Critical Response to Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance”

In the documentary, Dreamworlds 3, Sut Jhally states that in order for a musical artist to have a successful music video, “the more bizarre, the better.” The word, “bizarre,” has no connotation to the female body, but music videos define this word as having much to do with how the female is perceived. Though Lady Gaga is a female empowering artists, her new video, “Bad Romance,” both conforms and deviates from the videos in Dreamworlds 3. “Bad Romance” is a successfully bizarre music video, though not in the way Sut Jhally defines it. The video begins with an eerie instrumental with Lady Gaga posed at the center of her posse. Unlike the image of women that Dreamworlds 3 portrays, as being estranged from the male artist and are presented as an accessory for men, Lady Gaga is positioned at the center sitting on a throne. This is an image that is most commonly seen in rap videos and a woman is rarely put in that position. In this sense, Lady Gaga deviates from the gender roles told in Jhally’s film. However, images of Gaga are still seem from the “male gaze” that is common to almost all music videos that Jhally and Gayle Wald point out.

In Gayle Ward’s article, “I Want it That Way: Tennybopper Music and the Girling of Boy Bands,” she states, “female gender traditionally has been defined in relation to women’s perceived availability to a sexualizing and objectifying (male) performers” (p. 128). Throughout the “Bad Romance” video, Lady Gaga is acting in relation to how she wants to be perceived by the surrounding males. Though she is not physically grinding (dirty dancing) on the men, commonly seen in hip-hop videos, she still dances in front of them and gives them a show. Dreamworlds 3 suggests that without the presence of a man, women are subjected to finding other ways of pleasure. They look at themselves in a mirror or sensually touch themselves to fulfill what is missing. In “Bad Romance,” there is a moment when Lady Gaga has a still pose in front of a mirror. As she sings, “I want the touch of your hand,” she moves her hand down to her crotch in a Michael Jackson-esque manner. The choreography of “Bad Romance” is also comprised of dance moves that require touching the body, which conforms to Dreamworlds 3’s main argument.

Sut Jhally says that in music videos, women are used to get attention and to tell a story. Though not as sexually abused as the women in hip-hop videos, Gaga uses her body as a piece of art. She wears little to no clothes in most of the sequences yet the camera does not pan up and down her body to examine it. Instead, the camera captures a full view of her body as she poses. The only close-up footage of Gaga is her face. There is one sequence in the video where Lady Gaga is completely nude, though she portrays some kind of mammal, with visible vertebrae on her back. The scene is shot in a very dark room so the body is barely visible and in no way does it provoke a sexual innuendo, despite the fact that she is naked. In these scenes her privates cannot be seen on camera, something very different from that of a naked girl in a hip hop music video.

In “Who(se) Am I,” the author says that although female empowering artists “speak of the sexual power they have as being derived from their physical attractiveness to men,” it is still a “power granted by male desire, rather than a statement of the power of female sexual desire” (p. 142). This is seen throughout the Lady Gaga video however in the end, she lays in bed next to the charred corpse of the man she seduces appearing to have killed him after having sex with him. The dominatrix image Lady Gaga portrays both deviates and conforms to Dreamworlds 3, in that she is presented as a sexual aggressor though she appeared to have her way in the end. Jhally states that music videos present women as sexual aggressors. These ideas are relevant in Lady Gaga’s video and the song itself. The concept is a double-edged sword; artists that want to further their success in the music industry seem to have no choice in conforming, though not completely, to what is “normal” for music videos.