Leone Kraus

Why Lady Gaga's Video 'Born This Way' Gets It All Wrong

Filed By Leone Kraus | March 01, 2011 8:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Media
Tags: Born This Way, Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" music video is out and I couldn't be more disappointed. I'm Lady-Gaga-Born-This-Way.jpg disappointed because this is not my story and this video does not represent me, or any of my peers in the LGBT community.

Sure, the song is catchy, the lyrics are powerful but the video is a circus show of costumes, glamour and skinny dancers. It has little to do with the LGBT community other than a couple pink triangles and the hint of a rainbow.

Lady Gaga had an opportunity to deliver an incredibly powerful message on behalf of the LGBT community but missed the mark entirely. She could have used this video to educate the opposition on the notion that many of us are born gay and that being LGBT is not always a choice. This could have been achieved by incorporating real voices from the LGBT community into the video.

Instead, she went with the cookie cutter "super attractive people dancing around while scantily clad" route. But why? If this song was truly meant to be my anthem, then my story should be told, right? Instead, the video is chock full of people in excessive make-up and bikinis telling me to be true to who I am.

We certainly need celebrity advocates like Lady Gaga to help us win LGBT equality, but I want an advocate who is willing to step out of the "fame box." Aligning actions with words is critical to successful communication and she's almost there. Lady Gaga has spent the last two years publicly voicing her acceptance of and fighting for LGBT equality, including the video she made in partnership with the Service Members Legal Defense Network to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the speech she gave at the National Equality March in Washington, DC, in 2009. Both of these events are honorable actions but, selfishly, I want more. Most people know Lady Gaga as a singer and not a political activist - this was her opportunity to educate.

For this video, I wanted to feel something more. "Born This Way" should have been focused on telling our stories rather than another over-the-top theatrics fanfare. For example, do you remember Michael Jackson's "Man In the Mirror" music video? Sure you do! That was a song with powerful lyrics and powerful imagery to accompany the words. And guess what? Michael Jackson isn't even in the video.

This is exactly the type of approach that I wanted to see with Lady Gaga's video. The video could have used regular home videos submitted by fans or footage of her meeting with some of them. It would have been fun to see Lady Gaga lead a cheesy group hustle with a bunch of LGBT youth.

In short, I wanted to see the theatrics set aside because the message of this video is so powerful. I understand this may have been hard because it would have affected the typical MTV approach that we're used to seeing, but we needed this song to resonate with so many more people than just the LGBT community.

Maybe Lady Gaga is showing how she was "born that way" by making an over-the-top video that fits her stylistically, but we need the message to reach parents of LGBT people, government officials, educators, and others who may be grappling with the issue of understanding what it means for someone to be gay. Instead, with its ridiculous costumes and make-up, the video caters to only a small population of people.

I find instances like these frustrating, to say the least. The opportunity to educate those who may be on the fence about LGBT acceptance is lost.

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Lol, really? I mean, really?

Videos from fans? You think that would be a visual success like this video? We all know what the stories are already, we live them, everyday.
I don't know about you but I saw Lady Gaga live here in Portugal and my dear, 30000 people where there listening to the incredible speech she gave on behalf of the LGBT community, that speech also played on the tv, and radio.

I mean, I've seen hundreds of courses and none of them approached our community like she did. Imagine if she haves the same speech in all her concert. You think it's right to ask for more? To be greedy?
Michael Jackson? Are you comparing Lady Gaga LGBT advocacy with Michael Jackson's?


Thanks for your comment Felix. I don't doubt that Lady Gaga is doing tremendous work in the community and I try to make that clear in my post.

I'm not comparing Michael Jackson to Lady Gaga, but rather comparing their marketing approach. Michael Jackson wanted to bring awareness about the destruction that was happening in the world and to encourage people to question their own actions. Lady Gaga wanted to bring awareness to the idea that we are born the way we are and there is that God doesn't make mistakes. She sings this in her lyrics. Both of these songs were created to inspire people and to encourage them to question their own thoughts and actions. I'm simply suggesting that this song, from a marketing and message delivery perspective, could have done away with the fanfare and been used as an opportunity to engage people on the true idea that we are born the way we are.

