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I See London, I See France, I See Lady Gaga’s Underpants

A friend of mine made a comment on Facebook the other day that got me thinking. He said (in the most respectful way possible) that even though Lady Gaga is on a non-stop media blitz right now and even though she’s usually in various states of undress, she doesn’t manage to get a (ahem) rise out of him. I don’t think he was saying that Gaga is unattractive – she clearly is very attractive – but that she doesn’t project sexuality. Which is fine, because it’s pretty clear that arousing hoards of heterosexual men is not at the top of her to-do list. She’s got bigger fish to fry. But the question remains: if Lady Gaga isn’t trying to be a standard sex symbol, why is she alway running around in her underwear?

I’ll be upfront and say I’m not a huge lover of Lady Gaga’s music. “Bad Romance” is a pretty good song and I don’t groan when I hear her other songs when I’m working out at the gym. But in general her music doesn’t live up to the potential of her persona. Despite the fact that her ubiquity has become grating and she tends to overstate her “freakishness,” (note: a true weirdo doesn’t have to go around telling people how weird she is all the time) I do find a lot of what she does to be generally subversive. She stands up for the underdog, she encourages her fans to express their points of view and she she celebrates the ugly and the grotesque. Which is why her insistence on wearing provocative clothing is so puzzling.

Lady Gaga
Now this is what I'm talking about.

Gaga prides herself on being provocative, but is showing skin really all that provocative in 2011? In most places, regular women can get away with wearing next to nothing in the summer and few people bat an eye. When you venture into the realm of female performers, where their look and image helps to build a brand, sexy stage wear is a no-brainer. It’s hard not to find a young female pop artist who doesn’t dress in tight bodysuits, bustiers or bikinis on stage. And it’s not just the empty pop vessels who are gussied up either. Women like Beyonce who write their own songs and trade on their own fierce independence know that squeezing into their stage clothes is part of the job description.

The skivvies-as-stage-wear aren’t setting Gaga apart from the pack and she genuinely doesn’t seem to be trying to seduce or sell sex with her get-ups. Yet, she seems to be wearing less and less as time marches on (with the exception of the ridiculous leather maternity act she put on on SNL this weekend). This coupled with the fact that the she has made comments about starving herself to look like a pop star, makes me think that the Lady is a lot less subversive than she claims to be and definitely a lot less subversive than she could be. Wear a roomy tent dress with your crazy lobster claw shoes, Gaga. Don’t stop with a meat dress – go for a meat pant suit! Because when you come on stage in a teeny tiny bra and panties you aren’t telling your fans that they can be anything they want. You’re telling them that they can be anything they want as long as they’re able to look the part and willing to play the game.

By Sissy Larue

30-something, mother-of-two, former rock 'n' roll reporter, currently into retro house-wifey things, bad TV and any movie that I can sneak out of the house to watch.

17 replies on “I See London, I See France, I See Lady Gaga’s Underpants”

I really chafe at the notion that Lady Gaga is subversive in any way, though I find her songs ridiculously catchy like crazy. She’s still a conventionally attractive, white, blonde pop star from a well off background singing catchy pop tunes. What part of that is any different from any other top 40 artist?

While watching SNL I couldn’t keep my eyes off the indentation on the side of her bum and thinking what great shape you have to be in to have that… I am in the minority here because I think the black patent leather, fishnets and thigh high boots scream sex. Maybe the thing that stops her from being “sexy” to hetero dudes is the hair and makeup. During the tea, wine and beer skit with JT and Kristin Wig the only thing my bf was trying to do was confirm whether that was LG’s nipple peeking out.

This coupled with the fact that the she has made comments about starving herself to look like a pop star, makes me think that the Lady is a lot less subversive than she claims to be and definitely a lot less subversive than she could be.

My thoughts exactly. For all her singing about self-acceptance and different kinds of beauty, what the “Born this Way” video boils down to, for me, is a white, blonde, skinny woman dancing around in her underwear. She takes her celebration of the ugly and the grotesque to such an extreme, that it is ultimately meaningless. I find it very difficult to believe that somebody is going to look at her weird pointy cheekbones and extrapolate that to their own situation and go “If she can feel beautiful with those [fake] cheekbones, I can feel beautiful with my [very real] belly rolls”. In fact, when I try to channel my fifteen-year-old self, all I hear is “Well her face does look weird in this video, but look at how tight her stomach is! I could totally feel beautiful in my way if I looked like that!”

Related/unrelated note, because I may or may not be drinking right now….my scholarly (as in, I wrote a rather mediocre paper on it) opinion on Lady Gaga is that she falls into this long lineage of glam-diva performers (Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Bette Midler, Lena Horne) who are sexual in terms of their subject matter of songs and dance, but aren’t necessarily sexy (or sex symbols?). These are women who are often borrowed from in drag culture, and whose music and careers capture the hearts of a large percentage of white homosexual men… a demographic for whom they have typically become advocates.

Cher, Donna Summer . . . Lady Gaga has appropriated her “style” from lots of fashionable icons who did it better and before her. Just do a google search for who she is copying. I find her unoriginal and boring, and I think she is quite unattractive, that desperation for attention is not at all becoming. I don’t even think she really believes half of what she’s saying and that “Born This Way” song is a complete rip off she stole the whole idea and concept from others, down to the music. Lady Gaga is just a gimmick that’s all, manufactured and Produced for mass public consumption. The best part is she’ll be a has been soon and soon enough is not fast enough for me!

