“Don’t you ever let a soul in the world tell you that you can’t be exactly who you are.” – Lady Gaga
Women have been hugely underrepresented in the music industry since its inception. With sexism and misogyny prevalent in showbiz, women’s position has been domineered in more ways than one. In fact, it’s not just women. Every individual, be they female or genderqueer or even effeminate males – basically, whoever has tried to go against the established and existing cis-gendered, heteronormative, patriarchal norms, has always been looked down upon and discriminated against in the music industry.
Yet, in the midst of the stark disparities, women and genderqueer artists have raised their voices against the injustices that they have had to face in the industry. They have fought for and continue to fight for their rightfully earned place in the music world. They continue to challenge the prevalent gender-biased standards and make music a more inclusive and sensitised domain for individuals across the spectrum to showcase their abilities. Lady Gaga, among many others, has been one of the leading examples and active proponents of causes such as these while also proving that she is, in no way, any less competent than her male peers as an artist.
Lady Gaga’s music speaks for itself. One of the more versatile artists in the industry, her musical style encompasses everything from pop music to EDM to avant-garde. She was influenced by artists like David Bowie, Queen, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Whitney Houston, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Freddie Mercury as well as Andy Warhol for the theatrical aspects of performance, who helped her shape her own musical style in the subsequent years.
With the release of milestone albums such as The Fame Monster (2009), Born This Way (2011), Artpop (2013), Cheek to Cheek (2014), Joanne (2016), and more recently, Chromatica (2020), Gaga’s records are masterpieces in their own right. Her musical expressions, as compared to other artists, often seem a little over-the-top. But that is just part and parcel of her image as a musician.
Whether in her songs, videos, or live shows, Gaga’s ability to grab our attention lies in making every presentation a dramatic performance of its own, thereby making the simplest moments a more exciting and palatable spectacle for her audience. Despite being a pop icon, her views and approaches towards pop music have been rather idiosyncratic. As she herself said, “Some people say everything [in music and fashion] has been done before, and to an extent they are right. I think the trick is to honour your vision and reference and put together things that have never been put together before. I like to be unpredictable, and I think it’s very unpredictable to promote pop music as a highbrow medium.”
Outside of her words, Gaga’s songs have also addressed a varied range of all-time relevant issues, including love, loss, romance, identity and self-introspection, sex, freedom, sexuality, drugs and money, mental health and bringing about a change in society and the challenges that are subsequently faced. Her stature as a dynamic and outspoken musician in the industry has much to do with her flair for representing sensitive topics in her songs without inhibitions.
It is not just in music, though. Lady Gaga has also been a visionary when it comes to redefining fashion and setting new trends for society as a whole. However, it must be said, some of her fashion statements can be pulled off exclusively by her. Whether it be the glitter-glam phase in her former years in the industry or her ‘Poker Face’ and ‘Bad Romance’ look or that time she adorned herself with the dress made out of meat (which unsurprisingly fueled a lot of controversies), Lady Gaga’s fashion has evolved into creating a genre of its own – a Gaga-esque look, if one could call it that. By her own admittance, much of her inspiration behind her style had been from her mother, as well as Donatella Versace, whom she calls her muse, other noted figures including Alexander McQueen and Princess Diana.
Her trends have been subjected to much scrutiny, often labelled as unrealistic, provocative and even artificial. Gaga, of course, had a fitting response to this as well: “I don’t ever want to be grounded in reality. In my show, I announce, ‘People say Lady Gaga is a lie, and they are right. I am a lie. And every day I kill to make it true.’ It’s the dream of my vision, it’s the lie that I tell, whether it’s an umbrella or it’s a hat, or it’s the way that I shape my lipstick. And then, eventually, it becomes a reality. My hair bow was a lie, and now it’s true.” Essentially, Lady Gaga, in every step of her career, has strived to make the unimaginable imaginable, and that is what makes her truly iconic.
Born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, her stage name Lady Gaga had been adopted after considerable deliberation. In an interview, she claimed that “Gaga” was “just a nickname my friends had for me in New York” and “it just kind of stuck”. But later, she decided to make it her professional name as it attracted attention. While the story went that Rob Fusari, her former boyfriend and producer, first assigned her the name, she later added colour to the story. Instead, she said: “I decided that I’d been playing under my real name for so long. I wanted to reinvent myself. So, I said, ‘What about Lady Gaga, because Gaga is sort of crazy and Lady has such connotations'”. A winner of 12 Grammy Awards, several Brit Awards, Golden Globes, a BAFTA, 18 MTV VMAs, claiming multiple Guinness World Records, and even being presented with the Fashion Icon award by the CFDA, Lady Gaga’s contribution to the contemporary music scene has been immeasurable.
A philanthropist, Gaga is involved with various charities and campaign groups and donated her proceeds and profits from shows and online stores to the relief funds for the 2010 Haiti earthquake. She also performed at a charity show in Japan to benefit the Japanese Red Cross. She joined the campaign of Artists Against Fracking as well as ones to raise awareness for HIV and AIDS.
She’s not slowed down, either; Lady Gaga launched her Born This Way Foundation in 2012 to empower the youth, fight against bullying and so on. She has been an active advocate for LGBTQIA+ rights all around the world. Identifying herself as a bisexual woman, the singer said, “I very much want to inject gay culture into the mainstream. It’s not an underground tool for me. It’s my whole life.”
Lady Gaga is an inspiration for so many people worldwide – for her music, for her fashion, for embracing her identity despite the many obstacles she had to face. She gives today’s youth the hope that no matter how bleak things may seem, things will get better. All that matters is to be true to themselves and not be afraid to stand up for who they choose to be and what they believe in.