I agree that the video isn't that great, but there is no way a Lady Gaga video will "educate the opposition", nor does she have any obligation to make a preachy music video using the voices of real gay people (whatever that means). I also can't think of anything that would be more boring. Why does the gay community think it owns celebrities? You wrote out a rather lengthy and significant list of things Gaga has done to support us and then dismiss all that because you don't like a music video. Ridiculous. She made the video she felt like making. She - and other pop stars, celebrities, etc. - have no obligation to live up to your narrow idea of acceptable creative expression.

Um, er, I think you're living in a dream world if you think "She made the video she felt like making." She made the video that she thought she needed to make to keep her job and stay rich. Most likely there were plenty of producers who were limiting her "creative expression."

Thanks for your comment Bolver. I don't think celebrities owe us anything but if they choose to use LGBT equality as their platform, then yes, there are certain things I would like to see. If I don't see them, then I'm going to point it out. One of those things is an actual representation of me and my story. I don't mean me personally but I mean stories from the community. This soung was touted that it was/is going to be the new Gay Anthem. I don't doubt that it will be. It's a great song. I just would have loved to see it used more appropriately and strategically in pushing the LGBT equality agenda.

But why are her other actions not sufficient? Do you think that once a person speaks out positively about the LGBT community that everything they do has to be pumped through that prism? There are plenty of places to see stories about real gay people. It's not up to you to dictate how other people create or participate.

For the record, I think the song is horrible - the lyrics are clumsy and cliched and the music is uninteresting - and the video is practically incomprehensible. In the future, I'll hope she'll spare the "anthems" and just write a good song. Save the agenda items for speeches and tweets.

I don't think I'm dictating as much as I'm commenting on. I should note that I do work in marketing and social media for a living. Working with people on how they can communicate their messages most effectively is a big part of what I do for a living. Not that that makes me the voice of authority but I think it's something worth mentioning. I don't always have it right and it's really really really hard to get a marketing message right. It takes time, research, conversations, brainstorming etc...This post is just my thoughts on where I think this video could have been better.

As I noted above, her participation in DADT and the National Equality March are excellent and honorable actions.

You mention in your comment that there are other places to see real gay people. You're right, there are other places to see real stories but how many of your straight peers are actually accessing this information. How many of them are watching an It Gets Better video that's not created by Google or Facebook? How many are reading blogs like Bilerico or Effing Dyke to access real stories?

The reality is, Lady Gaga has a powerful reach that a small time activist like me will never have. I turn to these public figures for help because they are the ones who can deliver our message in ways that we will never be able to. She can reach and inspire millions because she is so influential and it bums me out when the opportunity to deliver is missed.

By the way, thanks for the great comment thread! I love it when people take the time to comment.

Thanks for your comment Bolver. I don't think celebrities owe us anything but if they choose to use LGBT equality as their platform, then yes, there are certain things I would like to see. If I don't see them, then I'm going to point it out. One of those things is an actual representation of me and my story. I don't mean me personally but I mean stories from the community. This song was touted that it was/is going to be the new Gay Anthem. I don't doubt that it will be. It's a great song. I just would have loved to see it used more appropriately and strategically in pushing the LGBT equality agenda.

The message "I chose to be this way" is so much more powerful than "I was born this way." I'm queer because it is righteous, fun, amazing, powerful, cool, funky, rebellious and yes- a superior way of being in this day and age. I was no more born this way than I was born being a political progressive or an artist. These are paths we chose every moment we are on them. And heterosexuals, in my book, don't get to claim that they were born that way either. It's just a cop out for not wanting to examine their own privilege and choices. As Alix Dobkin sang so many years ago, "Any woman can be a Lesbian."
Born this way is a bad song on so many levels, I hope Lady Gaga get over herself.

I appreciate your perspective on "born this way" vs "chose to be this way", and I don't doubt that it is valid for you, but it's different for different people. I am a gay man and for me, personally, I was most certainly born this way. I

I'm pretty much programmed not to like this video, so it's interesting to me to see what actual Lady Gaga fans think of it.

I don't think that in this day and age a star can have much success if they actually care about a pet issue in the same way it was possible for people like Marvin Gaye and others back in the day. They could do the message song thing and fans would either love it or put up with it, but in the age of the single and corporate music control that's far less willing to take risks, the best you get is a dance song with lyrics that don't make sense (what's the difference between "him" and "capital H-I-M" again?).

