aren’t supposed to be moved, such as kissing someone of the same-sex. Social roles are thrown out the window and her fans, representing the Other, have the most to gain by imagining the world in a different way. At these shows, there is an emphasis on things that normally have to be hidden. The “carnival” represents symbolic inversion, “any act of expressive behavior which inverts, contradicts, abrogates, or in some fashion presents an alternative to commonly held cultural codes, values and norms be they linguistic, literary or artistic, religious, social, and political” (Stallybrass, White 299). It is typical to see many members of the LGBT community, who have been rejected by society, at Lady Gaga concerts, some may even dress up in drag. With these symbolic inversions, the carnivalesque becomes a widespread form off transgression. Gaga becomes a sense of security for her fans and her own transgressions outside of the carnivalesque, seen on red carpets, and in music videos, influences her fans to take it outside of the carnivalesque, as well.
Though Gaga rejects this capitalist market, she utilizes others to spread her message, seen in her music video “G.U.Y.,” her awards-show outfits, and commercialized concert “raves”. By disseminating her critique commercially, Gaga is able to reach her fans on a mass level. The strong influence Gaga has on her fans helps infiltrate these new ideologies into the mainstream, ultimately re-standardizing the way women in the industry and the Other in society are perceived. At the end of her “G.U.Y.” music video, Gaga sends a bunch of clones out into the world after haven taken down the corporate businessmen. This represents that the mass production process doesn’t destroy authenticity or art, but that the ideologies surrounding the production process does. Gaga sends the clones out with a new ideology.
Ultimately, Lady Gaga’s transgression as a female artist in a capitalist market actually led to a social and cultural change. More female artists who are not a size zero are achieving success and singers such as Sam Smith are not afraid to be openly gay. Lady Gaga herself has come full circle in her career by pairing up with Tony Bennett to record a Jazz album. When performing with him, Gaga adorns classic gowns that don’t exploit her sexuality. Jazz is a genre where no spectacle is needed other than to just sing. This in part represents how Lady Gaga is now an equal with Tony Bennett; they are both just singing and wearing appropriate outfits. The focus of the show is on the songs, not their bodies. Her artistic value is finally more important than her economic value, thus becoming a pioneer for re-standardizing the way female artists are valued in the industry.
Davis, Fred. “Do Clothes Speak? What Makes Them Fashion?” Fashion Theory: A Reader. Ed. Barnard, Malcolm. New York: Routledge, 2007. 148-58. Print.
“Fashion and Celebrity 2.0.” Alice Marwick and Brooke Duffy. Culture Digitally. Print. Transcript.
Fiske, John. Understanding Popular Culture. Bostom: Unwin-Hymon, 1989. Print.
G.U.Y. – An ARTPOP Film. Perf. Lady Gaga. Interscope, 2014. Film.
Hebdige, Dick. Subculture, the Meaning of Style. NY: Routledge, 1998. Print-NatKarG.U.Y. – An ARTPOP Film. Perf. Lady Gaga.
Interscope, 2014. Film.
Mapes, Jillian. “Lady Gaga Explains Her Meat Dress: ‘It’s No Disrespect.'”
Billboard. Billboard, 13 Sept. 2010. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.
Stallybrass, Peter, and Allon White. “From Carnival to Transgression (1986).”
Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1986. Print.
“Lady Gaga’s ArtRave. “Scoopla Music Blog. Southern Cross Austero, 20 Feb. 2014. Photos:
Web. 11 Mar. 2015. <http://www.2dayfm.com.au/scoopla/music/blog/2014/2/
Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga. Insider. Insider, 2 Feb. 2015. Web. 11 Mar. 2015.