Following on from my talk on Jesus and Damien Hirst, here’s another one I gave last week, this time on Jesus and Lady Gaga. It was a good week to do a talk about Lady Gaga – her new single came out (and on the way smashed loads of records) the Friday before. Look out for my thoughts on Born This Way in the next few days… But, for now, here’s the text of my talk Jesus and Lady Gaga: Is fame really a monster?
(I should also thank one of my bosses, Tim, who gave a talk on a similar topic at Nottingham University Christian Union, and from whom I pinched most of the quotes. Thanks Tim!)
I probably ought to start this by declaring that I’m a big Lady Gaga fan. And I’m well aware that a large proportion of you will now have lost all respect for me before you’ve even gotten to know me. But I’m also pretty sure that at least some of you agree with me, and you’re pretty impressed by my taste. At least I hope some of you think that…
Love her or hate her, you can’t really deny the impact she’s had. TIME magazine included her in their list of the world’s 100 most influential people. When I checked a few days ago, she had nearly 8 million followers on Twitter. She was the first living person to reach 10million fans on facebook – now it’s more like 28 million! And she’s due to be on the cover of American Vogue in March.
This is what Caitlin Moran wrote in the Times after she appeared at Glastonbury in 2009: “Twenty minutes later she ended her set literally bending over backwards to please, fireworks shooting from the nipples of her pointy bra, screaming “I fancy you Glastonbury – do you fancy me?” The audience went wholly, totally, dementedly nuts for her…As a cultural icon she does an incredible service for women; after all it would be hard to oppress a generation who’ve been brought up on pop starts with fire coming from their breasts.”
The intriguing thing about Lady Gaga is the way she’s almost completely constructed her own image. Here’s Caitlin Moran again:
“Gaga is that very best of things: a self-invented creature. Consider what she actually is: diminutive, dark-haired Italian-American Stefani Germanotta, born into one of the poshest bits of New York. For a while, her schoolmate was… Paris Hilton.”
Gaga herself said, “I felt like a freak. Everyone was blonde. I was dark and theatre obsessed. I remember seeing a picture of Boy George and thinking: ‘I feel like that’.”
For Lady Gaga image is everything. I guess you’ve all seen the infamous “meat dress”? This is how she explained it: “The idea is, you are your image, you are who you see yourself to be.” You can create yourself, and then you live it out. No-one tells you who you are – you decide. And she really does this, doesn’t she? Have you ever seen an interview with Stefani Germanotta? We only ever see Lady Gaga. Lots of other pop stars have created an image for themselves, but she at least gives the impression this is her – she hasn’t just created an image for herself, she’s created herself.
In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine she apparently said, “When I wake up in the morning I feel like any other insecure 24 year old girl. But I say “Bitch you’re Lady Gaga! You better get up and walk the walk today.”
It’s an attractive idea, isn’t it? In a world where we all try to conform to one set of expectations or another, it’s a powerful suggestion. Don’t let them tell you who you are, be who you want to be.
It’s what her record-smashing new single “Born This Way” is all about. You might not have heard it yet – it came out on Friday. It’s no Bad Romance, but it’s still pretty good, and it’s classic, in-yer-face Gaga. On one level it’s obviously about gay pride, but really it’s about being who you are. “Whether life’s disabilities left you outcast, bullied or teased, rejoice and love yourself today ’cause baby, you were born this way”
You could look at all this and think it’s just a cynical marketing ploy – the outrageous stunts, the headline-grabbing outfits, even the freedom to “be who you are” isn’t real. It’s all about selling records.
But if you dig a little bit deeper, I think you see that behind all of this – the image, the outfits, the music, the videos – behind all of that, there’s more going on.
Behind the image I think there’s a real search for significance, and a search for belonging.
Listen to this ‘poem’ Lady Gaga wrote for her fans:
“For every minute of the day, the truth is that I am dead, until I am here on stage with you – then I’m alive instead.”
And in another interview she talked about how her father would keep her going when it started to get her down. He’d tell her, “you know…you’re gonna be OK if your songs are on the radio.”
Lady Gaga finds significance in her fans. When she performs for her fans, she’s alive – without them, she’s nothing. If her songs are playing on the radio, she’s OK. But what if they aren’t?
This is why the image is so important. When she wakes up, talks to herself in the mirror and puts on her Lady Gaga image, she takes control and chooses an image that her fans will love. And in return her fans give her significance and identity.
I guess most of us have been there, haven’t we? We don’t like to feel ordinary, or overlooked. Stephani Germanotta’s search for significance became Lady Gaga. But all of us search for significance in all kinds of different ways. Whether it’s you academic success, or your prowess on the sports field, or your reputation amongst your friends, all of us search for significance on some level. You might not have hit the headlines in a dress made out of meat, but where are you looking for your significance?
Interestingly, this works both ways. Lady Gaga finds her significance in her fans, but it’s probably equally true that her fans find their significance in her. In Lady Gaga, they find a sense of acceptance and belonging.
