Art Postmodernism in the Music Industry: Case Study of Lady Gaga

Art Postmodernism in the Music Industry: Case Study of Lady Gaga

Postmodernism has been explored through the music industry by various artistes in the past three decades. Influenced by the heroic phase of modernist experimentation in music, postmodernism has been defined by expression through artistic impressions by various artists. Appignanesi (171) notes that postmodernism is a progressive “enmeshment in modernity.” It has been embraced enthusiastically by some artists in the 21st century. One of these artistes is Lady Gaga.

Lady Gaga is an American singer, a songwriter and an actress. Her career has deep roots starting with vocal and classical piano training she had received in her early years before she emerged as a pop star. She also dropped out of the university to pursue her musical career. It goes beyond saying that it was an invention of her passion that drove her all the way till now and becoming famous and successful musician. Her career kicked on in 2005 when she started performing. By the time she dropped her second album, The Fame Monster , in 2008, she was already an international star. Lady Gaga earns the credit as the biggest pop star in the world today. Gaga has grown in the music career from the first moment she entered the spotlight. The speed in which she has made it, makes her to be rated as even a bigger star.

Gaga’s presence has shaped many artists who had rising talents and were unable to find their way to super stars. Among them there are Katy Perry and Kelly Clarkson. She, therefore, closes a strange era in the female pop star down. Her identity is defined by the explicit character and personality she represents. It is her popularly known traits that make her unique. According to Fjellestad, Danuta, and Maria (204), these traits include the willingness to be a cartoon, the great sense of humor and the crazily awesome and mostly effortless style of creativity she has. According to Akerlund, “Gaga doesn’t care so much about the technical part, but she is involved in every creative aspect…we just allow ourselves to be very stupid with each other and then you get ideas like sunglasses made of cigarettes”.

Lady Gaga is a visual icon, and this is what makes her most noticeable. The artist has the most outrageous and exclusive high-end fashion. This makes her feature different appearances, sometimes resembling other pop starts, other times resembling characters like Japanese animation among others. She is mostly found in fitted costume fashion. What is so distinct about her is how she alternates her roles and can act and bring out both female and male traits. The way she interprets styles and presents herself is unique making her unquestionably postmodern.

Elements of postmodernism

Postmodernism describes changes that have been taking place since 1960 in the western society and culture. These changes were brought about by contradicting ideas about structure and belief systems. The reactions to modernism since then have dominated art theory. Postmodernism went against the rules that governed styles eventually bringing a new era of freedom giving a way to inventing art. It is mostly funny, often controversial and many times goes beyond the boundaries of taste. The most crucial idea of it is that it is a reflection of self-awareness of style, in many cases, borrowing ideas from a range of styles from the past.

Postmodernism is a reflection of both the society and culture. Considering the society is defined by the cultural factors, postmodernism is a style which is central entailing fluidity between society and culture. The music industry has continued to play an essential role in the American culture. It has become part of postmodernity since the 1960s. In American culture, music has been modified into different forms which are either popular or less popular. This modification of music has created political ideologies, aesthetic and economics trends within the American culture. This art of music has evidently brought some cultural changes in the society. Consumers, participants and spectators either accept or deny these changes and some even fail to notice them, thus raising controversies whether commonly modified postmodernist music creates cultural and aesthetic distinctions.

Postmodernism is very much related to popular culture as it incorporates both style and image as core elements. It brings the distinction between high and low culture making it very difficult to explain a viewpoint by linking it to a certain culture. Postmodernism, therefore, disqualifies these distinctions and allows a postmodern creator to freely combine elements in a work and even be free to counter the relevance of an object in their work.

Postmodernism can be explained by some of the characteristics it encompasses. One of the most important characteristic is the way it acknowledges the previous works of literature (Storey 315). Certain works of postmodernity draw ideas from the literature created earlier. It has formed a situation where the society and literature are developing works on the backs of the earlier artists. Intertextuality is the term used to describe how postmodernism borrows and transforms ideas from prior texts. According to critics, postmodernism lacks originality and relies on literal history. Postmodern literature works, therefore, are either a reference to past work or a match of another literal work or a continuation of art or an adoption of a style. Pastiche is another trait of postmodern which is closely related to intertextuality. It means to combine multiple elements together. Many postmodern authors combined different genres or styles to form or comment on the writings of their style. An example is the way Thomas Pynchon uses elements from science fiction, detective fiction, and art fiction.

