Is Lady Gaga the Millennial Generation's Cultural Voice?

Despite Lady Gaga’s pervasive presence in pop culture and her current ubiquitous notoriety within the tabloid press, the music she produces is fast, disposable, and — regardless of millions of worldwide sales — doesn’t, in my opinion, have a true meaning or message, let alone convey the cultural voice of our generation.

To do this, I believe an artist has to express through their music peoples’ frustrations and protests for change. Why is this important? Music has an emotive power that is compelling and gripping, benefical for drawing attention to a cause.

Is there a true cultural voice in Lady Gaga’s music and brand that represents our generation specifically? I don’t believe so.

The creation of the Internet has greatly reduced barriers of entry into the music industry. Anyone with Pro Tools can upload their music into a public forum for people to hear. The music industry has had to evolve and strategically market artists in order for them to rise above the “noise.” Lady Gaga’s shocking publicity tactics engross the public, but are Lady Gaga’s persona and publicity stunts novel? Does the fact Stefani Germanotta has created and evolved the persona of “Lady Gaga” herself make her music any less manufactured? No. Her music doesn’t represent her genuine voice and spirit as an artist. With all her talent and savvy intelligence you can sense she would rather be belting out rock songs than playing up to the consumer-based spectacle she has created.

The public craves music that voices the frustrations of the time by emphasizing personal struggles and providing comfort. Looking back, by 1932 the most radical recording ever made in popular music, “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?” written by Yip Harburg and Jay Gorney became the best-selling record of its period. Why? Because it provided an anthem for the people living through a desperate era, The Great Depression. When President Hoover rejected WWI veterans’ request for early remuneration of their bonus payments, bonus marchers started camping in Washington and tens of other cities across the country in protest. “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?” was a cry to overthrow the government. In fact, notably, FDR readily declares that this song pushed him into the White House, demonstrating the power music can have. 

The bonus marchers’ protest has many parallels with the Occupy Wall Street movement, however what could be considered the anthem of today? Music can provide a movement with an outlet for their message that can emotionally resonate with people and make a difference. 

It is important for artists of our generation not to be afraid to record music with contentious messages. Political activism through music can evoke reactions from the public, perhaps more than words on their own. But, it can also be financially profitable. For example, “Ohio” written by Neil Young in response to the shooting of students protesting the Vietnam War in 1970 led the group Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young to a level of success they had never previously experienced, an example of the success that can come from sustaining a cultural movement.

In today’s generation, there are definitely some very prominent and influential artists that hold an influence over the public en mass, including Beyonce, Kanye West, and Jay-Z. Their lyrics have a powerful effect on our generation’s culture. But are the constant references to fancy cars and materialism a representation of how our generation feels, especially during a recession? In comparison, Green Day’s hugely successful record “American Idiot” (2004) has been made into a Broadway show (2010) and is currently being developed into a film. I believe the success of “American Idiot” as a record, musical, and hopefully future film is largely due to the channel it provides for the frustrated voice of America today that feel powerless.

Therefore, despite Lady G’s multi-million record sales and outlandish news-hitting antics, to be a true representation of our generation’s cultural voice she needs to embrace the changes the public are crying out for and provide a melody for their voice.

Photo Credit: ama_lia