Everybody wants a piece of pop culture prime rib. And what’s the hotly sought after meat these days? Well, it’s the queen of the fame game, Lady Gaga. After gaining 25 pounds a few weeks ago, the media circus lit up into full-fledged flashbulb frenzy. Mother Monster is now an ogre, as surface-level sources like Entertainment Tonight reported that surely she was not “born this way.” Her daring response is promoting the weight gain itself – and it’s an experiment in performance art politics.
Gaga is as much a visual artist as she is a musician. You can’t possibly attend a Monster Ball concert without commenting on which outlandish outfit she rocked for what otherworldly dance tune. For the release of her noir perfume, “Lady Gaga Fame,” the singer performed to the tune of gothic grandeur at the Guggenheim in Manhattan. In a bedroom setting, she recreated the symbiotic, life-sucking relationship between paparazzi and celebrity. From pissing into a champagne bucket to waking up with masked men stroking her hands, Gaga exposed the pleasure and pain of craving fame. At the same time, she transformed high-class attendees into voyeurs. “It’s simple,” said filmmaker Steven Klein to a Vanity Fair reporter. “Everybody wants a piece of fame, so it’s like, in the end, what do they really want? They don’t really know. But unless they touch her, they’re not really satisfied.”
Fame’s dark side manifests itself in Gaga’s latest performance: “Body Revolution 2013.” A couple weeks ago, Mother Monster shared her struggle with bulimia and launched the fan-driven, positive body image campaign. On the “Little Monsters” online forum, Gaga listeners engage in thoughtful and supportive dialogue. They post pictures of their unique bodies proudly. They reply in solidarity as their Mother taught them, “Paws up!” And the support extends beyond eating disorders – a young boy posted about his facial deformities following a horrific bike accident.
Whether this “revolution” is performance art or not, we’ll never know. There’s a certain mystique about Gaga that allows herself to become something more than a person; to become a critique of the spectacle that surrounds her. Barbara Kruger, an American collage artist, perhaps said it best with her feminist-meets-capitalist approach. Over the portrait of a glossy magazine beauty, a caption confronts the viewer: “Your body is a battleground.”
Whether it’s your body, my body, Gaga’s body… it’s all public space in this mediated world. As someone who went on their first diet at age 11, I know how media influences young people’s body image and self-esteem. Back in 2000, the culprit for me was Teen People magazine. Now, preteens cruise Tumblr for posts of “thin-spiration” as the term “plus size” shrinks from a size 16 to 12 (thanks, Calvin Klein). Internet culture has changed how young adults interact and influence each other. At least Gaga has created a healthy community for preteens, teens, and adults to talk about the fame façade and how it can harm our self-perception.
Yes, Gaga’s weight gain and campaign are a little too close to her new album release. However, said LP is called “ARTPOP.” And what better way to promote this art than by exhibiting her vulnerability as an artist and a human being?
Despite the backlash, it’s important to note Gaga’s everyday performance evokes a response from media darlings and Average Joes/Janes alike. She’s rekindling the press fire for a long-running self-esteem issue. “The biggest and most important thing is it really gets people talking and gets people focused on it,” Laura Discipio, executive director at the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, told MTV News. There’s something at least admirable for a star as big as Gaga to step up to the stage and symbolically say: “Here’s my art. Here’s my body. Interpret me, as you will, for good or bad.”
As part of her latest music/art exhibit in Antwerp, Gaga brought back the meat frock. Drawing attention to her fuller physique, the singer played upon metaphor after meaty metaphor. In the midst of “Poker Face,” she dove headfirst into a simulated meat grinder, literally falling victim to the daily tabloid grind. It’s true – we can’t read her poker face. We don’t know the eating disorder battle behind “Gaga” as her pre-fame moniker, Stefani Germanotta. We probably will never know whether the Body Revolution is from the heart or just a publicity stunt. Whatever medium, the message about celebrity and a woman’s place in hollow Hollywood is as subversive as Kruger and as brash as a rotisserie on stage.
The grand, perplexing thing about Mother Monster is she’ll never stop questioning, provoking, and performing to an audience – real or imagined. And to that unfaltering artistic integrity, I throw my paws up.