Lady Gaga is my favorite. My guide, muse. My rock’n’roll spirit unicorn.
It was through Lady Gaga I finally fully embraced my true love of pop, and her music has marked milestones in my life.
It was “Bad Romance” that sealed the deal. The music, the visuals, the spectacle, the woman creating it all – it was something new and something that resonated with me more than any pop performance I’d seen or heard before. Here was someone harnessing pop to explore darkness. It felt more honest and true than so much of what had come before, the other pop I’d loved in my life.
When I first saw the video for “Bad Romance,” I was a sophomore in college. I’d spent my freshman year hanging with the hipster crowd, sitting in on discussions of the merits of a bunch of indie and old school bands I honestly could have cared less about. There were some bands my friends turned me on to during that time that I still connect with (looking at you, Velvet Underground), but mostly I was just silent during those discussions, trying to fit in by not weighing in. I bought “Circus” by Britney Spears on iTunes that year, and was promptly made fun of. Whatever.
Then, “Bad Romance.” Bright, studio pop with sharp teeth and nails and wild eyes and McQueen and that voice. That voice that gave me the permission I needed to start using my own voice. I became a super fan on the spot. I’m a pop person. No apologies. Let the hipster nonsense roll off my back. That year, my friend Paige and I would cut my hair differently almost every Friday after class. I got my first tattoo, a stick ’n’ poke on the back of my ankle, administered while I lay facedown on a common room table, with Paige sitting in a chair in front of me and holding a gin and tonic up to my lips. Basically, I stopped giving so much of a fuck.
“Telephone” was huge for me, too. The video premiered the night I wrote my essay to be considered to study abroad at the Glasgow School of Art the next year. By this time, I hated my life at school. I had made up my mind to either transfer, drop out, or study abroad for a semester. I had to GTFO. Lady Gaga’s music video for “Telephone” gave me the push I needed to look towards my future, rather than stew over the shit I was in in the moment. It was full of ideas, it was visual candy, it was rough and sexy and made me want to dance. And Beyonce in those baby bangs? YES!
How can one even get into the importance of “Born This Way?” The single came out after I returned from Glasgow, having just spent three months living on my own and making art all day, every day. I came back to Goucher more myself than before, having tested myself in a new environment. My best friend and I stayed up most nights, listening to Lady Gaga and giddily talking about her artistry, her innovation, what her music meant to us.
When the album “Born This Way” came out, I was back home. I dressed all in black, did my makeup like I was going to a goth rave, and showed up at the record store when they opened. I drove and drove and listened to the whole thing a hundred times, absorbing every word and feeling the swell of bravery in every chorus.
The timing of the album release was perfect, because my ex boyfriend was getting back to our hometown from his college a week later. We had already broken up and gotten back together 5 times. I knew he would try to “get me back” when he returned. The thing was, it hadn’t taken much for him to “get me back” before. I was stuck with him in a cycle of mistreatment and manipulation, and it had gone on too long. “Born This Way” became the soundtrack of my strength, the music that allowed me to stand up for myself and end it, for good.
Lady Gaga saved me.
My senior year of college, I built a shrine to Lady Gaga in an empty closet next to my dorm room. I covered the walls with collages and song lyrics. I covered the floors with shiny pink plastic and sequined fabric. I covered the ceiling with swirls of tulle and fairy lights. I made prayer candles. I made offerings. I gussied up a Barbie doll with the complete look Gaga wore in the "Judas" video. I even Sharpied-on all her tattoos. I wrote a prayer book. I invited my real friends in to see, to share, to listen to her music, to kneel and giggle with each other about how right it felt. Some people were, understandably, weirded out by this obsessive piece of work, and that was fine. I was done making apologies for how much or little anyone else liked my work, or the things I liked, or what I did with my time.
“ARTPOP” came out a few months after I moved back to Baltimore, to be with the love of my life. I was living in a room painted blue and gold, eating dinners with true friends and fighting off stray cats in the back yard while smoking my many “I’m unemployed and scared” cigarettes. Life was good, but life was also hard – a big question mark. I was making art, but I was also holing up in my room all day, afraid to answer anyone’s questions of, “so what do you think you’re going to do down here for work?” My roommate Samway gave me the leaked album and his good headphones. I went into my room, listened, cried, danced, thrashed around on my bed, and let waves of ecstasy and agony wash over me. “Gypsy” was so important, because my boyfriend was in a band, and they were starting to travel more. When I felt alone, like I’d moved so far from my family and my life to be sad in a blue and gold room, dancing and singing and crying to “Gypsy” made me feel less alone.
That spring, my sister and her then-boyfriend (now husband) drove down to visit us in Baltimore. The first night of their stay, Katherine and I went to Lady Gaga’s artRAVE concert. We wore embellished denim (by yours truly, of course), danced like maniacs, sang so loud, hugged each other and shook with glee. There she was, Lady Gaga, the woman who had already given us so much, giving us her all on a stage right in front of us. It was surreal. It was a religious experience.
Last night, I set an alarm for the release of “Perfect Illusion.” Will helped me hook up my computer to his stereo. We turned the speakers up. I stood in the space where the sound meets. I looked forward, I listened, my toes started gripping the floor beneath me as Gaga let her vocals rip through her pain. The key change made my eyes go wide and turn to Will, with what I’m sure was a manic look on my face. We listened to it again through the speakers. He gave me his noise canceling headphones for a third listen. We talked about the music. We listened to the songs he’s working on for his first album. We talked about the music. I danced around and stood in the spot where the music meets.
Lady Gaga is not afraid to fuck shit up. She’s an artist. She is fueled by her need to create. She expresses without apology. She’s a fucking rock star. She’s helped me take my fucking LIFE and make it more and more of what I want. She sets the example that to be an artist, you have to do what it is that YOU need to do, express what YOU need to express, let the darkness out and create light in so doing. She’s open about her depression, her anxiety, her heartbreak, her struggles in the industry and in life. But she never fucking stops creating. That’s what I want, too. I want to make the things I want to make, love the things I love, feel the things I feel, be what and who I am, without apology, with honesty.
So let’s all go listen to “Perfect Illusion” a thousand times and dance and sing and cry and get even more excited for the album to come. I can’t wait to see where we go from here.