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Gaga For Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” With Meaning

posted by Ethan Nichtern

by Ethan Nichtern

(for more information on the Interdependence Project, visit

I’ll admit it, I’ve been listening to Lady Gaga this last week. Her new album The Fame Monster is out today. Call it a Bad Romance, and call me a dharma Paparazzi. And, forever interested in culture, I’ve been talking to people about her. We need to talk about her, don’t we? She might be the next Madonna, who has  been one of the biggest zeitgeist influences of the past generation. Even Madonna is talking about Lady Gaga. That means you’ve arrived on the scene and probably aren’t leaving.

It’s pretty interesting what thoughtful people think of this 23 year-old phenom. My fashion friends think she’s a genuine heroine of couture, artistically gifted with the IT factor. My Buddhist friends interested in deconstructed identity love her ironic dance with celebrity. My serious yogi/meditator friends interested in navel-gazing are pretty much the only ones who say “Lady who? Why you talking like a baby?”

So here’s the problem. I have this tiny addiction, call it a longing that won’t let me rest, to meaning. I want life to be meaningful, and I want my time to be meaningful. I’m averse to meaninglessness in general.  And it’s pretty clear to me that Lady Gaga has a codependently Bad Romance with meaning.

Of course, what I have is a bad case of ideological materialism, which is a bit more intellectual, but none the less deadly, than it’s physical counterpart. I’m working on it. That’s why I’m Gaga for Lady Gaga. It’s good practice for me.

I also have this lifelong realization that art and culture which focus too self-consciously on meaning and the spiritual dimension are often cringe-worthy,  lacking the aesthetic hook and couture-edge of their meaning-averse counterparts. Rare and uber-powerful are the exceptions to this trend. Saul Williams would be a good example for me, someone who constantly goes for the spiritual and pulls it off.

Why is this? Why, when an artist goes for something spiritual orpolitical, do we usually start yawning? Why, when an artist writes asong and video celebrating destructive codependent relationships, do weall start dancing our asses off?

I don’t know about you, but Idefinitely have a Bad Romance with 21st Century Culture in general.”Paparazzi” may as well be the Heart Sutra.

(picture from Lady Gaga’s Website. Video courtesy of the inseparability of Samsara and Nirvana)

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posted November 23, 2009 at 10:03 am

In the early 1980s in NYC there was a scene that revolved round NYC’s downtown nightclubs like the Pyramid, Danceteria. Area, Limelight and the afterhours places like Berlin, Mother’s and Save The Robots.
That scene produced Keith Haring, Ethyl Eichelberger, Jon Sex, Wendy Wilde, John Kelly, Ru Paul, Wigstock and Madonna. Warhol hung out in those places.
Lady Gaga has a 21st C. upgrade on the same aesthetic. ( Which I file under “Drag Kitsch” ). Sure there’s a lot of shiney surface to the visuals but there’s a lot of satire and ( dare I say it? ) and social critizism going on under the surface too. Note the juxtaposition of the modern with decay, the clinical with intense emotion, fantasy with horror, and the elegant with the decadent. This aesthetic has roots in collage and DaDa. What does that say to you?
There was a certain sense of fatalism that infused the scene. Reagan was president and AIDS was ravaging the community. The cold war was in full effect. The downtown response was to mirror the danger yet look “fabulous” and party like it’s 1999. In those days cigarette smoke was the least dangerous thing about a downtown nightclub. Too many artists did not survive the era.
Some of Lady Gaga’s visuals and costumes are so over the top my mind stops for a moment while I try to register what it is I’m seeing. In that sense she’s an artist who can surprise. She is very interesting. But if you know where to look, you can see whose shoulders she’s standing on.

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Matt Jones

posted November 23, 2009 at 10:46 am

Thanks for this post, it’s very good.
A few thoughts:
1. overt spirituality and politics in Art are difficult. One alienates a large number of people when a definitive position is taken in these two arenas. Christian rock (Jars of Clay). Visionary Art (Alex Grey). Both make me cringe. Alex Grey brings up embarrassment for how “not with it” his artwork is (and not in a cool “he’s so outside of the Artworld that he’s totally awesome” kind of “not with it” — he’s so preachy and inside himself that his work actually distances itself from us, again, not in a good way.) It is possible to explore one’s spiritual and political nature in one’s artwork without getting on a soap box, in the pulpit, or marching on Washington. There’s a way to keep the mystery, respect one’s audience, and dive inwardly and outwardly in everything we do, celebrating our interdependence (plug) with each mark we make without resorting to heavy handed obviousness. David Lynch does this.
2. As a “meaning junkie” I often wonder what that means. Doesn’t everything have meaning/content? Doesn’t our search for meaning have content in and of itself? It’s us that ascribes the meaning, no? Meaning/content is incredibly POV based.