She explained it on the Ellen Degeneres Show. She said, “I didn’t fit in in high school and I felt like a freak… So I like to create this atmosphere for my fans where they feel like they have a freak in me to hang out with and they don’t feel alone.” She calls her fans her “Little Monsters”, and she is Mother Monster. It’s an exclusive club that anyone can join.
“That’s kind of what the Monster Ball is all about,” (the Monster Ball was her series of sell out concerts). “For those who feel like a freak inside, come to my show. I know just how you feel because I used to feel it even more, and I want them to come dressed up and wearing whatever they really want to wear, and coming with their boyfriends and girlfriends and making out and hugging and screaming and crying and it’s like this exorcism. I just want to give to my fans the music that will be the escape for them.”
Again, this all links back to her outrageous image. As far as Lady Gaga’s image is concerned, anything goes. But it isn’t just her image – she creates a world where anything goes, where you can be exactly who you want to be, and you can be proud of it. She manages to turn feeling like an outcast into something which unites her fans.
In the world outside, the things that make you stand out separate you from other people. But in her world the things that make you stand out are the things that make you belong.
Who wouldn’t want that on some level?! She creates a world of unconditional acceptance. Who wouldn’t want that?
Surely we can all relate to the search for belonging too? We don’t like to feel like we don’t belong, do we? We hate to feel like we’re on the outside. Just think about the lengths we go to when we want to impress a group of people. Have you ever changed the way you speak, or pretended to be interested in something, or kept quiet about your views to impress other people? I think part of what makes Lady Gaga so popular is that she taps straight into those feelings.
The thing is: what happens to Lady Gaga when people stop playing the songs on the radio? What happens to her when people stop coming to the concerts, or when we stop being shocked by her antics? She has to shout at herself in the mirror to go and be Lady Gaga, because if she gives it a rest the spell might break and it could all fall apart?
And what happens to the fans when they go home from the monster ball and have to go back to the world that thinks they’re freaks? It isn’t real, is it? Maybe you belong while you’re part of the audience, but what about when you go to work the next morning?
The search for significance, the search for acceptance is a very real one, and one we can all identify with, can’t we? But if we look for it in the wrong place, we’ll never be satisfied, and the search will never end.
In Luke’s gospel, one of the biographies of Jesus taken from the Bible, you can read about an encounter between Jesus and a woman who would have been an outcast (you can read about it in Luke 7v36-50). Jesus is eating with the Pharisees, the religious leaders – all the important people who thought they’d made themselves acceptable to God by keeping the highest moral standards.
Then this woman comes in. All we’re told is that “she’d lived a sinful life in that town” – we’re not sure exactly what that means, but it probably means she was a prostitute. She probably had the kind of reputation that followed her around. You can imagine the other women doing their chores and gossiping about the sinful woman who lives down the street.
Whatever she’d been doing, all of the religious people gathered there knew it, because they say, “if this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.” The implication is – if he really is who he says he is, then he wouldn’t have anything to do with her.
But this woman comes in, she wets Jesus’ feet with her tears, wipes them with her hair, and then pours expensive perfume on his feet. And that’s when the religious types start tutting and disapproving.
What would you do in that situation with all those well-to-do religious leaders watching you? Would you be embarrassed? Would you send her away? Would you preach to her about how she needs to clean up, hoping to impress the guest around the table?
That isn’t what Jesus does. Jesus welcomes her, he forgives her, and he accepts her.
He knows all about her. He knows how she’s messed up. He knows her reputation. But he doesn’t shrug her off or send her away. He commends her. While these “good” people sat around, she came in and washed his feet, poured perfume on him and kissed him. They might think they’re good, but this woman knows the truth about herself. She knows what she’s done. She feels the weight of her guilt, and she brings it to Jesus. And he doesn’t turn her away – he accepts her.
But he also forgives her. He says, “‘Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.’ Then Jesus said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.'”
He doesn’t tell her to be proud of her reputation. He doesn’t tell her to stick two fingers up and ignore what people might say about her. He forgives her and he restores he relationship with God.
The religious people there would’ve thought this woman was a million miles from any kind of relationship with God. But Jesus forgives her sin, and the religious people are astonished. ‘Sin’ is basically a rejection of God, so only God can forgive it… and that’s exactly what happens here! Jesus Christ, “God-made-man,” forgives her. And more than that, he knows that he would ultimately die to pay for it and to take it away. And so he really can forgive her and take away her guilt and her shame. She is known by the God who made her, and she can know him too.
As he does that, as he welcomes and accepts her, at that moment he restores her dignity and significance, and she belongs. Not based on what the religious men think about her, but based on what God thinks about her. She finds it in relationship. She finds it in relationship with God in the person of Jesus.
And, unlike a pop career, unlike the euphoria of a Lady Gaga concert, it will never fade. There isn’t a “morning after the night before” to wake up to. You don’t have to work to keep the illusion alive. Jesus expects nothing from this woman. And he expects nothing from you either. It’s free.
Where are you looking for your significance and acceptance? What would it mean for you to really belong? It’s a search we’re all too familiar with.
I think those things can only truly, fully, finally be found in Jesus and the unconditional acceptance he offers. Why not have a look?