So, yeah, it's mostly a bland video with super skinny people dancing around and a pink triangle at the beginning. The anticipation of and reaction to this video show that people are definitely searching for something with substance.

References to Jesus and God in the Bible all say "Him" with a capital H. So I think Gaga was saying "whether you love another man or you love Jesus".

alittleadd | March 1, 2011 9:21 AM

I think everyone should make their own video and place on youtube that portrays our realities.


Thank you A Little Add. This is exactly what I wanted to see in this video. Thank you for posting. I encourage all readers of this post to take a moment to watch this video.

cynthialee | March 1, 2011 9:38 AM

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You say yourself:
"Lady Gaga has spent the last two years publicly voicing her acceptance of and fighting for LGBT equality..."

And yet because the music video for her song isn't a documentary to "educate" exactly the kind of people who will never watch a Lady Gaga video, it's "all wrong?"

Look, I'll be the first one to say Lady Gaga is ridiculously overrated. But she's still extremely popular, and she's a cis straight white woman who wrote and recorded a song saying it's ok to be queer. That song is now being played across the country and world on thousands of radio stations, websites, iPods... It's everywhere. That makes me happy. I'm perfectly content to let the music video be... a typical music video.

I also hope Bilerico gets over its obsession with finding the storm cloud in this silver lining. I'm still steaming about the last article about this song telling me that both I and Lady Gaga are terrible people because we say "transgendered." It's proper grammar, it discourages people from thinking and saying "a transgender," and I'll call myself transgendered if I want to, thank you very much!

Thanks for your comment Nick. In the post I do note that the lyrics and the message of the song are powerful. And yes, I agree with you that it's fantastic that a song like this is getting so much airplay. My complaint is with the visual messaging of the video. I'm simply stating that I feel it could have been done differently to align better with the message of LGBT acceptance, which is the major theme of the song.

a circus show of costumes, glamour and skinny dancers

You mean like the typical dance club where her songs play?

I don't remember the Man in the Mirror video at all. I do remember Thriller though - another video over 7 minutes long, full of theatrics, etc.

Too bad you don't remember Thriller! The key takeaway is that Thriller wasn't trying to change how people think and feel, Man In the Mirror was and so is Born This Way.

I was disappointed, not for the LGBT content, but more for how every person on there was super skinny or super fit. There was some diversity in race but lacking in other places.

I thought it would have been a hell of a lot more powerful to have the bodies sliding around in a pile more representative of how we are all born different ways. So maybe some larger folks, what about some people with disabilities, or simply folks that are not beautiful by conventional standards.

We tend to de-sexualize, those with disabilities, people who are overweight, people who are not considered attractive by society. What about showing that those people indeed, can and are sexual as well and its A-ok.

That said, I love that there were unicorns. The world needs more unicorns.

Thanks for commenting Capitalistpiggy. You're right, the world does need more unicorns!

Why is it that every time Lady Gaga or Dan Savage so much as leaves the house or sneezes, there's always somebody on Bilerico ready to find fault with and "critique" it? Is it the general consensus that anyone who's Caucasian, male, gay, non-transgendered, financially stable, urban-dwelling, skinny or some combination of those is a privileged oppressor who has nothing of value to contribute and needs to shut up? If Gaga and Savage quit and were replaced with people who are black, male-to-female transgendered, poor, bisexual, fat and living in small-town Nebraska, would you suddenly stop complaining and unquestioningly agree with everything they said?

I thought the video was amazing and shows the artistic talent that she's demonstrated throughout her career. I noticed that because I was paying attention to more than just the dancers. On top of that, regardless of whether the song is about my personal life, it has a great message, the kind that I wish I could have heard when I was a lonely 13-year-old.

I've seen some great posts on this blog, but honestly, the contrarian, post-modernist, PC claptrap that I see here, from "It's Okay to be Fat" (what's next, a post advocating "smokers' rights" or one by Mason Wyler titled "It's okay to bareback with multiple anonymous sex partners?") to this post is getting really, really old.

