Holy Spirit, give us the ability to see all things through eyes of faith. Show us how to discern, so we can embrace what is right and good, and reject what is not.
Every decade or two, a controversial figure emerges on the music scene. An artist who is completely dedicated to pushing the extreme limits of what society can handle, both musically and visually. Lady Gaga is without question this artist today.
In June, Gaga made the news not for her music or videos, but for indecent public behavior and obscene gestures at Citi Field (NY Mets game). Days later she found a way past security at Yankee Stadium and entered the Yankees’ clubhouse while intoxicated.
In an August 2 article from CNN, the pop diva admitted to continued occasional cocaine use. This is a direct contradiction with her previous statements saying she gave up cocaine and only occasionally used ecstasy. Both drugs can potentially have devastating effects with only one use; especially for someone like Lady Gaga, who has had drug problems in the past.
There is certainly a lot that is objectionable about Lady Gaga’s extremism. It seems like she will stop at nothing to see her name in headlines. But if we dig through the glam and glitter, behind the crazy costumes and characters and publicity stunts, is there ANYTHING we can learn?
Born on March 20, 1986, Lady Gaga was baptized Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta. She grew up on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, and learned to play the piano at only four years old. She attributes her unique attitude to the combination upbringing of her parents’ faith; her father is an Italian Catholic and her mother is a Methodist.
She has one sister who is 6 years younger than her. Although wealthy by many people’s standards, her family wouldn’t be considered rich in their neighborhood. Nor were they famous like some other pop artists’ families (Miley Cyrus, for example).
Stefani Germanotta went to all-girls Catholic high school at the Convent of the Sacred Heart (the same school as the Hilton sisters, incidentally). School plays and concerts are where she got her first taste of performing for large audiences. With her parents’ support, she worked hard; practicing two hours a day on her piano. She performed in clubs and bars around the city at only 14 years old.
At 17 she was accepted to a very prestigious music school called Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. After only a year at NYU, Germanotta dropped out of school so she could perform more gigs. Before her 20th birthday she had signed a record deal with Interscope and produced her first album, The Fame.
A Star Is Morphed
How did this sweet, Catholic school girl from a pretty normal family end up morphing in to the outlandish, far-out, queen of pop-crazy? After the brief college stint, Stefani went back to playing more “normal” music in a more traditional way. The turning point came when she took a break from performing to write songs in a new style; she calls it “glam music”.
One of the bars she played at a lot is called The Bitter End. Nearly every up-and-coming music act, and even an occasional full-blown star, plays this club at some point. She chose The Bitter End as the first place to play her new glam music. That first night, everyone was talking, eating and drinking, and having too much fun to listen. No one was paying attention to the poor teenage girl singing and playing her heart out on stage. Germanotta tried asking for the people to listen and be quiet, but they weren’t really interested.
In an interview with Barbara Walters, Stefani said, “Every bit of me is devoted to love and art…” She uses her music as a means to express her inner self; her struggles, her hopes and dreams, the things she can’t put into words. So she found this experience hard to take, because she had put so much of herself and her passion into writing the songs. She was really upset that no one would listen.
She quickly thought of ways to get people’s attention; and then it occurred to her to start removing her clothes… until she was singing in her underwear. Suddenly, everyone stopped what they were doing and stared in shock. Some looked on in horror, thinking she was crazy. Others inappropriately ogled her. But everyone listened.
For Stefani, this was one of those moments when life teaches you a lesson. That night she learned not everyone is interested in hearing or paying attention to self-expression. Unfortunately, she also learned a cold reality about many people: she could MAKE them pay attention by showing some skin.
And so her new character was born, along with her provocative costumes, which are often even more scary and grotesque than they are scandalous. Being a stage performer in high school, Stefani found it natural to add performance art and dance to her acts. A little while later, a friend gave her a nickname based on the Queen song Radio-a-gaga: Lady Gaga.
Playing to the wound
Our culture makes it easy for many young women to feel as though the only way to get people’s attention and approval is to misuse their sexuality. The sad truth is the reaction of the people in that crowd, and millions of people since then, has only helped convince Lady Gaga that this is true. Themes of feeling used, poor self-image, and wounded dignity are found in many of her songs. “Bad Romance” for example, speaks from the standpoint of someone who settles for a bad relationship because they do not feel they deserve or can get anything better.
There is a point at which someone’s own self-expression stops being just about themself and starts to affect others around them. Lady Gaga learned this first hand with her father.
“Well, …it wasn’t really so easy for my dad, especially in the beginning. I mean we didn’t talk for months after the first time he saw me play, and uh, he didn’t understand… Because it was such a drastic change, um, from who I was in high school, and who I became.” A self-professed “daddy’s girl,” Lady Gaga has learned the price of expressing yourself and your own ideas without thinking about how it might effect others.
And her full time acting out of the Lady Gaga character, even when she is not on stage, could be altering her own idea of who she is, and even her father’s idea of who she is. Recently, Gage visited her father in the hospital and he sent her home to put on her makeup, because she didn’t look like what he’d come to expect from her. Some people may say this is simply Lady Gaga choosing who she wants to be; others may say she is walking a dangerous line of losing who she really is by always putting on a show.
