The Recreation of Gaga

This month in the New York Times Magazine, journalist Rachel Syme profiles Lady Gaga following her hit film with Bradley Cooper, “A Star is Born” in an article entitled “The Shapeshifter”. In it, Syme highlights how Gaga serves as the embodiment of a media-saturated generation who have had to grow up infinitely concerned with forming their own identities for the world to judge:

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“I do keep transforming into a new shell of me,” she told me. “So sure, there is an acting component to what I do, or a showbiz component to what I do. But the word ‘acting,’ it’s hard for me to talk about in that way, because ‘acting’ to me almost implies faking it.” She insisted to me that all her iterations form an unbroken line, that the performance is the reality.

Describing Gaga’s obsession with collecting important artifacts from the history of music and art, the article continues:

Perhaps this collector’s impulse is what she absorbed from her early study of Warhol. Gaga is an artist of accrual, of remixing and reimagination, of pulling her heroes into her gravitational orbit. She once told an interviewer that her “whole career is a tribute to David Bowie,” but her career is really a tribute to all the different ways a person can be monstrously famous: She wants to wear every costume, live out every type of stardom to its maximalist extreme.

Gaga’s perpetual recreation also highlights a second truth - the artificiality of all of these created identities. In desiring to ‘wear every costume’, the audience never knows who she is. At one point, Syme wonders if this is the strange appeal of ‘A Star is Born’ - seeing a stripped down Gaga, without the mask. Yet the film itself is a mask, an artificial origin story. We never know who she is, where she is from, what makes her human.

Gaga’s initial obsession with masquerade predicted the double lives we all live now, our simultaneous existences as living, breathing people and disembodied avatars. But instead of seeing those identities as segmented — the real person, the facade — she put forth the concept that it’s possible, and ultimately adaptive, in a fractured world to try to free yourself from old boundaries. You can be an insider and an outsider at the same time, a human and an alien. All that is solid melts into Gaga. If this seems paradoxical, it is; but the paradox is where Gaga shines. Postmodern double truths are her milieu.

One of the great strengths of the profile, and perhaps the greatest takeaway for the youth worker, is to consider whether Gaga’s fluidity is chosen or thrust upon her - was she the harbinger for an Instagram generation unconcerned with reality, or was she a product of a system that strips young people of their groundedness, pushing them to continual recreation? How do these things evidence themselves in your youth ministry?

ReviewsStephen Yates