Youth Culture Window
She’s been front page news since the VMAs, where she was nominated for 9 awards, winning three, and performing probably the most talked about performance of the evening. Her songs decorate the charts, including three singles from her debut album that went #1. As of Friday, her tour with Kanye is off, but her ability to catch the affection of our kids is right on. Her name is Gaga… and she’s the hottest thing in pop culture.
Ever since the VMA’s, MTV has her listed as their number one “Top Artist.” Her song Paparazzi is currently #7 on both iTunes and Billboard’s Hot 100. Her music video for the same song is the #6 most downloaded video on iTunes at the moment, and easily accessible for any kid on YouTube. Her bizarre fashion sense is the buzz at the water cooler and every street corner, with fashion guru’s like Perez Hilton mentioning her 13 times in July alone.
Gaga has us just where she wants us.
How did this 23 year old singer, an Italian Catholic school girl born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, get so popular?
Young Stefani was certainly talented, learning piano at four, writing her first ballad at thirteen and being accepted to New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts with an early admission at age 17. She quit school, however, to pursue her music career, signing with Def Jam Records at age 19. Her time at Def Jam only lasted for three months. Soon she began taking drugs and performing at burlesque shows in New York.
Her talent didn’t go unnoticed. Her music producer at the time compared her vocal style to Queen’s Freddy Mercury, nicknaming her Gaga, after the Queen song Radio Ga Ga. The name stuck.
Soon she began writing for Akon’s Konvict label, writing three tracks on Britney’s Circus album, a track on the Pussycat Dolls' album Doll Domination, as well as songs for Fergie and New Kids on the Block. Soon Akon gave her a chance to work on her own material, and in 2008 she finalized her debut album, The Fame, which exploded in 2009 with three number ones, and eventually becoming one of the best selling albums of the year.
Her singles Just Dance and Poker Face both became international number one hits. Eventually Love Game joined the other two as international hits, also managing to get the music video banned by Australian channel “Network Ten,” who refused to play the video because of its sexually explicit imagery.
Billboard defines her “crowning TV moment” as last April when she performed Poker Face on the “American Idol” results show. Prior to the show, Gaga had already won a Grammy, had two number one songs, appeared semi-nude on the annual ‘Hot 100’ issue of Rolling Stone, and toured with several groups including The Pussycat Dolls (who many claim that she “upstaged”.)
Her "Idol" appearance definitely didn’t hurt her popularity. But I don’t know how many would have predicted that this lady would soon collect nine VMA nominations, winning three, including Best New Artist.
Gaga has become an international superstar… a hero and role model to young “ladies” across the globe.
How should we react to Lady Gaga? I was thinking about this for hours last night after studying this young lady’s life. As a father, I am deeply troubled by the choices Gaga has made and the influence she has on young people today. But I can’t help but remember that because of Jesus, God isn’t blinded by the Gaga facade, he sees a lost little girl by the name of Stefani Germanotta, a young lady who is in a noticeable search for meaning, and who desperately needs the grace God offers through Jesus Christ. Stefani is a sheep without a shepherd, and if Jesus encountered her in person today, his heart would break for her (Matthew 9:36).
I hope we can remember this reality and lift up Stefani in prayer when we hear her songs playing in Wal Mart and at the gym, when we see her pictures on magazine covers and on the front page.
What Are Our Kids Learning from Gaga?
- A 21st Century Definition of “Lady”
What does our society expect of a lady today? Be sexy? Be smart? Be an individual?
What actions does our society applaud of ladies today? (Ask Jennifer Aniston )
Young girls are learning what is expected of them… by watching ladies that are successful, high profile, or have made their mark.
Don’t doubt the power of someone dubbed as the number one “Top Artist” by MTV. That means that kids are watching, listening and absorbing everything Gaga. The question you might want to ask is, “Is Lady Gaga the kind of role model you want for your kids?” Rewind 50 years when kids’ heroes were Roy Rodgers or Shirley Temple—not much to worry about. But now you wonder what characteristics kids will adopt as they watch and learn the Gaga image? Bi-sexuality? Dressing in revealing outfits? Posing nude on magazine covers? (V Magazine, Fall 2009) Cursing like a sailor? Take your pick.
