Lady Gaga has every right -- and, you could even argue, a responsibility -- to fashion her own creation myth. The civil rights activism that serves as both gimmick and moral center in her art resonates more strongly if it’s backed by real political involvement; but since she’s an artist, after all, sometimes symbolic shows of solidarity are enough.
Her new video for “Born This Way” is one such declaration of alliance. Though it’s freaky enough to convince the casual viewer that it’s totally original, the Nick Knight-directed clip simply updates radical feminist lore for the cyber-prosthetic age. In doing so, Gaga gives a slimy new sheen to the Second Wave catchphrase “goddesses in every woman.” Yet for all of the intensity of the scenes where Gaga updates the feminist practice of myth-remaking to make room for both sci-fi surrealism and machine goods, the video ultimately fails its own message -- and all for the glory of a bikini.
While some have rejected the song “Born This Way” as a straight woman’s misguided attempt to claim queerness as her own, its instant cultural omnipresence proves that many fans accept and even revel in Gaga’s symbolic volunteer leadership. (For great queer analysis of Gaga’s work, I highly recommend the writing that J. Jack Halberstam and Tavia Nyong’o have been doing on the Bully Bloggers website.)
“Born This Way” is the culmination of Gaga's informal campaign. Its housey beats and diva wails strut through the history of LGBT clubland, and the lyrics make explicit the elements of liberation more subtly driving Gaga’s earlier work: the self-determination in “Poker Face,” the determination to survive depicted in the video for “Paparazzi”; the victimization recast as empowerment in “Bad Romance”; the celebration of sensuality as a route to innocence in “Alejandro.” In one disco-fabulous fell swoop, “Born This Way” completes Gaga’s metamorphosis from dance floor-damaged freak baby to doyenne of the disenfranchised. She is post-gender, hear her roar.