Monday, July 19, 2010

Lady Gaga – A stabilizing force for American culture and fighter for equality

Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber compete for record YouTube views
By Roman Shusterman (

In modern society a sure sign of a successful mainstream artist is based on how many hits they are able to garner on their YouTube videos. Last week Lady Gaga broke the record and made the news, but this week Canadian teenage pop artist Justin Bieber surpassed her record at 246 million views. The rise of Bieber as a young male solo artist can only be comparable to the rise of Stevie Wonder, yet from the standpoint of artistic expression which is a good marker as to where in their political development and social consciousness an artist is at, the comparison ends at their common age. Although great American artists have traditionally come from challenging backgrounds, which helped them cultivate their forms of art as a way of expressing their life’s struggles and by extension societal ills and injustices, today artists seem to be more hesitant to tackle issues that are not already in the mainstream public sphere of debate. Yet, Lady Gaga has bravely stood up for the rights of gays and others who she feels get treated unfairly and are oppressed and bullied by our society. In fact Gaga recently spoke out on Larry King live where she explained her personal relationship and the affinity she feels for her fans, which she refers to as her “little monsters”.

As is the case with most great artists and geniuses, Lady Gaga did not fit in with her peers growing up. In fact she had a reputation as a freak, it is that struggle of hers to trademark her brand and unite the people who are labeled as being different that has gained her such a loyal following and supporters not just from one genre of music but possibly from all genres, including pop, rock, punk, gothic, as well as dance. Also on the Larry King interview Lady Gaga revealed that during Michael Jackson’s planned tour she was going to be a surprise performer, Jackson was apparently also becoming a big fan of Lady Gaga’s. Imagine the unification of pop music that would have been fostered by the combination of Jackson’s fans and Lady Gaga’s loyal following of fans. Jackson’s image could have been repaired and his supposed transgressions forgiven thanks to Gaga’s loyal followers, since if their leader forgives him then they would surely follow.

A combination of artistic power that could command the loyalty of all music and record labels, could be a major threat to the corporate culture of music today, especially if the artists are politically liberal and opposed to the extreme exploitation of their peers as well as the exploitation of other professionals whether in working class communities or impoverished areas and generally speaking worldwide. With the power of the internet a combination of powerful artists could foster the development of a major revival in freedom of expression not depending on major labels and yet just as powerful to influence the public with its views on politics as well as music and culture. The culture which is not receptive to gay rights could have been changed with this type of public unification between Jackson and Gaga. The fact that Jackson commands a large segment of the African American community, would foster more inter-racial dialogue in general which was promised by Obama but was not delivered. Gangster rap and other corporate music which degrades women and encourages violence for the sake of corporate profits would also have suffered a major blow with this type of unification. Yet now since the tour never occurred we have Lady Gaga competing for hits with Bieber who may be a talented artist but whose lyrics do not express any real concern for major issues of importance, this may of course change as he grows older but for now his music is the best distraction from real artists’ ability to challenge the status quo and create brands that surpass the corporate grip on artistic expression.