Lady Gaga’s Porn Show or Cathedral?

Robert V. Taylor

Robert V. Taylor

“Why are you going to a porn show?” I was asked. I’d never thought about Lady Gaga’s Monster Ball concert in those terms. I didn’t know what to think except that I was looking forward to it. This was no porn show. It was a spiritual revival in her very own travelling cathedral.

I was blown away by what I experienced and saw! Yes, it was a marathon dance party set against a production that was part opera, musical and music video. But the main attraction was Lady Gaga and her fans, the Little Monsters.

“I don’t want you to leave here loving me any more than you do” Lady Gaga announced. Then she added a benediction to the Little Monsters, “I want you to leave here loving yourself more.” It was the first sign that this was no ordinary concert with another self-absorbed artist. The concert space was morphing into Gaga’s cathedral where her words about love, acceptance, kindness, justice, inclusion and hope were matched with the passion of a revival preacher.

Lady Gaga grew up Catholic and knows a thing or two about religion. She also grew up teased and bullied for being chunky, not “pretty” enough and ridiculed for her musical talents. When she appears onstage in a bikini it is unexpected. You know that Sports Illustrated would not seek her out because of the ordinariness of her body. Yet she graces the front cover of Vogue this month  – Our Lady of Pop – saying, “I am the excuse to explore your identity. To be exactly who you are and to feel unafraid. To not judge yourself, to not hate yourself.”   

Her bikini is a visual reinforcement of those words of encouragement. But it is also more. A New York Times reporter quotes Lady Gaga saying that each religion hates or condemns a certain kind of person. She says, ”I totally believe in all love and forgiveness, and excluding no one.” When Lady Gaga talks to her fans she is part therapist, part spiritual exhorter – her Little Monsters are of inestimable worth and she wants them to know that. 

The blogosphere is in a flutter over her. Rod Dreher on Beliefnet calls her a “pornography songstress.”  David Mills denounces her emphasis on spirituality. The Latin root word for spirituality means “Breath of life.” The spirituality that Lady Gaga exhorts her fans to is about that breath of life bringing people fully alive. She decries anything that demeans or diminishes another person.  Her God is one of love, inclusion and forgiveness. Her fans eat it up. They’re hungry for the spirit and hope she embodies in who she is.  

When she invites her audiences to join her in financially supporting programs that respond to homeless youth she highlights gay and lesbian homeless teenagers.  “No one” she says, “Should be without a home because of who they are.” The audience responds with the fervor you’d expect at a religious rally.  As she sings about immigration reform and gay marriage in her new song Americano her spirituality of oneness is all at once a prayer, a call to action and a fearless vision.  There are no outsiders in her message. The Pop Theology blog gets that her message about there being “no mistakes” in the creation of any person resonates with the spiritual while confounding religion.

In Lady Gaga’s cathedral she does more than inspire a positive self-image of the possibility of each person. She connects the dots to the sacred found in every person. Those who lambast this miss the point that her fans are people looking beyond the real or perceived exclusion of religion. She points to sacred truths about love and forgiveness.  Ironically these are the core truths present in most religious traditions. Is this why some are so dismissive of her?

I wasn’t sure what to think when I was invited to attend Lady Gaga’s concert. I left as a convert. She is more than a super star. Her music, like the concert halls converted into Gaga cathedrals, is electrifying because of the message she invites people into. The fervor of her fans reactions is even more telling.

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7 Comments

  1. Fabulous. I have never listened to her. I like her style, so does my crossdressing gay boyfriend. I am inspired by her just like I was inspired by Cyndi Lauper back in the day, both are advocates for accepting oneself and about inclusion as opposed to exclusion. I love that you saw a spiritual light in this, I truly believe spirituality can reach you no matter where you are. For me faith in a “god” is all but lost. I have renewed my faith that we as a species can be better than we are, to me this is the strongest faith we can have, the faith in ourselves and each other. Thank you for sharing a fabulous experience.

  2. Wow, what a fascinating read. I’m no expert on Lady Gaga and have never been to one of her concerts, so thank you for helping me to learn more about her message. The quotations you’ve shared are quite glorious: “I want you to leave here loving yourself more.” “I am the excuse to explore your identity. To be exactly who you are and to feel unafraid. To not judge yourself, to not hate yourself.” ”I totally believe in all love and forgiveness, and excluding no one.” You don’t have to love her music, but what’s not to like in what she’s saying? The girl has a lot figured out for someone in her early 20’s. Art is partly about waking up–challenging the senses so that we’re tuned-in with full awareness. I’m happy to know that people are waking up to a message of unconditional love.