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posted November 23, 2009 at 10:57 am

Lady Gaga’s not really on my radar, but I am pondering whether I should see “Twilight” to keep in step with the culture. (I’m familiar with Gaga mostly from her frequent appearances on Art/music/etc becomes boring when the message overpowers the creative aspect. I used to go to a physical therapist who played light Christian rock, and it was all bad, musically. And it didn’t make me any fonder of the father and son.
Meaning can be found in the strangest places. Third Eye Blind’s latest album is full of wisdom about living in the moment. (seriously — “every moment of your life/is a chance to make it right” nothing wrong with that getting stuck in your head.) so I hesitate to write anything off as too frivolous.
and sometimes it’s enough to just feel good. it’s the mint chocolate chip ice cream of music.
although — and I’m not familiar with the content of her lyrics — I withdraw my approval if it promotes contempt for women. I offer up my de-infatuation with woody allen as grist for that mill.

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Patrick Groneman

posted November 23, 2009 at 11:04 am

Dance Lady, Dance! In Crimson Garter Dance!
Regarding Overtly Spiritual and Political art:
Art = Activism. Don’t separate and you won’t pontificate.

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posted November 23, 2009 at 11:24 am

Wow, that video is like a bizarre mix of Marilyn Manson and Zoolander.
I think we start to yawn when it comes to ‘spiritual’ art and music because it’s generally crap: outdated, cliched, stale.
Imagine if Gaga was a 21st Century Shaman Buddhist Sex Priestess singing about how much she wants to awaken using the metaphor of a cosmic money shot? I’d dig it, and I bet everyone else would too.
A better question might be: when are we ‘spiritual’ types going to take some ownership and re-invigorate the ‘spiritual’ culture? It belongs to us, after all. I mean, how last millennium is a robe? Can’t we at least mix up the colours? And what about if we add some beatbox to that chant…

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Your Name

posted November 23, 2009 at 11:27 am

Nice! I agree with what Alan says.
I also agree with Ethan about the meaning addiction. It’s the best and worst thing about us spiritual/political types.

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posted November 23, 2009 at 3:15 pm

If dancing puts you in the present moment, and suspends the chatter, then it is a meditative practice of sorts…Every culture has a dancing ritual. with increased spirituality as the goal…
There IS music today that is spiritually, politically, and intellectually relevant, you just have to dig deeper to find it…I don’t think the Village People or Glenn Miller were any more relevant, just dance music of their timen…
Of course, the whole nightclub/velvet rope culture is one big exercise in EGO…

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posted November 23, 2009 at 4:31 pm

Oh my ….. this is the first time see this and I LOVE IT!!!!
There has yet to be a video of her’s where I’m not transfix to the screen with a wicked grin. She’s tapping into all the dark spots of my personality and for the moment that I’m watching her or singing along I can be just as wicked as she.
There something to be said about exploring the dark side of who we are in real life. The light of virtue isn’t as bright as when we are right in the middle of our own mud.
Sometimes it’s a passing temptation, other times we dip right into knowing damn well it’s trouble. We can lie to ourselves and say that has nothing to do with us. Only to find ourself caught up and addicted because we lied to ourselves. It could have be just one mischievous time if we had only admitted the truth.
So here is Lady GAGA – wealthy, bisexual, addicted and homicidal.
She unlike Taylor Swift whose the Good Girl, clean, innocent. She will be our Cinderella.
Or Brittany whose attempt at sexual fierceness was muddled at least be the candy tone of her voice imitating the sex nymph only to have found herself considered a whore, performance wise and in real life (which saddens me, to have see a girl turned out like that). Now she older and knows all the moves and when you look at her eyes you can see she has that medicated dull look. Seems a little like Marilyn except she died and we never really saw how awful it was for her.
As for Beyonce – she will pop her P for you all the time but she always reminds you that no matter what; you failed to put a ring on it and the her new man, not only gave her the ring but also has a HUUUUUGE ego. So huge that she walks around with the permanent “I just had great dirty sex” hair. Unfortunately, even if she didn’t have a man she can only be wicked by means of her spit personality Sasha Fierce because deep down inside she’s like Taylor Swift with a phat a@@ caboose.
and for Madonna, what a disappointment, she drop the bag. I can’t briefly get into it but if you really want to know read bell hooks essay in her book “Outlaw Culture – Resisting Representations” . She sums it up in away that explains why I no longer find Madonna the least bit fascinating.
Lady Gaga tells you what she wants. She not innocent and there is no shame. Also no matter what she outlives her treacherous lovers. So there’s no need to be nice to such a powerful girl.
Now all deconstructive fun aside.
On the fashion business end. Couture needs her desperately. With the rapid production rates of the current fashion industries; fashionistas can get the latest styles quickly for very low prices. Couture business is a hands on deal, artisans required. Which is costly and has the production time of a snail when compared to what China can do.
The Couture industry needs to inspire young fashionistas once again.
And to tell you the truth I find her shoes and that dirty little mouth of hers delicious…..simply delicious.
Don’t you?