Oh yeah, it’s pretty crazy the ways in which she borrows from the women before her. The video for Alejandro contains nearly identical shots (I mean everything- dress, group size, camera angle) to Madonna’s “Express yourself”.
My hope, is that if everything else is borrowed, her advocacy isn’t. But sometimes I worry that it is just a gimmick since she knows the demographic of her audience so well. Cyndi Lauper, on the other hand continues to do awesome things for the gay community, both in and out of the limelight.

I personally think it’s great that she is using these great women’s influence to reach a new generation. Madonna is not the icon she once was, Cyndi hasn’t held the attention of teens in years and so on. Lady Gaga is the next generation. There are some borrowed aspects but there are also new aspects.

Lady Gaga is now, she is fueling the fire of a million people who will make a difference. What would the kids all be like if they just listened to Britney, Katy Perry and Kesha all day? Yikes.

If Madonna was still hopping around on stage singing about personal identity I would be a little miffed at Gaga but she’s not. Madonna has gone on a new tangent. Gaga has taken up the reins.

Besides, everything is cyclical. (see the Blondie – Madonna comparisons) Gaga will eventually find a new tangent but for now – I think she’s good.

(I’ve never found her boring. Jessica Simpson was boring, Taylor Swift is boring.)

My theory on Lady Gaga (note: this is totally not a scholarly opinion though I am a musicologist) is that her crazy crazy clothes obscure her actual identity. I think that by only appearing in public in costume, as Lady Gaga, she protects her private life and could potentially run to the corner store in sweatpants without the papa-paparazzi following her.

I am all for the lack of pants (in fact, I’m not wearing pants now), but every time I see the Born This Way video and she’s wearing bra, panties, heels and nothing else, I cringe. No crazy accessories, just underpants. Nothing against bras or panties, it’s just so cliche for a pop star to be wearing so little.

I have recently started actually checking out Lady Gaga. I’ll confess that my initial reaction to her was part “If everybody likes it so much it can’t be that good,” and part assumption that all the flashiness was a distraction from the fact that she wasn’t all that good. My dismissive attitude was almost entirely a remnant of my punk-rock youth. Since I feel all hypocritical when I dislike something without actually experiencing it, I spent a morning with Gaga on YouTube. She’s not that bad. I don’t know that I will be rushing out to buy an album, but she’s kind of like Alice Cooper’s and Madonna’s love child.

All this is to say that I don’t know much about who she says she is, or what she says she’s trying to do, I just have my first impressions. I didn’t really notice her lack of attire. Thinking back, it seems to me that when she’s running around in her underwear she’s trying to direct your attention to the weird costume pieces she has on other body parts. I think that’s why it’s not really sexy. She isn’t wearing tiny outfits to say “Look at my body,” she’s wearing them to say “The body’s boring, check out these giant feathered shoulder pads!”

(Full disclosure: I love Lady Gaga)
I recently watched Lady Gaga’s HBO concert thing – the one at Time Square, I think? and omg, super energy Batman. She is all over that damn stage, stomping her feet, making claws with her arms. And half the time I was thinking, “Good lord, all this AND singing? She could run a marathon.” (I was in choir for 6 years, I know how exhausting singing can get, even when you’re just standing still is a polyester bright blue robe). And then, after contemplating her lung capacity, I realized that the girl must be Sweating Hard Core. That’s when the outfits made sense. Yeah, that studded bikini made sense! I know! When you are as Crazy Hyper on stage as she is (with those stage lights!), the last thing you want on your body is More Clothes.

Now, her day-to-day wear, I cannot say. Maybe she just wants to wear everything ever. She’s worn the pants, she’s worn the cardigan and the blazer. It’s time for mesh and panties. And meat.

Sidenote: A friend and I once saw a highschool girl cross the street in the most wacked out outfit (circa 2002) and the only logical reason we could think of for wearing all those random pieces together was that maybe she decided to wear all her favorite pieces ever, all at once that day. Maybe Lady Gaga is doing that. She just has a lot of favorite pieces…

While I can see your point, I would argue Bruce Springsteen works equally hard on stage (and usually plays for over three hours). He always wears jeans and a t-shirt. Justin Timberlake (and Justin Bieber for that matter) dance a lot on stage. Also, fully dressed. I think performers should be able to wear whatever they want — I just don’t like that ALL mainstream female pop stars tend to bare a lot of skin and while Lady Gaga is touted as being “different,” she’s actually no exception.

I guess I just automatically default to the idea that Lady Gaga isn’t being sold as a sex symbol. So, her outfits fall under a different line of thinking.

(That is to say, sex symbol as men interested in her in a sexual manner. Lady Gaga seems more in line everyone loving everyone else, no matter what your gender is or what your partner’s gender is.)

And my experiences with female performers on stage has been pretty limited – Tegan and Sara, MIA, Neko Case (she performed during a rain storm though, so a poncho was necessary), The Blow, others that I am now blanking on… They are on stage to sell an art – or agenda – and not necessarily sexual arousal.

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