Gaga Loves Madonna: Sex Positive Women In Pop Music (and the music dorks that love them)

I’ve had a hard time in life. Since college, where I dabbled in the ideas that were so unimportant to the world, I’ve been inflicted with this obsessive-compulsive habit of needing to tear apart everything. This is what college teaches you to do, find the things you love, obsess over them and then attempt to dissect every possible molecule available until the thing you loved is not longer recognizable and instead a heap of vile carnage, staring at you like an autopsy victim. It also teaches you that the things you thought you hated are the things you love. I once wrote a 17 page paper on The Spice Girls. I was a 20-year-old, white, male. My favorite bands were Lifetime, Braid and The Promise Ring at the time. What the hell did I care about the Spice Girls. But I got obsessed with them. I waited in line to get concert tickets (where I lied to a middle age woman about why I was there, saying I was taking my little sister, who does not exist, when in actuality I was going with my English Professor who was, in part responsible for this mess), I bought all the albums and singles and videos. I have a god damn Ginger Spice doll. I read her autobiography. I own multiple (but not all) solo albums from former members.

So clearly, I have a problem with pop divas. I’d like to say this all came to an end in 1999 when I finally graduated, with miserable grades from George Mason University, but it didn’t. There was Madonna (more on her in a minute) and then Mariah Carey crept into my life, then Brittany made me hate every thing and then Mike Watt played on a Kelly Clarkson album, so you know that didn’t go well. It spiraled all the hell out of control and I’ve never truly recovered (though it never got as bad as The Spice Girls, I did consider going to see Clarkson on the My December tour, but decided against it as Watt was not playing bass in her live band).

So now what does the world throw at me but Lady Gaga. Known to her Mom and Pop as Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, I have been able to resist Gaga for the first two years of her insane career. I think I saw the “Bad Romance” video for like 30 seconds in November of 2009, but I was pretty drunk and it was scary (it’s scary sober too kids). Then I watched Glee (basically at gun point) and heard that “Born This Way” song and somehow, cosmically got intrigued. I say cosmically because Glee sucks and so did their rendition of the song.

When I first gave sexuality anthem “Born this Way” for the first time by The Lady here self, I couldn’t help immediately think of Madonna. The track sounds like a cover of a Madonna song. In fact, it’s been killing me which one. It’s close to “Express Your Self” and has a very similar message. But in actually thinking about Madonna, I though instead of “Justify My Love”.  Check the clips below and get back at me.

Born This Way – Lady Gaga

Madonna – Justify My Love

While certainly, the lyrics of Lady Gaga’s “Born this Way” are meant to be a more universal celebration, both she and Madonna are playing with a role of open sexual identity. Madonna has many lovers, in many costumes, playing many roles. Gaga, who hasn’t exactly denied her love for Madonna, clearly grew up watching Madonna in her youth. The slow, seductive number that “Justify My Love” is clearly not the all-inclusive rocker that “Born this Way” is, and perhaps the sultry seduction is part of the point. I always thought so. But the idea is the same, what ever your pleasure (or pain), this is a world that is (not should be, is) inclusive of all types. Clearly, as Madonna exits the hotel room, happy and giddy, this is a celebration. The use of the word “Justify” seems ironic almost, a part of Gaga’s act I am still trying to find. But Madonna at this point in her career had already been attacked and persecuted for her sexuality.

This realization actually made me pay attention to Lady Gaga. If you rock a look at the comments section on her “Born This Way” video (or any other video for that matter) you’ll find I am not the first person making these connections. The comparisons, contrasts and the like to Lady M are fairly rampant and obvious. No surprising then is the similar utilization of Christian imagery as a method of expression for love and sex. Madonna, probably second only to her book Sex, caught the most shit in her career when she released the video for “Like A Prayer” video. Once again a brunette, and a more humble one at that, Madonna shocked the establishment by having a Black Jesus figure who also happened to be the object of sexual affection (by nature of the lyrics, not by depiction in the video).