As much as my heart breaks for Stefani, she has chosen to live the life of the woman that the book of Proverbs warns us about (Proverbs 2:16-19). So we need to teach our children to be careful to not let her words and actions entice us. We need to model a healthy balance of compassion and moral boundaries. Pray for Lady Gaga, but equally, don’t be afraid to say, “No, we’re not going to listen to her music and watch her videos.”
Look At Me!
Gaga’s whole persona screams Look at me! Dare I call this mindset narcissism? If I had to choose one word that described this generation of young people today, I wouldn’t be alone in saying “Narcissistic.” It’s pretty evident that many young people today think the world revolves around them. The question is, where are they getting this from?
Last week youth culture guru Walt Mueller and I sat together and talked about some of the biggest trends in youth culture today. One of the first words out of Walt’s mouth was “narcissism.”
As I type this word into MS Word, I can’t help but right-click on the word to see its synonyms. Vanity, self-absorption, egotism… that pretty well nails it. Look at me!
Lady Gaga’s not-so-subtle image reeks of Look at me!
By the same token, I can’t help but see a lost little girl named Stefani pleading, “Please notice me.”
Be Free to Do What You Want
One of the natural results of narcissism is an attitude of “I do whatever my gut tells me at that moment!” This is nothing new for this generation—I saw a similar message communicated at the last MTV VMA’s.
Celebrities have been preaching this for decades. Many of us remember Madonna kissing Britney Spears at the MTV Video Music Awards years ago after singing the lyrics, “How can it hurt you when it looks so good!” Madonna finished that performance with the lyrics, “We’re bored with the concept of right and wrong!”
This is a convenient belief. Do what feels good. Forget confining values.
Gaga seems to believe that mindset—she certainly preaches it. After admitting that she was bisexual, inspired by beautiful women, she later seemed to regret the decision to come out publicly. She commented, “I don’t like to be seen as somebody who is using the gay community to look edgy. I’m a free sexual woman and I like what I like.” I guess that’s true. Maybe that’s why she once told a crowd at one of her concerts that her song Poker Face lyrically discusses “fantasizing about a woman while being in bed with a man.”
Gaga shows little restraint in most situations. Being bleeped again and again at various MTV award ceremonies is nothing. Gaga shared that one of her favorite memories from her days in the New York Club scene was when she was 19. “I was playing a show where I was supposed to debut all this new material. When I sat down to play I couldn’t get everyone to stop talking so I took off all my clothes. Works every time.”
Our kids are learning, with Gaga there are no rules… and that’s kinda fun!
Sadly, Lady Gaga has become yet another celebrity telling our kids to go with what feels good at the moment. Forget character traits like self control, tact, restraint, or patience. Those qualities are for dweebs! (Did I just say dweebs?)
America has Gaga fever, which I hear is a little more contagious than H1N1.
The question is what’s the cure?
I think our best response as parents and youth workers is twofold: First, pray for a lost girl named Stefani when you hear her songs and see her pictures in the media. Secondly, as we encounter Gaga’s influence in our culture, engage in a healthy dialogue with our kids about her music, and the values it communicates. I spoke to this in detail in the wrap up of this recent blog, with advice about monitoring what our kids watch and having conversations about our media choices.
It’s up to parents, who they want raising their kids. If they don’t want the job… there’s a lady in a red, see-through, lace dress who is happy to do the chore.
, president of The Source for Youth
Ministry, is the author of numerous books including the new
Should I Just Smash My Kid's Phone?
, and youth ministry books like
Ministry By Teenagers
Connect: Real Relationships in a
World of Isolation
, and the award winning book
Do They Run When They See You Coming?
speaks and trains
at conferences, churches and events across North
America, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his
. You can follow Jonathan on
, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help.
Jonathan and his wife Lori, and their three teenagers Alec, Alyssa and Ashley live
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