What Taking a Class on Lady Gaga Taught Me

I didn't take a Lady Gaga class on purpose. I have a certain number of advanced electives I have to take before I graduate, as all majors do. As a Writing and Rhetoric major, while there isn’t a specific formula of which electives to take, there are some seen as a rite of passage for the program. One of these was “Rhetoric in Pop Culture,” which switches both professors and topics per semester. I was excited to take the class regardless of who was teaching it or what the subject was, but I was hoping it would be something exciting. About a week before classes began I received an email and found out this semester, the class was on Lady Gaga. 

Taking a class on Lady Gaga is a good decision for anyone — I think — but especially someone learning about rhetoric seriously for the first time. I am early on in my major and can say that maybe the class was built for someone a little more advanced than I, but I had a great time and learned so much. My professor was one of the best teachers I've ever had, and just five minutes of her speculating out loud taught me more than 20 pages of a textbook ever has. 

During syllabus week, my professor told the class that if we were to learn anything at all, it is that Gaga is a genius. I did learn that I think — if I wasn’t already convinced before. But, the class taught me some other valuable things as well. 

This class taught me all the best parts of going Gaga. Lady Gaga is so much more than a pop star. In fact, she has redefined what it is to be one. Gaga looked fame dead in the face and said “try me,” and launched herself into it. She, in so many ways, is fearless — and yet is one of the most vulnerable artists out there. Lady Gaga herself taught me to free myself, even just a bit, from what I think is holding me back. 

Twitter - @glaad

This class taught me there is no wrong way to analyze something. Of course, things are going to be a bit more out-of-left-field than others, but everyone thinks differently. If you see something and are reminded of something else, the piece is doing its job — no matter how intentional it is. Even if it feels off, or even dumb, you're never quite wrong. 

This class taught me about Lady Gaga’s layers. Beyond all her metaphors and catchy tunes, Gaga’s catalog struggles with identity, specifically surrounding Catholicism, sexuality and status. She, like most artists, crafts around the human experience, but in a much more abstract way than the typical pop star. Her layers include references to literary work, rhetoricians, film and history. I was introduced to the song “John Wayne” in this class, which has since become one of my favorites, due to how much fun it is to just pick apart. Her songs are like Legos: you can pull them apart and put them back together in so many different ways. 

This class taught me about my own layers. Specifically, my interests. I found — after thinking long and hard about it after a particularly deep class session — that many of my interests can be narrowed down to a few common roots. Of course, this is a simple way of looking at things, but it's fascinating to think about what could influence my perception of “good” vs “bad.” I don’t see myself quite like a Lego, but maybe one day I can pull myself apart enough to put it back together in a new way.

On that note, this class taught me about myself. In a major that is so philosophy-heavy, I can’t help but feel like I'm just not smart enough for it. But, I pick up what Lady Gaga has been putting down. By the end of this class, I was able to not only see but sometimes even predict her moves in her work. Lady Gaga is for everyone, and she creates such complex work to ensure that. Lady Gaga taught me that I, too, can apply Aristotle to everyday life — and do it with confidence.

Lady Gaga