The Art of the Celebrity Advocate : Celebrity, Philanthropy and Politics

5/20/14

Just a year ago, Lady Gaga beat Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling as well as Barack Obama in TIME Magazine’s “Most Influential Icon of the Decade” poll.

She came second only to Burmese freedom fighter Aung San Suu Kyi. This poll was open to the public and thousands of her fans, “Little Monsters” as she calls them, flocked to the site to vote for their “Mother Monster”. This poll may seem insignificant but her influence is everywhere; from fashion, radio, and most importantly anti-bullying campaigns.

By becoming a Pop Star, she has in turn become a philanthropist as well as an avid activist for LGBT issues, immigration reform, HIV/AIDS awareness and the now-repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

She has even created her own charity called The Born This Way Foundation in hopes of building a kinder, braver world. She explained in her “Barbara Walter’s Most Fascinating People” interview in 2011 “I aspire to try to be a teacher to my young fans, who feel just like I felt when I was younger. I felt like a freak, I guess, what I’m trying to say is, I want to liberate them, I want to free them of their fears and make them feel  that they can create their own space in the world.” Through the use of theatricality, Lady Gaga fashioned herself into a work of art, the ultimate Pop Star, in order to spread her message of love and acceptance.

Before 2009 most of the world’s population did not know who Lady Gaga was. She is now regarded by TIME Magazine and Forbes as one of the most influential and powerful people on Earth. (To put this short amount of time into perspective, her first album was released after Barack Obama’s first presidential inauguration.) How, you may ask, did this twenty seven year old from Manhattan become one of the most influential and powerful human beings on the planet in less than six years? The answer in short, is by mastering what she calls “The Art of Fame”

The fact that humans have the ability to fashion their own identities is partly due to the fact that (most) humans have the opportunity to be socially mobile, at least to an extent. Lady Gaga was born Stephanie Joanne Angelina Germonatta in Manhattan to financially stable parents that lived on the Upper West Side. Even so, Marilyn Monroe was a foster child, Oprah was raised on welfare and Derrick Rose grew up in the most dangerous neighborhood in the country and they all still became stars in their respective fields.

Days before Lady Gaga shot the video for her first single “Just Dance” she bleached her naturally black hair to a  platinum blonde and replaced some mirrors on her now infamous “disco bra”.

She was intent on becoming a Pop Star and given that the most famous pop stars of all time (David Bowie, Madonna, Britney Spears) have all been blonde, she made a conscious effort to mimic their bleach blonde tresses. She knew that in order to be noticed she needed to dress provocatively and that is exactly what she did. For the first few years of her career, she was hardly ever seen without sunglasses or with pants.

The press was enamored with the silly named-pop singer with a few hits and a suggestive wardrobe. In order to become an even bigger celebrity she needed to take it a step further and she did so once again with her clothing choices. Through exhibiting this charismatic nature she won over the hearts of the LGBTQ* youth. In the coming years she would be called “Your leader” by President Barack Obama due to her celebrity and ability to influence young voters. 

 Lady Gaga went out in public to be seen. Lady Gaga knew that in order for her to stand out from all the other blonde Pop Stars she needed to do something different. Two years into her career, after breaking record after record, with five Grammy’s as well as countless other awards under her belt Lady Gaga didn’t even consider herself a Pop Star. When Barbara Walters asked her who she was she replied “I am a songwriter. I’m a performance artist. I’m a daughter and a sister.” The fact that she is a Pop Star, one of the most widely loved and highly acclaimed of all time, is just the medium through with she can convey her message. She sees herself as a performance artist, her identity is a living work of art onstage and off. To Lady Gaga, the makeup, clothes and wigs are all part of the production of the performance and through her performance she is attempting to change the world through philanthropy and her ability to make the young people of this world engaged in social issues. By explaining that she is a “freak” she proves that it is okay because she is on the world’s stage. Through the process of humanizing herself on one hand by recounting her past trauma she makes her fans a part of a community. She then goes on to encourage her fans to be socially aware and  to partake in their rights as American citizens to vote on issues that impact their lives directly.

Promising young entertainers have their reputation ruined because they are taken advantage of at a very young age and their reputations are ruined. Lady Gaga took advantage of this disadvantage because it showed her humility.

While many stars risk losing popularity by moving to their ranch in Montana, there are just as many who seemingly can’t get enough fame and their constant attention craving drives them mad. Not everyone can handle the constant glare of the limelight. Striking a balance between being available and elusive is another aspect of fame Lady Gaga has mastered because she is always performing. Not only are eyes and ears everywhere but there are also phones that are equipped cameras, recording devices and internet. One misstep and it could be on TMZ within an hour. Lady Gaga is more aware than most, remarking to Anderson Cooper “Right now, we’re in a bar, right? And there’s a camera right there and a camera right there,” she said, pointing around the room. “But if I were to be sitting in this bar, and we didn’t have a scheduled interview, there would still be a camera over there and over there and over there. I’m always on camera.” Camera phones have become a medium that has ruined more than one stars career; whether it be incriminating photos, video or voice messages. 

In an interview in early 2011,  Anderson Cooper remarked  Lady Gaga uses the photographers as much as they use her, that her over-the-top outfits were specifically designed to make the headlines and provoke people in order to get them talking “I’m a true academic when it comes to music and when it comes to my style, my fashion”. In the same interview, she noted “There’s nothing that I’ve ever put on my body that I didn’t understand where it came from, the reference of it, who inspired it. There’s always some sort of a story or a concept that I’m telling”

In 2010 she wore an outfit made of raw meat to the MTV Video Music Awards, accompanied by several discharged gay service members, a commentary on “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”

A few days after the award show she spoke at a rally in Maine to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, her speech was entitled “The Prime Rib of America”.  In her speech she argued that not all citizens of the United States were equal, namely homosexuals in the military. She argued that it was unfair of the United States government to have the ability choose which rights citizens had based on their sexuality, even when these citizens put their life on the line on a daily basis to protect the United States. She said “Equality is the prime rib of America, but because I’m gay, I don’t get to enjoy the greatest cut of meat my country has to offer. It’s unjust, and fundamentally, it is against all that we stand for as Americans. If you serve this country, is it acceptable to be a cafeteria American soldier? Can you choose some things from the Constitution to put on your plate, but not others? A buffet, perhaps. Equality is the prime rib of America. Equality is the prime rib of what we stand for as a nation. And I don’t get to enjoy the greatest cut of meat that my country has to offer.”

The reason she had the ability to cause such a stir in the media was because she is a celebrity. She had access to the stage, and upon that stage she informed the public on the inequality in the ‘Land of the Free’–the United States. 

Lady Gaga has been on the world’s stage for a number of years now, but she does admit to being insecure because she was bullied at a young age. She has now made it her mission to breed compassion and bravery to the world. Without compassion and bravery, Lady Gaga would not have been on that stage wearing a dress made of meat to inform the masses about social and political inequality. She believes that if she can overcome, so can anyone. “You have the freedom to pull the superstar out of yourself that you were born to be. We are all born superstars”

 What Lady Gaga cares about first and foremost is her music. Her ability to rise to fame and receive critical and commercial acclaim in such a short amount of time is due to her ability to sing and dance on stage. Through that she has collected one of the largest fan bases in the world, spanning continents and generations. Through her fans she gets to spread compassion and pushes the world to think outside the box and communicate. In less than five years, Lady Gaga has achieved superstardom. She is currently the most famous person on Earth according to The Guinness Book of World Records, and all it took was a little theatricality.   

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