Lady Gaga's 'Burqa' is Supposed to Empower Muslim Women, But Does the Opposite

Just like it happened before the release of many of her other albums, one of the songs off Lady Gaga's upcoming album ARTPOP was leaked on Monday. The song, titled “Burqa/Aura,” is already taking the internet by storm and scores of fans are commenting on what appears to be a demo of the song. As catchy as it might be, the lyrics of the song present troubling portrayals of Muslim women. The recurring, sexualized portrayals of women who wear the burqa, niqab, hijab, or any covering for that matter reduce the image of Muslim women to mystifying, erotic shells of people whose garb entices others to “take a peek.” Such portraits not only come off as incredibly offensive, they perpetuate an all-too-common, orientalist image of Muslim women being voiceless and seen purely as an item to be used for sex.

The lyrics at first listen come off as encouraging, even empowering to women with lines such as, “I’m not a wandering slave, I’m a woman of choice … My veil is protection for the gorgeousness of my face.” Such lines echo what many Muslim women say are their reasons for wearing the hijab, niqab, or burqa. But following this, the song's lyrics quickly take a turn for the cringe-worthy. The chorus goes: “Do you want to see me naked, lover? Do you want to peek underneath the cover? Do you want to see the girl who lives behind the aura? ... Do you wanna touch me? Let’s make love.”

These lines cast women who wear the veil as far-removed figures from another world. The heavily erotic images ultimately dehumanize and degrade burqa-wearing women and turn them into animalistic beings. In a society that automatically associates the burqa with Muslim women and Middle Eastern culture, a song like this only adds onto the monolithic image of the Muslim woman being quiet, sheltered, and owned by a man.

Even in at the art associated with this song that came out earlier this year, Lady Gaga is shown wearing a hot-pink and translucent burqa, with platform shoes and the shape of her body visible through the garment. Of course Lady Gaga is well known for her lavish, colorful, and outlandish wardrobe, but appropriating the burqa in such a way to turn it into an erotic, revealing garment is outright offensive. We are already seeing ignorant reactions from many fans of the song who have taken to wearing a burqa (in many cases actually a niqab, for those who bother to distinguish between them) with no sensitivity towards women who wear one out of observance and choice.

From both a feminist and a Muslim perspective these lyrics are troublesome. This kind of erotic portrayal of women wearing the burqa is part of what makes Islamophobia a pressing, rampant issue in the Western world. It’s images like this that make us view these women as distant, otherworldly figures. It’s images like this that strip Muslim women of any individual identity and reduce them into hypersexualized beings lacking tangible, human qualities. For a pop star to knowingly portray Muslim women who cover in such a way isn't artistic. It's irresponsible.

Muslim women are individuals. They do not belong to a monolithic group. They do not all cover in the same way. Many don’t even cover at all. They have varying sexualities, and opinions on modesty. The statement Lady Gaga is making here not only shows her ignorance of this fact, but also demonstrates the pressing need for us to move on from such simplistic and damaging views of Muslim women.

Listen to the demo here.

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Mariam Elba

Recent Baruch College grad, majored in English Literature and History. Aspiring writer and academic on postcolonial MENA history. Lifelong New Yorker. When I'm not reading or writing I'm likely watching foreign films, or walking to nowhere.

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