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posted November 23, 2009 at 4:52 pm

I honestly find meaning in her music. “Just Dance,” for instance, seems to dwell on the border between living in the moment and Sartre’s bad faith. And I wouldn’t call “Bad Romance” a celebration of codependence so much as a description of it, possibly even a (dancy) lament.

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posted November 23, 2009 at 6:37 pm

Maybe something about art that is a little dangerous… and spiritual art being too safe? I think artists serve as shamans for lots of 21sy century folks. That probably works less well with safety. Maybe?… On a separate note, seems like almost all art these days is infected with fearful “irony” and self-doubt.

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posted November 24, 2009 at 12:57 pm

I don’t get the Lady Gaga schtick at all… I love to dance, but the lyrics are less then meaningless to me…The Lyrics which have always uplifted me were lyrics that lifted you up…Such as,
“Why must you be such and angry young man, when your future looks quite bright to me. And how can there be such a sinister plan, that could hide such a lamb, such a caring young man, and you’re fooling yourself if you don’t believe it. You’re kidding yourself if you don’t believe it…Get up, get back on your feet, you’re the one they can’t beat and you know it” Styx
That is the music that gets me going…To each their own. however, when I was a young man this spoke to me and gave me hope when there was little hope for me…I had always wished I had a life so unchallenged that Lady Gaga and The pop dance music spoke to me…

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Anan E. Maus

posted November 24, 2009 at 2:14 pm

Pop music can simply be recreation. And that is a need, not just an indulgence.
I used to run poetry readings. I heard so much poetry that when I went to the movies all I could bear were comedies and action films. I needed a rest from all the complexity and metaphor and depth.
So, you know, nothing wrong with taking a break from deep and heavy things.

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posted November 27, 2009 at 6:59 pm

while i agree that pop music should be easy and enjoyable and not always complex,
i would welcome a pop song with a deeper meaning such as this one
i find it refreshing considering the depth of most of today’s pop music
and i actually dislike the fact that most of gaga’s fans don’t find (or even search for) any deeper meaning in her music, and still call it “brilliant” and “genius”
i hope i’m not misinterpreting the message or meaning of the song, or taking it for more than it’s worth, because i would appreciate it (and gaga) so much less if i was

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posted December 7, 2009 at 1:12 am

You may find this helpful Ethan
Not Needing to Have Answers & the Wisdom Function ~ Shinzen Young
on overcoming the need for meaning.

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posted December 7, 2009 at 2:43 pm

Well I think that Madonna’s Confessions On A Dance Floor is the perfect example of great pop dance music infused with meaningful lyrics that make one thing!

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posted January 21, 2010 at 10:29 am

Uncanny that I just spent an hour typing an email to a friend about this song. I too have a need to find meaning, even though I realize that sometimes there is none. I am interested in where Lady GaGa will go from here, and hope she does not turn into a madonna or diva.

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Your Name

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I heard so much poetry that when I went to the movies all I could bear were comedies and action films.
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posted December 15, 2010 at 1:37 am

This is great! It really shows me where to expand my blog. I think that sometime in the future I might try to write a book to go along with my blog, but we will see.Good post with useful tips and ideas.

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Theresa L. Meyer

posted December 15, 2010 at 9:33 am

n 2008, Gaga came to prominence following the release of her debut studio album The Fame, which was a commercial success spawning two international number one singles — “Just Dance” and “Poker Face” — and reaching number one in the United Kingdom, Canada, Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Ireland.
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posted December 21, 2010 at 10:52 pm

Thank you for this nice video, i like lady gaga poker face !

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posted February 21, 2011 at 10:57 pm

Hey, thanks for this article… I’m a huge Lady Gaga fan, and I’m also beginning to delve into the meaning/lack of meaning dualities of Buddhism, spirituality, the cosmos, and everything under the sun. Of course, the more I search for meaning, the more I find out I have to let go of my search. I rarely find someone who echoes that which I’ve been unable to put into words. Thank you!
“what I have is a bad case of ideological materialism, which is a bit more intellectual, but none the less deadly, than it’s physical counterpart. I’m working on it.”

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posted March 8, 2011 at 11:34 am

she’s miracle!

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posted October 10, 2011 at 3:07 pm

I love lady GAGA!!!! she the best

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posted November 6, 2012 at 6:13 am

don’t know what people like on Gaga. I listen her many songs but don’t find anyone that deserve any attention. She has no comparison with Madonna.

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posted December 8, 2012 at 7:44 am

Lady gaga deserves this much attention. She is really great singer and have potential to become famous like Madonna

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