Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Gaga and Ke$ha Champion New Feminism

Hi Folks: Jessica shared this article about Lady Gaga and Ke$ha and their relationship to feminism. I would love to hear your thoughts on the author's assertions. Many of you still need to do your Lady Gaga Blog so you may want to do a response to this article. Do you agree with the author?  I think it is quite an interesting to debate.  - JRR

GaGa and Ke$ha Champion New Feminism

By: Lily Rowen

Posted: 3/19/10

When one thinks of female pop artists like Ke$ha and Lady Gaga, the word "feminism" probably isn't the first word that comes to mind. has described Ke$ha as a superfluous party girl with "nothing new" to offer, and bloggers lambast Lady GaGa as "trashy," with no morals. But, in a Los Angeles Times article published last December, Lady Gaga called herself "a little bit of a feminist," saying, "I find that men get away with saying a lot in this business, and that women get away with saying very little." Ke$ha makes similar claims for herself, stating in an interview, "I'm just talking about men the way they've talked about women for years . . . it's all about how women are pieces of meat. I find that stuff funny, so I want to do it back to them."

I agree with both of these womens' statements, and believe that both Ke$ha and Lady GaGa are faces of a new brand of feminism. Critics may say that their sexually charged songs, costumes, and onstage antics are demeaning and anti-feminist. However, these critics need to remember that throughout history, what was once considered trashy and beyond sexual decency would pave the way for female liberation in the future. Although Ke$ha and Lady GaGa are known for their explicit, sexual performance style and their seemingly shallow lyrics, their new brand of "in your face" confidence defies gender roles and has created a unique, modern version of feminism.

Within the lyrics of some of Ke$ha and Lady Gaga's songs lie subtle feminist themes. The fact that most of Ke$ha's songs are about lustily hooking up and partying independently with her girlfriends, instead of pining away in love, greatly shifts the focus and message of her music from that of a submissive female voice to an active one.

This is a pleasant change from songs written by musicians like Britney Spears and Taylor Swift, whose lyrics force women into unnaturally passive roles. The Britney Spears pop classic "Baby One More Time," which retains its appeal ten years later, portrays a young woman who loves a boy so much that she longs for any attention from him, even emotional abuse. Taylor Swift, in her power ballad "Love Story," sings from the perspective of a helpless, passive Juliet character, who just waits for Romeo to come save her from her disapproving father. These songs, while popular and accepted, do nothing to give girls a positive, empowering message.

Ke$ha's most famous song, "Tik Tok," only mentions men in the role of the "boys" who are "blowin up [their] phones," and who the girls will be "smack[ing] if [they] get too drunk." Throughout the song, these "boys" are the sideshow at the main event, which is the "girls night out" dance party. Ke$ha's act of calling men "boys" weakens their masculinity, placing her and her female friends in a dominant position.

Another Ke$ha hit, "Blah Blah Blah," places the "boys" in a passive category. By stating that whatever the boys say doesn't matter, since it all sounds the same, she harshly reconstructs the male/female power binary, placing boys in a submissive position, and taking away their individuality. This, as Ke$ha says, just makes men de-personified "pieces of meat," turning a characteristic of popular music on its head.

Lady GaGa also exhibits budding signs of feminism and inversion of social power structures in some of her lyrics and music videos. In her song "Video Phone" which she recorded with Beyonce, Lady Gaga is advocating that men watch her on their "video phones," instead of in real life.
While this may, at first, sound seedy and disrespectful, it is actually a very empowering move. By placing herself outside of the realm of mens' possibilities, she is in fact elevating herself to god, or goddess like status. Lady Gaga and Beyonce are sending the message that although men can look at them, they cannot touch.

This increases their power not only as performance artists in the music industry, but also as women in a world of men. In a world in which women are usually regarded as sexual objects to be seen, touched, and exploited, they are using their sexuality to their advantage, almost as leverage, to get money, power, fame and respect.

GaGa also admitted, in an interview with Heat Magazine, that her hit single "Poker Face" is about her bisexuality. When she sings "I won't tell you that I love you/kiss or hug you/'cause I'm bluffin' with my muffin . . ." she states that she is simply using a man, and fantasizing about a woman. Both of these songs either invert traditional roles of women in pop music or bring a usually taboo topic into the mainstream; they are anything but rude, trashy, or sexually unacceptable.

