‘Joanne’ is the Lady Gaga the World Needed
Lady Gaga: Five Foot Two was released early September of last year as an accompaniment to the release of her album, Joanne. This was Lady Gaga’s bold, vulnerable move to show the world her new, stripped-down image. With the release of a raw, acoustic version of the song dedicated to her deceased aunt, the old meat dress-wearing Gaga is gone and in her place is a new, mature woman who has a lot to show about the music industry and the struggles of the modern working female.
Whilst the documentary was created as a subtle piece of promotion for Joanne, I believe that its success lies in how revealing it is about the true Gaga (whether or not she intended to show herself so transparently). It is evident from the content, tone and general direction of the film that Gaga’s aim in making the film is to show her transformation. Instead, she has accidentally made a truly inspirational and poignant portrayal of the music industry and its attitudes towards women.
Lady Gaga, known by friends and family as Stefani Germanotta, first burst into the mainstream pop scene with her catchy hit Just Dance in 2008. Soon after, Gaga was cemented as a cultural icon of the 21st century with her outlandish costumes and music videos. Gaga did not shy away from controversial and provocative images. Rather, she endorsed them freely catching the public’s eye; even her outfits have become mainstays in our culture. Her stardom continued to rise through her popular duet with Beyonce in Telephone and the accompanying music video, which, in classic Gaga style, included her wearing an outfit comprised of only police tape.
Her instant hit Born This Way became the name of her non-profit organisation, which showed her philanthropy and commitment to combat bullying, of which she had been a victim of in school. She has since been involved in several fashion campaigns, namely, Versace’s Lady Gaga for Versace played at the Super Bowl Halftime Show and become a recurring face in movies and television.
Throughout all this, the Grammy award winner’s true nature has always seemed so elusive to the general public. She was defined by her provocative nature, her costumes and her performances, but it was difficult to ascertain who Germanotta was outside of Lady Gaga.
In this documentary, we see that Germanotta is a woman working in an extraordinary industry that demands a lot from her. We see her struggles to balance her love life and work, her illness, the pressure of being a public figure and to be a strong, authoritative figure in an inherently sexist industry. I had always seen the Lady Gaga persona as a shock tactic used to sell records and gain fame, but it is clear that there are layers beneath that meat dress. The Gaga persona was used as a shield to protect the woman inside from the outer world because she did not want to show the world her insecurities and vulnerabilities. In Five Foot Two, we see that Gaga has evolved from this as she is ready to show her strengths and weaknesses simultaneously. In fact, this becomes the main message of her documentary. Each success happens alongside a failure, every up is followed by a down. As opposed to hiding from the failures as she did before, Gaga is accepting and learning from them in order to move on and evolve.
There is a moment in the middle of the documentary that shows how far Gaga has come. She sits at a piano with her hair in a simple updo, donning a black dress and sings an acoustic version of her hit Bad Romance. Once the costumes and the visuals of the music video were stripped away, the song took on a new meaning and became stronger and more poignant than ever before. There was a raw pain in her voice that had been muted in the original release of the song, which showed her newfound acceptance of her weaknesses. Yes, Gaga’s aim might have been to show how she has stripped down and that Joanne is a different sound from her previous albums but this is slightly misleading.
Her sound remains largely similar to her earlier work and she still dons a rhinestone encrusted full body suit for her Super Bowl performance, which makes up the finale of the film. Gaga has been honest in the moments when she shows the importance of taking control of her career and the decisions she makes. She shows the difficulties of being a woman in the music industry who has to be assertive and in control of all their own creative and personal decisions. Stefani burst into the industry as a fledgeling, desperate to make a statement. Now, she is a mature artist and woman who shows it is possible to be independent, authoritative, in control and still feel lost even at the best of times.
(Featured image: Wikimedia Commons)