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Lady Gaga's Rebirth: Defining a New Evolution in "Born This Way"

An Active Mind's picture

Lady Gaga’s recently released single “Born This Way” relates to a lot of what I’ve been thinking about this semester in relation to issues of disability.  My opinions of the song waver.  As a big Lady Gaga fan, I have to admit that I love it (I love all of Gaga’s songs), but at the same time I feel like its sentiment comes off as being somewhat simplistic and cliché.  Luckily, Gaga—perhaps because she is so avant-garde—seems to get away with it, she appears to really mean what she says.  One of my friends (who’s probably a bigger Gaga fan than I am!) recently wrote an article for the College News about “Born This Way” and seemed to have similar reservations.  She wondered, do these sentiments of loving yourself and being proud of who you are seem empty and overused? Or does Gaga speaking these words to the world somehow revitalize these old sayings? 

Gaga's 2011 Grammy Performance of "Born This Way"
Gaga's 2011 Grammy Performance of "Born This Way"

 The section of her song that seems most pertinent to my blog is:  Whether life’s disabilities / Left you outcast, bullied or teased / Rejoice and love yourself today / ‘Cause baby, you were born this way.”  She refers to “disabilities” as being possessed by life, perhaps birthed by life itself.  As a result, she seems to suggest that life is disabled, housing some sort of weakness or inability.  She removes “disability” from the possession of individuals and twists it instead into a product of both biology and society.  As McDermott and Varenne suggest in “Culture as Disability”, Gaga posits that it is culture itself that is disabled.  At the recent Grammy performances, her performance of “Born This Way” acts as a sort of mirror that reflects the audience—how might they participate in this marginalization of the disabled, or how might they themselves harbor a disability? Interestingly, when we think of able-bodyness, it is Gaga and her fellow dancers who are moving—agilely dancing across the stage—whereas the audience remains seemingly paralyzed and, in a sense, “disabled” in the face of Gaga’s performance. 

I would go so far as to argue that Gaga is redefining disability studies. Twenty-four year old Gaga emerges out of an egg, using her own artistry and fame to rebirth herself.  It’s the seeming conception between her fans and stage that have conceived Lady Gaga, a “superstar” who embodies a new evolution ("Gaga Stigmata").  In disability studies there is desire for others to see the true self, the self unmarred by disability.  But Gaga suggests that there is no “real” being, but that we’re constantly being reborn, hatching out of new eggs of experience. When I was talking to my friend who wrote the article on Gaga, she asked, “Well, do you think maybe Gaga is saying that we can have multiple births in one life?”  Yes, I do.  It seems that Gaga attempts to reframe what it means to be human and reject the stagnant identities on which we so heavily rely.  

Gaga’s labeling could be seen as problematic.  She references those who are “black,” “white,” “beige,” “chola descent,” “Lebanese,” “orient,”  “gay,” “straight,” and “bi.”  She initially seems to be placing individuals in categories based on what marginalizes them, but with this long list, Gaga offers a fluidity; her catchy music seems to carry listeners from one identity to the next. And in a way her labeling or categorizing is refreshing.  Most song lyrics are open ended; they dance around vague and elusive themes, morphing into what listeners want them to be.  But here, Gaga both blatantly and bluntly states the “disabilities” that marginalize certain individuals and urges people to take that marginalization and turn themselves into “superstars.”  Disability studies has been described as being a field that talks about lack—the characteristics and attributes that people fail to possess in order to live up to the demands of culture. But, it’s also—as Gaga seems to suggest—about excess, about not being able to hold a proper balance of appearance or behavior. Gaga asks us to take our own depravations and turn them into over abundances—relishing our “lipstick” and “rolled…hair” and opting not to be a “drag”, but instead striving to be a “queen”.          

In a way, Gaga is proposing that we have a fixed identity, after all, she says, “you were born this way”, but she also seems to suggest that identity is leaky and uncontained....