So wrong, so right
Some of the lifestyle choices and behaviors Lady Gaga promotes, and gives example of, are unhealthy or self-destructive. However, every once in a while she makes you stop and wonder how someone who seems so wrong could say something so right. While her reasons and explanations for these things may not be coming from a healthy set of values, here are some things she has said that are in line with the Catholic values she learned growing up.
Television shows such as Gossip Girl and 90210 make money off of telling young people that sexual promiscuity is “normal” behavior for teens. Lady Gaga begs to differ:
“I remember the cool girls when I was growing up. Everyone started to have sex. But it’s not really cool anymore to have sex all the time. It’s cooler to be strong and independent.”
In other interviews, she says, “I can’t believe I’m saying this — don’t have sex. I’m single right now and I’ve chosen to be single…”
Can this be true? Is the singer who dances around in next to nothing and seems to promote the do-whatever-makes-you-feel-good lifestyle really telling fans that you can retain your virginity and still be cool? Yes she is!
Now, it may be for different reasons than parents, priests, and religions say the same things, but the lesson is the same. To Lady Gaga, it is important that you “own” yourself, and be in control of yourself, in order to give yourself away to a spouse. While she does not adhere to the Catholic Church’s teaching that you should wait for marriage, she does warn young people about giving in to sexual temptation simply because of the pressure that society or other people place on you.
“You don’t have to have sex to feel good about yourself.” she tells fans. And again, “So it’s OK not to have sex, it’s OK to get to know people. I’m celibate, celibacy’s fine.” Lady Gaga has chosen to focus on her career and her music right now. She understands that in order to have a successful relationship, you have to take time to get to know one another and establish emotional and spiritual intimacy. So rather than turn to meaningless encounters with people she doesn’t really love, she has decided to put off having sex. And she’s making sure to tell others to do so as well.
The way Lady Gaga speaks about having a family sounds very much like a Catholic ideal, and seems to contradict her typically ultra-feminist and anti-traditional views. Speaking about how she felt when her father developed heart trouble, Gaga said “I just wanted to have him walk me down the aisle and hold my babies…”
Once again, Lady Gaga surprises us with an insight into who she really is. While many around her are trying to question the idea of traditional family, her idea of normal is a husband and kids; a real family. “I want to have babies for my Dad to hold, grandkids. And I want to have a husband who loves and supports me, just the way anyone else does.”
Lady Gaga admits that she is “tortured” by her thoughts and inner dialogue. She says that there are questions and doubts that are constantly going on in her mind, so much so that she cannot sleep. This has at times made her so exhausted that she collapsed or got sick on stage. Gaga admits that she often needs medication in order to get much needed rest.
In an interview with CNN’s Larry King, Gaga reveals that some of the struggles she has are with faith in God and religion:
“Well, I struggle. I struggle with my feelings about the Church… I’m very religious… I was raised Catholic. I believe in Jesus… I pray very much… But at the same time there is no one religion that does not hate… another [religious, group, racial group, or sexual group.] I guess you could say I’m a very religious woman, but also very confused about religion.”
Being involved in the world of theater and entertainment has exposed her to a lot of people who feel marginalized or outcast by religion. The Catholic Church refuses to compromise on what is right and what is wrong, and many people feel badly and misunderstand that as some form of discrimination. This has led her to question her faith. So, where does Lady Gaga seem to be going for the answers?
These types of doubts and questions expose a danger of being consumed with your own thoughts, feelings, and uniqueness: the illusion of self-reliance. When someone spends all their time exploring and expressing their own ideas, feelings, and opinions, and goes to extremes to create a unique image, it can be easy to depend only on oneself. There is a huge temptation to expect to figure out all the answers on your own. This can make it very frustrating when you experience doubts or have questions you can’t answer.
It takes a lot of humility to go to someone else and ask them to explain something. It also takes a lot of trust. However, it can bring a lot of peace of mind when you understand that you aren’t the only one who struggles and that there are others who can help you. Especially in matters of faith, it is important to find someone who really knows what the Church teaches, who can explain things well and clear up any misconceptions you might have heard. Perhaps this could help Lady Gaga find some peace. But for now, she says the turmoil she feels gives her a lot of energy and topics for new music, so she’s making the best of it.
Gaga Saga Continues
What we see in Stefani, or Lady Gaga as she is called, is a struggle. A constant inner conflict, between expressing and exploring her darkest and most terrifying thoughts and feelings, and doing what she knows is right and what will make her the happiest on the deepest level, the level of truths that don’t change. It’s a struggle between finding a way to be unique while still trying to be popular. It’s about fighting to expose the things we think are great about ourselves, while having a war with those things that hurt our confidence and self-image.
It is a struggle that all of us endure. Lady Gaga talks a lot about defining yourself and choosing who you want to be. But if we look closer, she shows us that underneath her costumes and characters, beats the heart of person who is struggling with the chaos of self discovery. We all do our best to present an image that will impress others, but when life presents questions we can’t figure out, where will we go for answers?