10 ways that lady gaga changed the world
From meat dress to #metoo, Gaga lit a fire under pop’s arse.
It’s been almost exactly ten years since Lady Gaga released her debut single, Just Dance. From that moment, pop culture changed irreversibly. With stone cold bangers Bad Romance, Telephone, Poker Face, Born This Way and Paparazzi, Gaga infiltrated her way into the into pop’s pantheon of icons. From the New York club girl with a hair bow to the woman wearing a meat dress, no one sparked more conversations, courted more controversies or pushed more boundaries of how pop, art and fashion intersected. So, to celebrate a decade of Mother Monster, here are 10 ways that Lady Gaga changed the world.
1. She treated pop music like art
To understand the impact that Lady Gaga had on pop music you have to comprehend how dull pop had become in 2008. The rise of the reality star and the advent of the gossip blog had stripped celebrity of its enigmatic allure. Pop music, once brimming with weirdos, had fallen foul to this curse; it was no longer a place of sparkle and spectacle. Pop had become lackadaisical. It made what Gaga did feel unique.
Not only were the pop songs brilliant, but they came with a narrative that dissected celebrity culture and played up to Warholian tropes about fame. There were wigs, concepts, costumes and ridiculous visuals; pop songs that were expertly produced, thrillingly written and lyrically intelligent; and in the middle of it all was a singer with an almost mutant desire to succeed. The sheer excitement of a pop star refusing to compromise creatively and aesthetically was invigorating. Here was an artist who, in interviews with E! News, was questioning the validity of labelling pop as low brow. Frankly, Lady Gaga lit a fire under pop’s arse.
2. She brought back self-mythologising in pop
The thrilling thing about Lady Gaga was how, initially, it was impossible to separate Gaga the artist from Gaga the person. In the vein of Madonna, Michael Jackson and David Bowie, she spun a tale about her past that was impossible to truly interpret; her life, she said, was performance art. Whether she was really just a normal girl from New York who loved musical theatre or whether she was truly from the planet G.O.A.T as she claimed in the Born This Way video, felt redundant; the truth was whatever she wanted to present. Her candour, or lack thereof, was ploughed into her work, with videos like Marry The Night telling a cracked and dysphoric story of her journey to superstardom.
3. The Paparazzi Performance at the 2009 VMAs
Through visuals and choreography, in just under four minutes Gaga spins a fatalistic tale of fame with manic determination. The whole thing, ironically, comes fully alive in the last 30 seconds as she runs to the middle of the stage, blood pouring from her chest. As the performance ends, she hangs mid-air, her eyes dead, blood smeared on her face. It’s a masterclass in how to deliver a concept and a thrilling reminder of the theatricality of pop music.
4. The Fame Monster EP proved pop could be perfect
For the re-release of her debut album, Lady Gaga distilled the ingredients from her previous material into eight deliciously deranged songs that luxuriated in the dank underbelly of fame. With the industrial beats and gothic stabs of Bad Romance, Gaga let rip a Hitchcockian demon of paranoia and melancholia. With Alejandro, Gaga tore at ABBA and Ace of Base. Both Monster and Teeth teem with horrific danger. Telephone was the perfect amalgamation of two of pop’s major power players. And then there’s Dance in the Dark, a song littered with the threat and fear of insecurity. If you ever need to define the term ‘Imperial Phase’, play someone The Fame Monster EP.
5. The Meat Dress
Worn by Gaga to the 2010 MTV VMAs, the meat dress is so famous that it has its own Wikipedia page. Designed by Franc Fernandez and styled by Nicola Formichetti, the meat dress spoke to a type of fearlessness that Gaga had about fashion, and how she used it to promote her political beliefs. She later explained the dress’s message to Ellen DeGeneres, saying how it was a stand against America’s controversial ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy, which prevented gay, lesbian and bisexual people in the military from disclosing their sexuality. The meat dress has since been preserved for posterity, as it bloody well should be.
6. Her support for the LGBTQ community
While female pop stars standing in support of the LGBTQ community was not a new phenomenon, Lady Gaga’s vocal advocacy for queer people is almost unparalleled in pop. Across her career, she’s actively spoken against anti-gay legislation, campaigning in 2010 against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” with an emphatically delivered speech. Following the shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando in 2016, during a vigil in New York Gaga read aloud the names of the 49 victims who had been killed. She even started her own non-profit, The Born This Way Foundation, in a bid to tackle bullying and abandonment.
7. The power of Born This Way
Whatever you think of it artistically, Lady Gaga releasing a song like Born This Way in 2011 was a risk. Here was a pop star at the height of their power willing to lay it all down to support minorities and the LGBTQ community. It’s easy to be cynical when it comes to the motivations of pop stars, but there’s an earnestness to Born This Way’s message of equality that, underneath the hectic production and high concept video, touched on something real. The socio-politics of the song aside, with Born This Way Gaga helped LGBTQ kids all around the world, and aided the quest for equality’s jump to the mainstream.
8. Her Little Monsters
The way that artists interact with their fans underwent a seismic shift when Lady Gaga gave birth to her Little Monsters. No longer was there a vast gap between those who consumed music and the artist who created it. Instead, Gaga engaged with her fans on a personal level, sending them messages and ensuring she nurtured them. In turn, her fans elevated her to godlike status; being a Gaga fan became a religion. However, being a Little Monster also unified people, providing weirdos and outcasts with a sense of belonging under the care of the almighty Mother Monster. It would set a precedent for how fan communities behave and interact that exists to this day.
8. Her Artpop could mean anything
Described as a “reverse Warholian experience”, Artpop is a bold adventure into an exploratory type of pop music that’s irreverent and playful. It’s an adventure, unfortunately, that didn’t necessarily pay off. Still, the derision against Artpop perhaps misses the record’s point, which is its attempt to expunge the myth and performance of the character of Lady Gaga. It swings from heavy metaphors about art and pop culture to rare confessionals about the parasitic narcissistic tendencies of the famous and the traumas of drug taking and sexual abuse. It’s the unhinged beginning of the dismantling of Lady Gaga.
9. Joanne helped spearhead the rise of the “rootsy” pop record
Before Justin Timberlake took a trip the woods and prior to Kylie Minogue’s visit to Dollywood, Lady Gaga and Mark Ronson cooked up an Americana album that’s both equal parts personal as it is performative. While Gaga has repeatedly said that the record presents her truest self, Joanne, like Artpop before it, still feels playful and probing. You’re never sure how much is façade and how much is genuine. If her life is performance art, as she so vehemently insisted at the beginning of her career, Joanne’s personal interiority could be read as well presented pretence. Regardless of its sincerity, Joanne is an intriguing sonic pivot that has helped sparked a rise in “rootsy” back-to-basics pop music.
10. She’s inspired more than just pop music
Lady Gaga’s impact on pop culture over the last 10 years will, like Madonna’s, Janet’s, Britney’s and Beyoncé’s, reverberate forever. But to understand just how far reaching her influence has been, you need look no further than this. In 2012, after researchers at Duke University in North Carolina discovered two new species of fern, it was decided that they would be named after Gaga herself. Mother Monster’s powers truly know no bounds.