I find Lady Gaga such a fascinating figure, not because of her artistic talents as much as the paradoxical nature of her public self. On the one hand, she often comes across as naive or simplistic, with the “love yourself” message she constantly sends out to her adoring fans. As I’ve written before, you can’t achieve authentic self-esteem in that way, but she nonetheless seems genuinely to believe in that message. During the many talk show interviews she has given, whenever she speaks to fans in the audience, she comes across as sincere and caring.
On the other hand, here’s what she said to Anderson Cooper about “fame management” during their interview on 60 Minutes: “One of my greatest art works is the art of fame. I’m a master of the art of fame.” This makes her sound almost calculating, so entirely conscious of herself and the impression she makes at every moment of every day that you have to wonder whether her “love yourself” message is just another part of image management.
Because she understands that a celebrity’s lifespan depends entirely upon the fidelity of her fans, does she constantly regulate the way people perceive “Lady Gaga” in order to increase her time in the spotlight? Having watched a half dozen of her interviews over the last few days, I’m struck by how often she makes reference to her fans — how much she loves them, wants to set an example for them, wants to help them feel better about themselves, etc. Hearing her say the same exact things so many times, it’s hard not to become cynical about her apparent sincerity. Maybe she’s just a good actress.
My guess is that Lady Gaga has somehow managed to make herself believe that she actually cares for the millions of strangers who adore her; to some degree, she has been taken in by her own image management so that she, too, believes in “Lady Gaga.” For that and other reasons, I don’t find her a compelling role model for authenticity and true self-esteem, at least not in terms of her “love yourself” message. At the same time, I think she has quite a lot to say about what it actually means to be authentic and to accept yourself. Being real, if you listen carefully to what she says, actually means realizing that you feel like a loser a lot of the time, that you’ll continue to feel that way, and that despite the wish to believe you’re beautiful, there’s quite a lot about you that’s “ugly.”
And that’s okay.
In an early scene from the HBO special about her Monster Ball tour, before she actually goes on stage, Lady Gaga becomes upset and tearful in her dressing room: “I just sometimes feel like a loser still, you know? I know it’s crazy ’cause it’s like we’re at the Garden [Madison Square Garden] but I still sometimes feel like a fucking loser kid in high school. … I just want to be a queen for them [her fans], you know, and sometimes I don’t feel like one.” Despite all the hype, this is how Stephani Germanotta feels about herself.
You can create a fabulous public image and have millions of people who believe in it, but that won’t change how you feel inside. As with most of the clients I’ve seen who suffer from such feelings, she no doubt struggles with underlying feelings of shame about how growing up a “loser kid” has damaged her; she may want to escape from all that “ugliness” into an amazing glamorous persona, but that doesn’t stop her from admitting she still feels like a shame-ridden loser from time to time.
In her song ‘Bad Romance’, Lady Gaga makes reference to “ugliness” in romantic relationships. “I want your ugly, I want your disease.” In others lines, she tells her lover: “I want your psycho, your vertical stick/Want you in my rear window, baby, you’re sick/I want your love.” Whatever she may have consciously intended by the lyrics to this song, despite the sexual innuendo, to me they speak of the inevitability of the ugly, the difficult, the shameful and the crazy in any relationship. However flashy, erotic and amusing the video, the words tell a different story. It may be “bad romance,” but it’s an entirely real and non-idealized view of romantic love, one where ugliness and craziness are acceptable.
To be real with yourself means to face and accept your feeling that you’re a loser, with “ugly” parts of you that you don’t want other people to see. To be authentic in a relationship means nonetheless to share that “ugliness”, to recognize that it won’t be a beautiful, happily-ever-after kind of love, but a difficult and painful one a lot of the time.
And that’s okay, too. This view of authenticity is the reason I admire Lady Gaga.
[If you find this piece of interest, I wrote an earlier post about Lady Gaga’s Born This Way video which you can read by clicking here]