Many postmodern authors use metafiction in their works to inform the reader about functionality and their presence. This technique is mostly used to create time relevance and draw emotional boundaries. Metafiction employs intertextual references through consistent examination of the fictional system by combining theory and aspects of criticism, creating biographies of imaginary artists and formulating fictional works of the imaginary writer. Magical realism is argued as another most important characteristic of postmodernism. This occurs when narrator tries to incorporate fantasies or impossible elements into a narrative that looks normal. Examples of magical narrations are when narrators introduce dreams to take place during a normal life or a dead character coming back to life among others. Postmodernism is also characterized by irony and humour with which authors treat serious subjects like World War II and conspiracy theories. Other characteristics include the habit of referencing styles from historical literature and paranoid where authors create their work assuming and explaining a complicated modern society that is hard to understand.

Ways in Which Lady Gaga is a Postmodern Artist

As a postmodern artiste, Lady Gaga exemplifies “real” postmodernism up to a certain extent. According to Appignanesi (3), postmodernism can be defined through music in the form of eclecticism where “anything goes”.  It has eliminated the aura of original works of art through innovation in creativity. Lady Gaga uses this sense of postmodernism sensibility in her song Bad Romance. In the song, she ironically describes how anything can be considered to be okay. “I know it’s bad, but it’s so bad it’s good”. She is unique with her ideas. Her style of work cannot be compared to any other artist. She is more of an entertainer than a singer. She combines different elements of styles in her work which make her interesting to watch when she is performing. She combines her simple dance routine with outrageous and huge sets of costumes that attract many people to watch her ( Melissa, Hyunji, and Holly 373). Her combination says a lot about her appearances.


Fig 1. Bad Romance clip screenshot

Lady Gaga’s outfit represents the fundamental view of postmodernism which is the freedom of expression. She is free to showcase her opinion in any way she likes. Post modernism allows artists to invent meaningless ideas which are not in the linear boundaries. Her clothing clearly demonstrates that; for example, the lobster outfit shown below:

Fig 2. Lady Gaga with lobster outfit

To add on, together with her crew, they usually change outfits many times in one music video. The changes she makes are intended to showcase different subcultures. An example is when she wears mysterious, dark, black clothes of leather like bikini acting like someone in prison to appeal to a gothic audience. As she leaves prison, she appears in a black and white outfit together with a huge hat and shades dating back to 50/60s culture.

Many critics judge Lady Gaga’s style to be like that of Madonna. In the real sense, she is strongly linked to Frida, a Mexican artist. In every style, she appears on stage with a variety of accessories and strange costumes many of times unrecognizable. She also wears makeup and plenty of accessories including massive hats and shades each describing a certain culture. Just like Frida, her outfits are personal and publicly demonstrate different styles of herself. She is said to be a leader in the world of re-invention. Intertextuality is the core element in her music. In her Paparazzi video, she incorporates music and film representation. Her lyrics of the song says, “I’m your biggest fan, I’ll follow you until you love me”. The turn of events in the video finally re-invents her into a new star. In the song she transforms herself from a celebrity who is harassed by media and public eventually leading to her death. This is designed from the perspective of an obsessed fan, but the real sense is that she is the object of obsession. This kind of obsession is the one that drives her into an alcoholic and drug addict coming out alive in the hands of the police.

The most outstanding aspect of her intertextuality is how she encourages the trait in other artists. Grayson is one of the artists who created a unique cover of Paparazzi which was far more different from Gaga’s. Gaga supported him by giving him a record deal through his label. Apart from her song Paparazzi, every song in her album The Fame is designed with its narrative and different incarnations that promote intertextuality. Furthermore, in her music she references some companies like Virgin Media and Coca-Cola representing a shift from capitalism to postmodernism. The straightest forward intertextuality is Tarantino reference “Pussy Wagon” that she drives with Beyoncé in her song ‘Telephone’. The car was lent by Tarantino for Gaga to use in her video.

Fig 3. Lady Gaga and Beyonce

Lady Gaga’s songs are more of a narrative, constituting a story in her video which takes up to 9 minutes as compared to other pop starts songs who take about 3 min. This can be argued to be a traditional structure. The lyrics of the songs rarely match with the narrative, though it appears as a form of music and movie combination. Almost all of her songs are cinematic. She explores the postmodern element of using a narrative without conveying a clear message. An example is the song Telephone where she features Beyoncé; she is out in a club, and someone keeps calling her, and she is busy so that is why she does not want to answer. However, the video kicks in while she is in a prison following two villains who kill people in a café with poison. Additionally, the video and the song lyrics do not link at all.

