Here’s Why I Feel Guilty For Loving Lady Gaga’s Fame Monster Era

The jig is up.

I am a hardcore monster, and I have been one since our Lord and Savior, Lady Gaga, released the most immaculate work of creative genius in  the 21st century: “Just Dance” ft. Colby O'Donis. The cult classic dropped just in time for the steamy summer of 2008, making it an essential bop at any risqué functions I attended throughout the fourth and fifth grade. At ten years-old, I watched Lady Gaga hump an inflatable killer whale floatie in a kiddie pool and fell in unadulterated love. The hot pink blazer with shoulder pads, the clunky rectangular sunglasses, the fuschia lightning bolt face tattoo, the iconic platinum blonde hair with bangs—everything was perfect. Everything was simple then.

After “Just Dance,” it seemed as though Lady Gaga could go nowhere but up. Love Game, Poker Face, Paparazzi— my ears were in a constant state of orgasmic euphoria. She bled onto the stage of the MTV Video Music Awards, and I was as equally enraptured as I was confused. What does this all mean? She finished the performance dangling from the ceiling with a face devoid of expression, as if to simulate that she had hung herself. It made me think a bit more about the lines she sung at the beginning of her performance before the iconic Paparazzi beat began: “Amidst all of these flashing lights, I pray the fame won’t take my life.” Still, we assumed it was just related to the concept of the song, praised her for her unconventional creativity, and kept it moving. I kept it moving.

Lady Gaga kept everyone on their toes, myself included. What would she do at her next performance? What narrative would she construct in her next music video? What would she wear at the next award show? Forget the meat dress. Remember when Lady Gaga would wear high heels without any backs?! She was the most unapologetically bizarre pop star I had ever encountered in my generation, and even better, she was an absolute icon for the queer community who bought  out all of her shows.

I watched all of her music videos on YouTube or On Demand (mostly when my mom wasn’t home, since Gaga’s visual content was a bit too “mature” for my age at the time), I rewound them and watched them over & over & over again. When she dropped the music video for “Bad Romance,” my sister and I played it on repeat on the desktop computer while we helped our mom sort the laundry. I put my paws up— and then shoved them into piles of dirty socks.

Rah, rah, ah-ah-ah

Ro, mah, ro-mah-mah

Gaga, ooh-la-la.

Want some clean undies?

After clearing out all her merch from the shelves of Hot Topic, my older sister rocked a glow-in-the-dark rubber bracelet that said “I’m a free bitch” and even bought a makeup kit to put a lightning bolt on her face for Halloween.  I opted for the more classy—censored— red band with the iconic HAUS OF GAGA logo. We rocked Lady Gaga t-shirts to a Good Morning America summer concert in the rain. Gaga was wearing an elegant white paint suit, and she looked stunning, even though we only saw the left side the entire time (always plan your route from the train station carefully and efficiently).

Lady Gaga was an essential part of my adolescence, and even as an adult, I can turn on the Born This Way album and feel infinitely better about myself. From “Hair” to “Fashion of His Love” to “Scheiße” (which I’ve never quite understood because I don’t speak German, but I also have never fully understood many of Lady Gaga’s English tracks either), her music is peculiar and strange and uplifting and puzzling and electric all at once.

So why do I feel conflicted?

While I still adore Cheek to Cheek and Joanne, I definitely haven’t given these albums as much attention as I’ve given the fruits of Lady Gaga’s 2009-2011 career. I can’t pretend like Gaga’s Fame Monster era isn’t something that invigorates my spirit. The dramatic intro of “Alejandro” immediately catalyzes a chemical reaction literally in my brain that bursts and floods my entire body with hot rushes of excitement. Clear the floor, I need to dance! Even so, something quite serious weighs on my mind in these moments. This era is also a time when Lady Gaga wears the most masks, when she was veers the farthest from her true self, when she is perhaps the most unhappy.

When I sat down to watch Gaga: Five Foot Two, I was really only expecting some light Netflix entertainment to help pass by all the excess free time I had over winter break— until the message from her Paparazzi performance (and her thirteen minute “Marry the Night” music video) resurfaced. If you’ve ever gone on the wild ride that is the “Marry the Night” music video, you would have learned about the day Gaga was dropped from her first music label. The video chronicles a cinematic journey through a mental clinic, a series of dance rehearsals and classes, numerous outfit changes, uncomfortable monologue narration, topless bathroom rampages and burning vehicles. The ultimate takeaway: Gaga went through a lot of industry bullshit to get to the point where she is today (i.e. making an album with American showtunes icon Tony Bennett, starring in a film with Bradley Cooper, and winning an Oscar!).

When Lady Gaga was a Fame Monster, recruiters, agents, producers and music honchos contorted her into a manufactured pop princess with sexy outfits and choreographed dance sequences. And unfortunately— it worked. Lady Gaga blew up as a strange but attractive pop icon with catchy club songs and a glamorous wardrobe. Stefani is actually a classically trained singer with roots in jazz and musical theatre, and she also writes many of her own songs. And in Five Foot Two (yes, Gaga is actually this short; perhaps the heinously high backless couture heels she used to always trudge around red carpets makes her seem taller) Gaga wears sweatpants and a bare face often. She pulls back her hair and peels back layers of masks. Masks that earned her millions of fans, including myself.

What does one do when they find out they have fallen victim to pop industry tactics— that the artist they have for so long idolized has been selling a false image to you from which they have grown to liberate themselves? I’d say— take it easy on yourself. Pop tactics work because they prey upon trends that are popular through very analytical, statistical, and scientific strategy. Plus, no one can resist the catchy beats of Gaga’s debut singles. Do I want to take a ride on her disco stick? Of course I do. Turn that shit up!

Regardless, I didn’t like Gaga because she was like every other pop singer. She was a free bitch. In Five Foot Two, Gaga talked about satirically pondering to the pretty pop image by putting a weird spin on it, which is why she was always wearing something questionable on her head or bleeding on stage. She was weird, she was strange, she was glamorous, she was uncanny. She resisted labels, categories, and boxes— she was everything and nothing, and anything in between. Lady Gaga spoke her superstardom into existence.

Gaga’s Fame Monster Era empowered my adolescence, and gave me the confidence to take charge of the idiosyncrasies of my identity, sexuality, and creativity. 2009 was just as important to Gaga’s career as it was to my personal development, and while she’s gotten closer to her genuine core in recent years, so have I! We are all changing and constantly evolving, and sometimes we occupy intermediate spaces to get where we really want to be— but I don’t think this changes how much Gaga’s early music impacted me.

And there’s nothing else I can say (Eh, Eh).