Actually the PC would be "smokers don't have rights". And that would be wrong.

telltalesines | March 1, 2011 2:11 PM

I think it's funny how much these contrarians you speak of (and I agree, by the way, it is annoying) are influenced by the work that their hated "Gay Inc" has done training us all to be hyper conscious about the public face our community presents. This, of course, without making many among us particularly sophisticated in terms of how that actually works. Yes, sometimes, it's important to tell our stories... when the goal is moving equality forward.

But in this case, the song isn't about getting *other* people to accept us, it's about getting us to accept ourselves. Listen to the lyrics... she's singing to that gay kid in rural Nebraska who wants to slit his wrists because he's different. The song is about empowerment, and only maybe secondarily is it about social equality. She's singing to *us*. She didn't create a sanitized Christian-friendly video, she created one that her gay fans (16-18 and 19-35 demos) would enjoy. As a member of that demo, I think she landed it.

What are you talking about? I love Dan Savage.

First, in response to Nick, I'm pretty sure Lady Gaga doesn't identify as "straight" (see the Rolling Stone interview). The "B" in LGBT does stand for something.

In response to Alex, I think there's this false nostalgia where popular music "back in the day" was somehow more independent of corporate control than music today, which is just not true. (Take a look at Motown, for instance.) This is not to say that more "mainstream" music is worse off than that of artists with more "freedom" (or vice versa, for that matter). What happens too often, though, is that "corporate control" becomes synonymous with "meaningless drivel," a reductionist stereotype that warrants further scrutiny.

That being said, I did find this video problematic (as well as the song). I do not necessarily identify with its LGBT-themed message nor do I think it will be the "anthem of the century" (who can predict that?). But contradictions within the song and the video (as has been pointed out) can be made without trivializing them.

I'm a fan of Lady Gaga and I like the video, the song on the other hand is pretty bad. I can't dance to it and the lyrics are problematic and they don't really flow well. I posted on my blog: "Unlike the lyrics which seem to fall into a certain creationist narrative, her video shows us a different narrative: she births herself. Or outside of a theological creation, she invents her own image, she creates her own future. I think this is a much more powerful message than saying that we were created by 'H-I-M'."

Yes, oddboyout, Lada Gaga has given us a creation myth! There are thousands of these, but I have never read/experienced a creation myth about queers and queer lovin' humans. Wow! I love the video; I'm not wild for the song, but in combo with the vid and its epic struggle of good vs.evil, I think it's kinda brilliant. Wish I could see her do it in concert...Boston ticket anyone?!

I gotta say I liked the video. And not because it was touching or helpful- just because it was cool. It was fantastic in true Lady Gaga style- definitely over the top, but artistically so. I had to watch it twice just to observe my reaction to it, because I didn't really know what to think- which keeps me interested, so that is a good thing. While I prefer some of her other videos, and songs, to this one, it was still worth watching. We each, Lady Gaga included, have to advocate in our own way, using our own gifts and strengths. I think she is using hers effectively. By marketing and popularizing herself and this song, she is pushing her positive message - even more broadly than if she had used the imagery that you suggest.
Also, I like to support my own allies. Why criticize and nitpick the people who are for us? I prefer to cut them some slack.

Butch Lesbian in Rediculous Makeup | March 2, 2011 12:58 AM

Speak for yourself!! Maybe this video doesn't represent you, but it does represent a lot of me, your peer in the LGBT community! even though I'm not a skinny white able-bodied, socially-acceptable woman.

A lot of these comments are about what Lady Gaga does or should do and her role in representing the queer community, but I wanted to talk about the video, or "video messenging" itself.

Look, videos don't have to be realist to be good or educational. I think the video does a good job of sending a queer-positive message. I would have done it a little differently (come on, have some diversity!), but I certainly wouldn't "tell a story" about how bullying is bad, or how we are all just like you, or feature sentimental pictures of LGBT folk... I don't even those approaches would help win the hearts and minds of legislators or school administrators. (For one thing, they all despise Lady Gaga because she's seen as being too queer.) Reading this post, I don't really know what you wanted. I can't even imagine the "mark" you think she missed!