Lady Gaga and Akerlund uses bricolage to criticize and air their views about the notion of a perfect wife by the traditional man which was portrayed by the popular culture of the 1950s.They use Miracle Whip and Wonder Bread as their artistic instruments. Gaga acts as the 50s housewife and clearly uses bricolage eventually creating a new meaning of how she was deeply angered about the 50s housewife. She does this by poisoning everyone in the diner killing them.


Fig 4. Lady Gaga featured in the music video


Gaga’s Influence on Popular Culture

Gaga has managed to heavily influence the pop culture in a short period. She has secured a platform for unique and outrageous performances together with her eye-catching costume outfits. More so, her headline –ready interviews have functioned well in fuelling her career (Iddon, Martin, and Melanie 97)

Influence on Fashion. Gaga has succeeded in influencing fashion. It indicates why Donatella Versace chooses her to advertise her label. As Donatella talks about their friendship, she says, “We don’t mind being those blonde martyred icons as long as we have our champagne and our Marlboro cigarettes whenever we are together”. She explains how Monster culture impacted the street fashion considering previously, people referred her outfits as crazy but eventually conformed into them. Gaga is truly a fashion tastemaker as she tries new things that nobody would dare them at first.

Influence on Technology. This is seen in her idea to combine music with technology. Her idea of incorporating her fans into her music by using technology has encouraged her to invent the tech giant Google and Gaga. She is also going to be the first musician to perform in space. She also feels it is important to link fashion, music, and technology by referencing Bowie’s creations of his career. She modifies her style by borrowing some of Bowie’s work. She explains her creative process by giving her idol credit. “The first thing that I did was just put together my own mixtape of my favourite David Bowie songs…I also wanted to show the growth and the evolution of his music, and I also just wanted people to have a really good time.”

Influence on Education. Her influence on education can be seen from the introduction of topics which intend to teach students about her art in various colleges, especially in the art courses. This shows her extend of influence on the society. An example is ‘Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame’, a course introduced by Professor Mathieu in the University of Carolina. More so, she educates people through her involvement in the LGBT community and advocating for the issues like ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ policy.

Influence on Art. Gaga’s Art can mean anything. She even claims it in the lyrics of her album’s title, Mother Monster. She lets her work be interpreted anyhow. Her outfits might be criticized, but the art does not create any kind of controversy. At first, her Pop art movement was criticized but with time, it has been reviewed, and the climate of its reviews has changed. She is an artist that makes original works and also a kind of a leader resembling a factory from which work is made. She plays out art themes in her songs; for example, Warhol’s pop art theme which she portrays in her song Telephone where she has makeup clearly identical to that of iconic Marilyn portrait. She has spiced the art world with amazing trends; for example, the case in 2010, where Chappe Gallery in Paris held Gaga exhibition that typically contained portraits and clothes of stars.


According to McRobbie (123), critics of postmodernity have brought into existence a certain form of a trend where culture is seen to express an imitated relation to previous literature works. We are living in a world where people are debating the existence of aspects of modernism and aspects of premodernism with the rising era of postmodernism. Controversies have complicated the idea of postmodernism, and it has been hard to qualify it as real and reliable. This is due to its style of defining art through images, language and social forces which create tension between modernism and the past. The aspects of postmodernism have gone far beyond cultural and economic shifts. It had redefined artistic works and developed new ways of production, distribution, and consumption which was enabled by the ever changing technology and cultural practices. Considering politics heavily relies on style for its expression, the continued practices of postmodernism possess a threat in limiting political expression to image and reducing social conditions of media effects.


Works Cited

Appignanisi, Richard. Introducing postmodernism: a graphic guide. Icon Books, 2004. Print

Fjellestad, Danuta, and Maria Engberg. “Toward a Concept of Post-Postmodernism or

Lady Gaga’s Reconfigurations of Madonna.” Reconstruction: Studies in

      Contemporary Culture 12.4 (2013). Print

Iddon, Martin, and Melanie L. Marshall. Lady Gaga and Popular Music: Performing

      Gender, Fashion, and Culture. Vol. 3. Routledge, 2014. Print

McRobbie, Angela. In the culture society: Art, Fashion, and Popular Music. Routledge,     2013. Print

Melissa A., Hyunji Lee, and Holly Willson Holladay. “Making Monsters: Lady Gaga,

Fan Identification, and Social Media.” Popular Music and Society 36.3 (2013): 360-379.        Print

Storey, John. Cultural theory and popular culture: An introduction. Routledge, 2015. Print