Sunday, April 25, 2010

"We're C-Coming Out": Lady Gaga's Videographic and Public Bisexual Persona

Below are some preliminary thoughts on a term paper for my Sexual Personae class.

Musical artist, performer and stylistic savant Lady Gaga's gender and sexual identity have come into question ever since the release of her first album The Fame in 2008. Reactions to her on- and off-screen persona bring to light the public's discomfort with a contemporary performance artist whose display of her body is not overtly sexualized to the preferences of the male gaze. Clearly taking influence from artists like Madonna and turning the costumes and visual styles up to maximum volume, Lady Gaga's music is in no way what makes her unique - this young woman is clearly an artist in the age of the viral video, incorporating hyper-contemporary and shocking images into her repertoire of dance and filmed and live performance. Lady Gaga's outrageous costumes, videos, and stage presence are all part of that repertoire, and paired with her public appearances at LGBTQ Rights rallies make for just an off-kilter enough performance of gender and sexuality for the general public to begin to question her identification as a woman. Even after Gaga admitted to identifying as a bisexual woman, rumors surrounding her sex organs did not subside - a rumor that her recent video "Telephone" goes to almost graphic lengths to disprove.

Lady Gaga's videos never shy away from sparking conversation and inciting controversy - especially in the fluidity of her sexual affections and attentions from one video to the next.

In this paper I would like to address the representations of Lady Gaga's sexuality in both her music videos as well as her public life of advocacy. I would like to begin by analyzing the discourse surrounding Gaga's gender and sexual identity in the popular press and on gossip blogs and in magazines, as well as some of her appearances at LGBTQ rallies and publicized support of those who have experienced discrimination because of their sexuality. The paper will then move into a contextual analysis of the sexual content of both "Paparazzi" and "Telephone," two videos which depict the fluidity of her sexual affections for first a male ("Paparazzi") and then a female ("Telephone") sexual subject.

I will analyze the ways that these two videos break from while simultaneously reinstating certain gender roles, depictions of heterosexual and same-sex relationships, and ideas of the male gaze of the female subject.

Preliminary Sources:

Butler, Judith, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, New York: Routledge, 1990, 1999.

Dyer, Richard, Heavenly Bodies: Film Stars and Society, Second Edition, London: Routledge, 2004.

Straayer, Chris, Deviant Eyes, Deviant Bodies: Sexual Re-Orientations in Film and Video, New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.

Tyler, Parker, Screening the Sexes: Homosexuality and the Movies, New York: Holt, 1972.


Joumana said...

Interesting topic. I've never seen that video before. It's even more so when you consider the other track they've recorded together and the video thereof: Videophone (see here: Videophone appears in this light as the Beyoncé song (think music wise and main performer). Compare personas and gender and sexual identity attitudes...

Joumana said...

Lol. I keep coming back to this post, although I really did not think that I was gaga for Lady Gaga :) I just saw the new video by Christina Aguilera (Not Myself Tonight), and it looks like she (or her PR crew) is trying to capitalize on the Gaga's apparently successful sexual persona. As a result, the video (which accompanies a terribly boring song) is comparatively pathetic. It indulges in porno-glam, but fails to pick up on Gaga's attitude, or her gender issues/politics. Aguilera has always been a wishy-washy character, a trend follower at best, aping whoever was topping the charts (then Britney, now Gaga) - although she does have a better voice than them both.
(She's even covered her ass - while baring everything else... The song includes the temporary insanity defense: 'Someone call the doctor cause I lost my mind' and the reassurance that if this doesn't work out, she can always go back to being her more PG-rated self that can do ads for wholesome target: 'In the morning / When I wake Up / I'll go back to the girl I used to be / But baby not tonight'.)

Katharine Relth said...


I totally agree with you RE Christina's video, which doesn't make use of any of the subtlety or nuance that Gaga is so good at. This is obviously a video about S&M, an act that Aguilera distances herself from with the lyrics of the song. Gaga does not distance her video performances from herself as a performer and even as a public persona. Plus, this video is just really, really trashy.

See my most recent post where I analyze "Paparazzi" to the best of my ability :)