About the video I will say different people will see different things in it, but it's very simplistic to dismiss it as skinny people dancing in skimpy clothes. It might not represent all of our lived experiences, but it represents some of us and it represents the important values in the song.

This video imagines the LGBT community as a tribe, and I love that imagery. The myth that we all came from the Mother Monster reflects Creation stories and is a validating (and normalizing, if you must) idea that she expands to make our own.

The video also references our differences as queer people and celebrates them. We aren't just like straight people! Sometimes our bodies are constucted, and "unnatural." We should still celebreate them! I don't really love the song over all because I don't think I was born this way and I hate having to use that phrase to defend my existance. The video makes up for some of that frustration by showing it's important to be able to admit to being bizare or constructed or even CHOOSING to be weird (god forbid) and not risk losing respect or civil rights because of it.

Also I love that Lady Gaga uses her body like she does in this video, especially after all the whispers about "is she trans? intersex? what's "rong with her?" She celebrates herself! But also I think she seems vulnerable at times, a nod to how it is to have a queer body in a straight world. When I saw it, I thought "This is what I feel like getting ready in the morning!" Looking at myself half-dressed in the mirror, trying to psyche myself up for another day in public, waiting until I feel OK enough about myself, until I feel I'm not alone, to leave the house. That's why I love that a lot of the video is a group dance, it has a strong sense of community.

Lady Gaga isn't the only voice in this conversation. We don't need Lady Gaga to deliver messages on behalf of the LGBT community! She is a voice (and an important voice, for the reasons you noted). But she CANNOT be the only voice. We can make our own videos, and we do. We can reflect our experiences in realist ways and in absurdist ways. Not all of them are going to be YOUR anthem, but that doesn't mean they aren't important.

Thanks Butch Lesbian in Rediculous Makeup for taking the time to comment. You bring up some great points.

I understand that all videos don't have to be educational but I feel that this one could have been. With strong equality fights happening all over the country, I felt that this song really provides momentum to the fight. If the video had been done differently, that really could been a great complement to the song. You're right, the song resonates with many people, including yourself. I don't disagree with that; it just doesn't resonate with enough.

You asked me why I think this video missed the mark. Another commenter posted this video in the comment thread above: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=794DdBtZC_Q

I encourage you to watch it and then come back to reading this comment....

Okay, this video isn't the end all or be all that I was hoping the video would be but the song with these images tells a completely different message than the Born This Way video. Now, I know a video like this would get boring after about 30 seconds, which is why I recommended that real footage of Gaga meeting with the community could be incorporated. Also, she could still have dance shots etc that could be mixed in. Again, these are just my thoughts but I hope my point is about what mark I was hoping should would meet is illustrated. Different images trigger different meanings and of course, resonate with people differently.

As for the song message, you say it's for the queer community and I agree. It celebrates us being true to who we are. However, Lady Gaga surely reaches more than the queer community. She wouldn't be as successful as she is if she didn't. She's a phenomenal musician, who personally I preferred back at her NYU days of piano playing and singing, but that's a different story but you can find the videos online. Lady Gaga is also listened to by parents and educators because they want to know what message she is delivering to our youth, which is why the video imagery is so important.

It's a music video. Seriously?
This makes as much sense as when Pepsi pulled Madonna's "Like a Prayer" in 1989 because she kissed a black man amd using religious icons.

And as far as Michael Jackson... he's dead.
He isn't a saint.

Thanks Dieks. I don't think Michael Jackson is a saint. I just feel that the delivery of his market messaging for Man in the Mirror was in sync with what he was trying to achieve.

"delivery of his market messaging"

Got it.
Michael Jackson w/alllll his legal/mental and BODY "issues"... had it RIGHT.

Man in the Mirror was about taking a look at yourself and wondering what change you could implement to make the world a better place. The imagery of the video reflected this. That's why his market message was so successful. His words, the lyrics in the song, was conveyed beautifully in the imagery he chose.

"Man in the Mirror was about taking a look at yourself and wondering what change you could implement to make the world a better place."

And the world would be a better place after you look in the mirror and see how many botched/unnecessary nose job were self inflected.

Because in the VERY long run... THAT is what his message is remembered as. Not all the marketing in the world was going to fix that sink hole.

