Don’t let the ornate gowns and fabulous wigs fool you when it comes to Lady Gaga‘s business prowess. The iconic singer is shrewd money-maker with a penchant for more than just pop song writing. The 25-year-old may sing about glitter and panties as she once joked during a TV interview, but the performer has been well aware of her LGBTQ audience for some time, tactfully positioning herself as a queer advocate for the sake of her Gaga brand. Her latest business venture and anti-bullying foundation entitled the Born This Way Foundation, is another effort at which to make her name synonymous with gay rights.
More self-ware than previous young female performers such as Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera who accidentally found themselves to be caricatures in the LGBTQ community, Gaga seems to have positioned herself squarely at such an audience from the beginning of her career. Ever since her 2009 MTV music video award acceptance in which she upheld her award and said “This is for God and the gays!,” Gaga made certain to distance herself from her more wholesome predecessors, combining blatant sexuality with pretty political messages.
“Alejandro,” the hit song from Gaga’s The Fame Monster album was expertly released admits America’s DADT controversy. Although the song details an ambiguous love that cannot be possible, much akin to Madonna‘s “La Isla Bonita,” the theme for the video involved gender-bending soldiers who donned fishnet tights and heels beneath army hats and performed erotic dances over army cots. The very overt homage to queer service members was sealed when Gaga herself turned out for a DADT rally in Maine in September 2010, some three months after the video was released, speaking passionately for the policy’s repeal.
Although Gaga’s first album, The Fame, sold well (over 12 million albums globally), the strategic and and directly gay marketing of Born This Way places the album in a class of its own. “Born This Way,” the first pop song on the Billboard charts to ever sing the word “transgender,” established the platform of the album and became both a gay rights anthem and instant hit. Selling more than one million copies in the first week of release, “Born This Way” not only put pop lyrics to the sentiment that LGBTQ people are born, not made, but also launched Gaga as a full-fledged gay rights advocate.
Pairing her “Born This Way” message to young kids was also a successful tactic when deciding on the selling of her album to the younger, more web savvy crowd. Lady Gaga’s album sold online as do all albums. But prior to the album’s release, Gaga struck up a one-day deal in which Amazon sold the entire album for 99 cents — an initiative that helped push her album well over the one million mark. The offer compromised more than half of all album sales and was so popular that it actually stalled Amazon servers. Considering the cheap price tag and online availability, the album could not have been more directly aimed at young people with little funds and an identification for being “Born This Way.”
The New York Times called Gaga’s Born This Way marketing “one of the most extensive and savvy marketing campaigns ever mounted in music,” as she reportedly developed more branding opportunities and appearances in the six months prior to album’s release than some artists procure in their entire careers. And to confirm that Ms. Stephanie Germanotta is in fact the one calling the shots regarding her own branding, her co-producer told the paper that she is indeed the mind behind Mother Monster:
“No matter what it is, she is giving the direction,” said Paul Blair a k a DJ White Shadow, a co-producer of “Born This Way” and other songs on the album. “She is 100 percent in charge of 100 percent of everything. Which is insane.”
The singer’s male alter ego Jo Calderone who was first introduced in Vogue Hommes Japan in the summer of 2010 has since incorporated her drag king persona into more State side appearances. Aside from bringing Jo into her most recent “You And I” video, Gaga also attended the 2011 MTV Music Video Awards as Jo, which according to some in the LGBTQ community, brought more media visibility to queer individuals:
“There is barely any visibility for FTM, drag kings and lesbians on television. There is a huge imbalance,” NYC drag king and host/creator of the Mr. Transman pageant Murray Hill told MTV. “For Lady Gaga, the biggest pop star in the world, to go on TV with millions of people watching in drag as a man and then to actually say ‘lesbian and transgender’ live is undeniably powerful and creates change. She ups the visibility big time and gets the language into the mainstream.”
Waltzing out onto the MTV Music Video Awards Stage and flirting with Britney Spears as a woman in drag wasn’t just a grab for attention, as the move also furthered Gaga’s perceived dedication to the queer community. Forfeiting her massive heels and latex attire for one evening to dress as a man, and on such a mainstream media platform like MTV, was another intended tactic that the Italian-American would have to consider very carefully before gluing on the sideburns.
Gaga’s tweeted despair at the suicide of 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer, a gay child who was teased mercilessly, resulted in her declaring that she was speaking with President Obama about bullying being a hate crime. Since that meeting, we now have the Born This Way Foundation to look forward to in 2012, an anti-bullying effort by the pop singer that combines both her hit single, her latest album, and of course her very strategic dedication to the LGBTQ community.
Gaga may have found a way to fuse both philanthropy and business ventures with her keen marketing, and the benefits to such a community given her influence are undeniable. But to imply that the performer is not turning a lovely profit from branding “gay” and gay rights with her own name is to deny the very meat on her dress.