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  • May 23, 2011

Gaga Over Inclusion: Lady Gaga’s Generational Message

by Andrés T. Tapia —


Lady Gaga is today’s symbol of the modern inclusion movement.

Whether you are into her music and outfits or not, without question she’s tapped into something profound with her message of the beauty and power of the outcast. From the offbeat, unpopular girl that she was to to the supernova she has exploded into being, Stefani Germanotta from New York’s Upper West Side has now over 10 million followers on Twitter — more than any other person on the planet, including more than that other inclusion icon, President Barack Obama.

What makes her message so captivating is that from the very beginning this has been her own story of revenge against the very popular high school girls who punished her for not being cool. Consequently, she has turned the same peculiarity that led to her ostracism into the very base of her artistic power.

With her newly released Born This Way album, Lady Gaga completes the second stage of her artistic and personal metamorphosis. In the early stage of this metamorphosis on her third album, The Fame Monster and the artistic staging that followed, her message was about facing her greatest fears – each of the eight songs is about different primal fear – and doing so by making them larger than life which she did with elaborate stage sets. As she said in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, the only way to conquer one’s fear is to face it. But how telling that during this stage, Lady Gaga’s persona could only face these fears behind outrageous masks, glasses, hairdos, and costumes including one made of meat. For awhile all her interviews were done with her face hidden in some way or another from the interviewer. Her ways were bold on the outside, shy inside.

Which, of course, coupled with her kick ass dance music and alliterative, playful, and at times, disturbing lyrics made her highly entertaining and controversial while remaining mysterious and hidden.

But with Born This Way, Lady Gaga has gone through another metamorphosis. This time she’s emerged from behind the disguises, and in the spirit of the anthemic title track, is fully showing her true self. “I am a simple girl from New York, who loves her parents, loves her fans, and loves herself.” This time her message is simple: don’t work hard at being someone you are not. Rather be free by being yourself and fully accepting who that is:

Don’t be a drag, just be a queen
Whether you’re broke or evergreen
You’re black, white, beige, chola descent
You’re Lebanese, you’re orient
Whether life’s disabilities
Left you outcast, bullied, or teased
Rejoice and love yourself today
’cause baby you were born this way

No matter gay, straight, or bi,
lesbian, transgendered life,
I’m on the right track baby,
I was born to survive.
No matter black, white or beige
Chola or orient made,
I’m on the right track baby,
I was born to be brave.

In her HBO special based on her recent performance at Madison Square Garden I was struck by how stripped down she was. She only briefly covered her eyes with shades or a mask, opting for an open-faced look throughout the night. Most of her performance was done in outfits that revealed rather than hid her body. Nothing to hide.

In this stripped down spirit, her most arresting number was a scaled down piece with just her at the piano. And to underscore the message, the ending credits are done in black and white as she and her gospel backup singers do an acapella version of Born This Way in the dressing room.

In the middle of the concert Lady Gaga tells the story of how her theater and music teachers did not think she could ever make it show business. She did not have the necessary looks, including not being blond and being too ethnic. As a “student of fame,” as Lady Gaga refers to herself, she shows up at Madison Square Garden defiantly as a super blond with mustard colored dyed hair.

In comparing videos of her first metamorphosis to her second, it’s striking how free she is. While some may say her lyrics now are too preachy and literal and others may miss her more esoteric references, she moves without apology to fulfill her mission: to liberate her “little monsters” and encourage them to believe “you can be whoever it is you want to be.”

As a preacher of this modern era, she lets them know no one can tell them what they can and can’t do. She then role models for them how. “I didn’t use to be brave at all. But you … have made me brave. So now I will be brave for you.” And then raising her voice in defiance, “I want  you to forfeit all your insecurities. I want you to reject anyone who has made you feel you don’t belong. Or that tell you that you don’t fit in or are not good enough or pretty enough or thin enough or sing good enough or dance good enough. Just remember you are a g**damn superstar and you were born this way.”

Lady Gaga takes her fans seriously. And watching her fans respond is stunning in the liberation she inspires for them.  Theirs are not screams swooning for the cute boys of bands past, rather these are screams for the affirmation of self. And so the little monsters find full individualistic expression through their original clothing, face paintings, and forms of dancing. They affirm their gayness, their clumsiness, their awkwardness, their shyness.

Which brings us all back to inclusion. In the end, the Inclusion movement is, at its simplest, about the freedom to be us. No pretense. No putdowns. Just full acceptance.

And, in this, we liberate the power of our creative talented selves.

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