Vincio Luna | March 2, 2011 12:17 PM

This is ridiculous can't be more clear that Gaga is pro-gay, seriously what else you want from her.

again seriously?

John Gagon | March 2, 2011 2:03 PM

I'm a fan, and I want to give you some of my honest feelings about the message.

Here was my take-away:

* God doesn't make junk but makes fabulous monsters.
* Gay is ok.
* Grotesque is back (again?! Didn't we just put up with 10 years of Marilyn Manson? (no offense, he's not bad...but still, already going on so last decade with neo-goth clubs)).

That said, the skinny super-model look was just like Telephone, a sequel with Lesbian tropes and types with carryover from the morbid "Papparazzi"...(which I kinda loved)...because it showed the irony of beauty, the beauty of disability, ....so I see a turning point in Lady Gaga. She's simplifying in message and weakening on meaningful symbolism. Come on, all that birthing made my boyfriend heave and weaken at the stomache to the point of refusing me a replay. The "born" in "Born this way" didn't have to be that nasty. (to me, it was amusingly gross and maybe a weird symbolism, but I'm still trying to figure out if this video is more about childbirth, rights, God or the latest skeleton trot moves.).

I take it as just another piece of entertainment. Would you have asked Lady Gaga to make "Let's Dance" more of an opportunity to spread a message? I see opportunity, but I don't know when she's going to take it or see why she must but I'll take it from you that she probably is missing something somewhere. It's not resonating all that much being the rip-off it sounds like (express yourself madonna/cher) that started with the Ace of Base rip-off trend from Alejandro. (which had a very different tone on religion just btw).

Wow... if i was an international artist i definately wouldnt involve myself or my brand with LGBT, you do a few things to show your support and all of a sudden you're expected to be the LGBT mascot. not thanks! not all Lady Gaga fans are LGBT members. She still needs to entertain to keep the rest of her fans interested. Its a business, you (not the LGBT community) are being very selfish with this post i must say.

Thanks so much for the comment Yanga. Lady Gaga certainly does attract more than the LGBT listener. I addressed this in a few of the comments above.

Lady Gaga made LGBT equality her issue to take a stand on. This post is how I think she could have delivered her message more strategically, as it pertains to the video, thus resulting in more hearts and minds being changed in their support for LGBT acceptance. As noted above, getting the right marketing message and strategy is really really hard.

John Gagon | March 3, 2011 9:58 AM

Just some lyrics:
Whether life's disabilities
Left you outcast, bullied or teased
Rejoice and love yourself today
'Cause baby, you were born this way

No matter gay, straight or bi
lesbian, transgendered life
I'm on the right track, baby
I was born to survive
No matter black, white or beige
chola or orient made
I'm on the right track, baby
I was born to be brave
I'm beautiful in my way
'Cause God makes no mistakes

Me and Me | March 3, 2011 8:07 PM

You "chose" to be queer? How... special. You make it sound as if it's a fad for you, not your natural way of being. Saying that it's better, somehow, than any other way of being is not your place to say. I'm not going pretend to be something I'm not, regardless of how "righteous, fun, amazing, powerful, cool, funky, rebellious and yes- a superior way of being in this day and age" it is.

I never "chose" to have the sexual inclinations that I do. My friends and family never "chose" to be queer, trans, bisexual, homosexual, demisexual, asexual, heterosexual, aromantic, demiromantic, anything. They, and I, were in fact "born this way." They, and I, HAVE explored other ways of being; YOU do not get to determine what is or is not true for me, for my parents, my siblings, my friends, my spouse, my children - only YOU.

Quit trying to police other peoples' sexualities and accept your own. Live your OWN life, and stop trying to troll everyone else's.

I guess you are talking to me. Yes, I chose to be queer. And it's not really a fad, since I've continued to choose to be queer for over forty years. I don't think that there is a "natural" way of being sexual or a "natural" way of choosing relationships. We are creatures of culture and history. Times change, as do paradigms or hegemonies we live in. What feels like nature is most likely a series of choices, decisions, reactions and responses which started at an age so early that they were outside of your conscious awareness, and are certainly not part of your conscious memory.

On the other hand, the last thing I am doing is policing your sexuality. As far as I'm concerned, you can be anything you want to be and I am happy for you.