Lady Gaga debuted her latest song, “Princess Die,” at a concert in Melbourne, Australia on Tuesday night. The ballad features the singer on the piano belting lyrics about suicide, relationship problems, and eating disorders.
The music industry queen has stirred up controversy once again. Critics say the song not only uses Princess Diana’s name cheaply, but also takes a bleak look at suicide that may send the wrong message to her fans.
Playing on “Princess Di,” the song title explicitly references Diana, Princess of Wales, who famously died in a car crash as her limo driver was escaping the paparazzi in 1997. In fact, the song sounds totally based on the late princess’ life - “I’m hungry from an anorexic heart” hints at Diana’s advocacy for eating disorder awareness; “I wanna see who cries” and “I wanna watch her cry” calls attention to the viewer, to the worldwide audience who watched Diana constantly; “With the paparazzi all swarming ‘round/In my white Louis Vuitton button-down” speaks to the crazed paparazzi chase that caused her limo driver to speed dangerously; and finally, “so bob for another dead blonde/whose real prince is in heaven” seems like a clear reference to the flaxen-haired Diana and her unhappy relationship with Prince Charles.
Even if these lyrics are not actually about Diana, the allusion serves two purposes. It paints the pop queen as a tragic, royal victim and the Welsh princess as a tortured person with complex desires, thoughts, and confessions. Whether Gaga’s portrayal of Diana is accurate is besides the point -- the media portrayal of her as a passive victim of fate has made us forget that she was a complex, actual human being. Gaga’s song at least reminds us to reconsider how we remember Diana.
The real controversy, however, is over the suicidal lyrics. By saying “I wish that I could cope/But I took pills and left a note,” and “bleach out all the dark I’ve swallowed,” she details methods of suicide and explictly resigns from life. As Gaga’s “Born This Way” gay rights anthem inspired an audience of LGBT young people at a time when teen suicide and bullying made the headlines, some worry that “Princess Die” will send the wrong message to her young fans who may be suffering from depression or suicidal thoughts.
I won’t protest her topic of choice - I have no idea if her song will influence teenage behavior - but I take issue with her source of unhappiness and characterization of suicide. While in other songs the speaker complains about being too famous or unhappy despite her riches, this time she’s upset about her love interest. Maybe she has self-esteem issues that go beyond her prince problems - she was “never very smart,” has anorexia, craves attention, needs some rest, and feels generally powerless. But the lyrics also contain skewed views about romance that exist everywhere in our culture. First, she expects her “real prince” to be in Heaven, metaphorically or literally betting the next guy will meet her idealized vision and give her happiness. I’m no relationship expert, but I know that no person will meet Heavenly expectations or be the key to happiness. Even worse, “I’ll be a Princess Die and die with you” portrays suicide as a romantic experience shared with her lover. As Alvy Singer in Annie Hall says about readers of poet Sylvia Plath, “tragic suicide was misinterpreted as romantic by the college girl mentality” -- and this cheap, one-dimensional romanticization is exactly what Gaga is capitalizing on.
I’m glad Gaga tackled a tough, real-life issue of unhappiness and suicide in a sugar-high music industry, and she sounds great musically. But she draws on destructive views that make her message weak, derivative, and most of all misleading. Even if her song doesn’t influence vulnerable listeners, its assumptions about “romance” promote self-deprecation and glorify death.