Madonna – Like A Prayer

Race and sexuality exploded on to the airwaves and boob-tube courtesy of MTV, who played this video non-stop in the summer of 1989. People were pissed that Madonna would sexualize christ and make him black, missing of course the whole point of the video (but not totally the song, since Madonna equates the ecstasy of sex with the otherworldly power of prayer). But Madonna proved that she could be intellectual, provocative, controversial and sexy, even as a brunette, while giving arguably her best vocal performance to date.

Lady Gaga’s “Judas” was created with similar effect in mind. While Gaga exists in a hyper-meta world, perhaps her video is not as shocking in a larger context. The Baz Luhrmann styled video however finds Gaga flirting with both a Hispanic Jesus and a White Judas. These obvious choices as an attempt to play controversy aside, Jesus is what’s good for Gaga but Judas really gets her libido. JC’s still getting sexed up here, but now we’re playing with the dude that sold him out, too.

Gaga rocks the role of Mary Magdalene, unable to commit to either her saviour or her corrupter. And while the song’s chorus is clear where her allegiances lie, the video not so much. She doesn’t even leave with Judas and his gang, instead, she arrives with them at the foot of Jesus and his crews block party. Jesus offers healing and Judas offers temptation. And yet she can’t decide. Here Gaga has gone one step further than Madonna, eliciting the idea that love and as an extension sex are not as simple as devotion. Neither of course is religion, which is also apparent in this cinematic piece.

My apprehension to Gaga was alleviated when I saw this video. There is something beautiful in its visuals, despite it’s stylized copying and excessive, saturation of color. I’m not totally sold yet that Gaga is the heir apparent though. After all, I grew up with Madonna, who was challenging my concepts of sexuality, power dynamics and gender before I could even articulate that. Like many before me (thanks in no small part to Mike Watt and Sonic Youth) I embraced Madonna as one of my own. I spent many summer days mowing lawns listening to the Like a Prayer album over and over again. I grew into my adulthood and thus had Madonna along during those years where I studied sexuality, feminism and sex in a whirlwind of college courses and gracious women. I don’t really need Lady Gaga in my life, here at age 34. I’m not suggesting that I, or anyone my age is so obtuse that we should remain concrete in our ideas, but the avenues that Gaga is offering are similar to one’s I’ve already gone down with Lourdes Ciccone. And while I appreciate that she’s operating in the mainstream and still able to push ideas that clearly not even Madonna could resolve, they aren’t as necessary for me to see. Sure there are kids in “small town” America that don’t have access to everything they may need to understand themselves and relate to others. So here, Gaga offers them something different that accepts them for who they are. But I already feel accepted by myself. I don’t need the validation.

There’s one more video I kept thinking about. And it’s not one that Gaga can yet, totally emulate. Madonna, in reaction to all the nonsense she was accustomed to receiving that attacked her as a woman and her sexuality released “Human Nature”. This stark, bleak video was, at the time, pretty intense, even for Madonna. The latex suits and bondage rope pretty much ensured that anyone who thought she was going to back down and whimper away was clearly not paying attention.

Madonna – Human Nature

Gaga, she’s had her share sure. People keep thinking she has a dick and her non-traditional images of beauty seem to rub people ragged. But she hasn’t been crucified to the degree that Madonna was. And it’s weird to remember all of this, and feel so enraged now in hindsight, when at the time I wasn’t so concerned.

But this video and song remind me of at least one other thing that Madonna and Lady Gaga have in common. The end of the track, Madonna asks if all this expression would be better received if she were a man. I can’t help but ask why is it always women in pop music that are offering up these doorways to the masses where the listeners gender and sexuality are accepted? Pop music, even when they gave us Elvis and Beatles held nothing unsafe in revealing or shocking male sexuality. In a post glam-rock, cherry metal world, the role of man as sex object is reserved for the typical, masculine gender roles. There is no fluidity in James Blunt after all and while the sexualization of that poor teenage lesbian trapped in a prepubescent boy’s body Justin Bieber is alarming, it’s still a role of boy as safe object of desire. There is no controversy, no gender bending, no glamour. It’s mostly just boring. This wasn’t always the case. We once had rock gods in the form of Freddie Mercury and David Bowie. What kind of sexuality is Rivers Cuomo selling, because I want no part of that? Who the hell does?

1 Comment

  1. What a material of un-ambiguity and preserveness of valuable know-how regarding unexpected emotions.

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