The Subtle Subversiveness of Lady Gaga

On Monday night, word broke that Lady Gaga — the most popular pop artist in America, and possibly the most overall popular American person — paid a visit to none other than Julian Assange. When I first saw this development announced on Twitter, I was taken aback, but not necessarily surprised; ever since her meteoric rise to fame in 2009, Gaga has subtly and ingeniously challenged the existing order of things. Whether in the realm of music, politics, or religion, her meticulously-crafted persona is quite radical — especially by the standards of mainstream pop.

Back in the early days of Gaga’s stardom, she was mostly churning out throwaway bubblegum songs, doubtless at the behest of profit-obsessed record company executives. But Gaga is like a sexy chameleon; she can adapt masterfully to any situation, always with a wink. As she crooned in “Government Hooker,” likely the best dance track of 2011:

I could be girl, unless you want to be man

I could be sex, unless you want to hold hands

I could be anything, I could be everything

I could be mom, unless you want to be dad

Enter yesterday’s rendezvous with Assange! This was Gaga at her most subversive to date. Yes, a few weeks ago she smoked a joint onstage in Amsterdam, but that’s small beans compared to consorting with Assange — a man widely reviled by the power elite, and whom the U.S. Government is currently investigating on charges of Espionage. Vice President Joe Biden has declared him a “high-tech terrorist,” and a number of prominent American political figures have even called for his assassination. For anyone else, visiting with the elusive hactivist/publisher might be a risky proposition. Not so for Gaga. In 2012, she possesses such massive leverage — not to mention massive raw talent – that she can basically do whatever the heck she wants. And no corporate hack would dare object.

I wonder what they chatted about? Perhaps Assange relayed a message that she’ll communicate to the Commander-in-Chief next time the two find themselves in the same room at a top-dollar fundraiser. Gaga would be a perfect messenger. The story goes that Bradley Manning, an Army intelligence analyst serving in Iraq, was so morally repulsed by various crimes he uncovered that he decided he’d burn the whole “secret” data archive onto a Lady Gaga CD, and then leak to Assange. (The aforementioned account is still only alleged). As a result came what is colloquially referred to as “Cable-gate,” in which a seemingly infinite trove of U.S. diplomatic cables were published. Manning has been imprisoned by the U.S. Government for over 900 days — despite not having been convicted of any crime.

Manning had long struggled with his sexual orientation. At the time, he was subject to the Military’s notorious “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, a cause of psychological distress. Gaga, ever wise, has made liberation on this front a central theme of her music and public persona — on DADT in particular, but also more broadly. In doing so, she provides great solace and hope to untold young people. I first became fully aware of Gaga in the fall of 2009, when she gave a keynote address at the National Equality March on Washington D.C. — a surprisingly radical affair, organized by socialists and others of similarly non-mainstream disposition. I thought maybe she’d come and sing or something. Nope, she just wanted to give a speech. And it was pretty good. She also looked really cool.

We should take what happened yesterday seriously. Gaga is the number one most-followed person on Twitter; she’s the number one most-downloaded artist of all time. Her influence is beyond enormous. If she takes up cause with Assange, as the meeting suggests, then she could have a profound political impact. With the U.S. and U.K. governments on his tail, he needs all the support he can get.

But there are many other reasons to stop worrying and love the Gaga. Suffused throughout her (excellent) album Born this Way are seditious biblical allusions and allegories. She intones in “Judas”:

When he comes to me, I am ready

I’ll wash his feet with my hair if he needs

Forgive him when his tongue lies through his brain

Even after three times, he betrays me

This sacrilegious number earned her the condemnation of the Catholic League’s Bill Donohue — always a mark of good art. In the deliciously dark “Bloody Mary,” she wails:

I won’t cry for you

I won’t crucify the things you do

I won’t cry for you, see

When you’re gone I’ll still be Bloody Mary

While Gaga outwardly identifies as some kind of Christian, I suspect that is just part of her larger act. She can be anything to any audience — a pious believer, a blasphemous wench, a soulful cabaret lady, a cheesy popstar. When Staten Island borough president James Molinaro, speaking at an “anti-drug” awareness event of some kind, had the gall to call her a “slut,” I doubt she minded. (In fact, I bet she very much enjoyed it.)

Lazy observers often equate Gaga with Madonna. Enough of that, I command! The more appropriate analogs are Michael Jackson, Freddie Mercury, and perhaps even Frank Sinatra. (Tony Bennett has speculated that Gaga, with whom he once sung a fabulous duet, is the “next Picasso.”) I’ve thought this was true for some time now, and that her talents are vastly undersold by snarking observers. But after the Assange encounter, I will henceforth tolerate no anti-Gaga rhetoric! We are very lucky to have her.

About michaeltracey

Journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. Follow me on Twitter at @mtracey.