Gender roles and the societal realm of sexual acceptability are constantly changing. What was once considered shocking or in poor taste is now completely acceptable, and even encouraged.
In the 1920s, much of mainstream society considered the clothing, habits and open sexuality of the flappers disgusting, vile and disrespectful to their bodies. Feminist scholar Rebecca L. Davis writes that, "after women won [the vote] in 1920, marriage no longer created a legally or politically cohesive unit: married women possessed unprecedented control over their personal property, employment, and bodies."

The flappers' supposedly vile behavior actually complimented the political activism of other feminists. If the flappers hadn't pushed the social and sexual boundaries so aggressively in the wake of women's suffrage, today's women may not enjoy some of the social freedoms and fashion choices considered so normal now.

For modern feminists who revere the gutsy women of the 1920s, I would suggest taking a closer look at artists like Ke$ha and Lady Gaga. While their outfits, song lyrics, and public images may seem perverse and demeaning now, anyone who considers themselves a feminist should think about the social possibilities that these artists may open for women in the future.

By deconstructing the lyrics and taking a bit more time to think about the possibility that these artists' songs contain feminist themes, instead of merely dismissing them as crude, angry contemporary feminists might actually learn something from Ke$ha and Lady Gaga about the future of their movement. After all, those who are so vehemently opposed to their performing methods may not have the courage to perform as Lady Gaga and Ke$ha have.

So, the next time any critic gets the urge to belittle the lyrics of a Lady Gaga or Ke$ha, I encourage them to stop and think for a moment; the lyrics of these artists' songs may transform the contemporary path of feminism.

Lily Rowen is a sophomore religious studies major. She can be reached at


  1. I am not sure how I feel about transforming the "contemporary path of feminism" I think that Ke$ha and Lady Gaga are somewhat annoying. They say they are feminist yet they dress in revealing clothing and dance and make suggestive advances to the camera. I feel like that is a little much. I think about Lady Gaga's "Meat Dress" and how she wore it to demonstrate that she was not a piece of meat. Well, she acts like one in her video. This is why I am so torn. Ke$ha said she wants to do to the boys what they do to women. Well, two wrongs don't make a right. Part of me thinks well good for them for standing up for themselves but the other part thinks don't claim to be something your not.

  2. I agree with you Lynette. When I read this article I thought; how could any sane person consider Lady Gaga or Kesha a feminist?! Lady Gaga did wear a piece of meat to tell the world she was not a piece of meat, yet you could see more skin in that outfit than anything else! I know Taylor Swift and other young writers may sing a bit too much about love songs and boys but I would consider Taylor Swift more of a feminist than Lady Gaga or Kesha any day.

  3. I agree with you Lynette and Kelly. I still am not convinced that how the lyrics of songs (poker face and bad romance) of these artists' could transform the contemporary path of feminism.

  4. I love Ke$ha and Lady Gaga!!! I agree they are the best that contemporary pop has to offer feminism. There is nothing wrong with the sweetness of Taylor Swift and Katy Perry, but neither is there anything wrong with Ke$sha and Gaga's sexuality or personas. They aren't just doing the traditional thing or the new postfeminist traditional thing-they are taking the latter and turning it on its head. You can tell they are doing what they do for themselves and they are real people-warts and all. They're slutting it up for their own sense of amusement (and not even literally-there is no one more asexual than Gaga in Hollywood-she really is a twisted freak). This is an attitude I think a lot of young women have and are desperate to see reflected in their culture. This is the explanation for their wild success despite intense hatred from plenty of other corners. And both actually write their own songs (and Gaga is a classically trained pianist! Ke$ha still writes songs for other artists, too, as Gaga did b/f she was famous-and both very well, I might add!). I would be so proud of my daughter if she grew up to be like either of these talented, fabulous, crazy women. I can't wait to watch them grow into themselves and I hope they just continue to push the envelope and evolve as human beings in the shadow of fame's pressure. If you don't like poppy dance music, of course you will never be a fan, but believe me, as far as that crap goes, this shit is gold!

  5. Hello, I am not sure if this blog stream is still going on, but I am Lily Rowen, the author of this piece and I recently found it in this blog when trying to make sure that my "online reputation" was worthy of job interviews. I just wanted to thank you all for reading and taking the time to comment on my piece. I thoroughly enjoyed reading all of these comments and thinking, yet again, about these themes of modern feminism and sexuality.