  3. Robert,

    I enjoyed your post. I have only recently begun listening to Lady Gaga. I had previoously dismissed her as Madonna 2.0 – the next generation. From what I’ve heard thus far, I like her music and her message.

    In the New Thought movement of which I am part, we see every person as an individualized expression of the Universal Presence. We reveal the sacred in infinite ways and forms. Unfortunately, too many people in spiritual circles get caught up in appearances. They want you to overtly display your piety in order to be seen as spiritual. I always thought it funny in walking into a ‘Christian’ book/gift shop that everything had bible verses and Icthus symbols on them. It’s as if people wouldn’t be able to tell that you were a Christian unless you used this pencil that had John 3:16 engraved on it (because obviously they wouldn’t be able to tell by your behavior).

    One of my favorite quotes is from Robert Short’s “The Gospel According to Peanuts” where he looks at Snoopy as a type of Christ. Like Jesus, Short said, he “comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.” And that’s how I see Gaga – comforting those who hurt with a message of hope and stepping on some toes through a bit of Truth-telling. Growth is uncomfortable.

    I’ll keep listening. I’m a fan of rebels. :)
    Thanks again, my friend.
    Peace ~

  4. Wow, maybe one day I will look into that faith thing again. You three have inspired me to think about why I gave it up and what drove me away. Sadly I am not certain I am ready to dive in again, but you have inspired me to at least consider it. Judgements against people that are different and not cookie cutter christians is part of what drove me away. I cannot fit into someone else’s ideology of who I am supposed to be, I can only truly be who I am. You three are definitely pillars in a faith community that needs to reach out past the cookie cutters. Thanks for the inspiration.

  5. I agree with Robert’s beautifully written description of the Monster Ball concert I attended with him last summer. I rarely attend live music performances other than the Seattle opera but I felt compelled to attend the concert because I was curious about Lady Gaga and her impact on popular culture. She is mere no song and dance gal like Beyonce (All the single ladies…) but rather both an inspiration to and reflection of a new generation. I was very struck by the people in the audience. Most were not cool, hipster kids; many were overweight, awkward, too skinny, too something – the ones who aren’t accepted and suffer the pains of late teens/early adulthood deeply. Yet, here they were, dressed in their Gaga costumes, feeling great about themselves, really hearing her message of acceptance and love. For all the concern over the explicit sexuality of Lady Gaga’s performances, I saw instead a message of strength, love and empowerment for all. You go Lady Gaga!

  6. Robert, I appreciate your thoughts; especially pertaining to the religious significance of your Lady Gaga experience—as well as the ramifications of her positive message on all the “Little Monsters”.

    I must admit, I haven’t followed Lady Gaga –despite the face that she is dating someone from Omaha (where I currently reside) and she has visited on occasions, which has raised a ruckus in the local rumor mills and papers–although, after your article I am contemplating attending her next show in Omaha, on March 17.
    It is amazing in our culture that there are still such divisions between what has commonly been coined as secular and sacred realms. I will never forget a similar experience of my own: In the early years of the U.S. war with Afghanistan, after we had shifted our main attention from Saddam to Al-Qaida, I attended a concert in New York with my siblings. The headliner was Cold War Kids, but before they came on stage Delta Spirit and then Tokyo Police club graced us with their presence. The last song Delta Spirit played, which brought all the members from each band that were to play that night, was called “People, Turn Around”( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wE1LalEvgE4) and it spoke to me on a level and in a way that I had longed to utter myself. After the song, I remember turning around to my wife, siblings, and friends, whom had joined me in the experience, and saying “I think we just had church.” My point being that somewhere in the midst of this congregation of people the Spirit of the living God had profoundly been revealed.

    Perhaps we miss these moments too often because they do not come as we expect them to come. Like Elijah on the mountain waiting to experience the presence of God, these moments are not some grand vision of fire, earthquake, but more often gently and subtly; and before you know it they are over, only to be conjured up again by our memory of them. Perhaps, all moments, good and bad, are just opportunities for us to wake up to life and cherish the gifts of life and breathe that we still have to enjoy so that we may find and share life (peace, hope, goodness, beauty, truth, etc.) wherever, and in whomever, they are found.

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