"[Gaga Stigmata has] very modern, edgy photography to free flowing, urban narratives without censure to analytical essays, et cetera—like Gaga, imagination without ... limits. And the beauty is that anyone can submit work to the site, so artists and writers from all over the [world] have joined this experiment." -The Declaration.org

"Since March 2010, [Gaga Stigmata] has churned out the most intense ongoing critical conversation on [Lady Gaga]."
-Yale's The American Scholar

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Born Superstars

By Victor P. Corona

The following piece is the second in our series on "Born This Way." For the first piece, click here.

The title of Lady Gaga’s third album and its first single, “Born This Way,” raises the question: born what way? The single’s first sung verse provides an answer: “My mama told me when I was young, we are all born superstars.” This declaration is consistent with Gaga’s message about the conscious cultivation of one’s fame, the nurturing of the self-made image, and the celebration of Otherness. The figure of the celestial Gaga that introduces the “Born This Way” video enacts the titles she has earned. She is literally a star and a heavenly “Mother Monster” giving birth to beings without prejudices. Gaga has repeatedly reinforced visual ties between herself and the most famous mother figure in history, the Virgin Mary. In a Vogue cover story titled “Our Lady of Pop,” she refers to the writing of the new album as an “immaculate conception.” The product of her gestation is the music video that, to date, most thoroughly visualizes the core goals of her work: fully liberated creativity and the creation of truly unbowed versions of our own selves.

During the pronouncement of the “Manifesto of Mother Monster,” Gaga as goddess floats above the earth while perched on a crystalline throne. She is also adorned with the kind of diaphanous veils that were so prominently featured in Nicola Formichetti’s Mugler designs. The star-like throne recalls the elaborate organ she played at the Grammys. In a discussion of that performance, Betancourt describes her organ as “haloed by glassy test-tube-like lancets, [reminiscent] of the instruments used to replace a cell nucleus in the cloning process – an image that for a period of time was prolific in the news following the cloning fears of the late 1990s.” Although this is an excellent interpretation, a complementary reading might also draw attention to comparable crystalline assemblages in the Superman films. The iconic hero is, of course, an alien who becomes a paragon of virtue amid Metropolitan corruption and is largely immune to those prejudices that Gaga’s new race seeks to eradicate. In the films, ranging from the 1978 classic to the 2006 reboot, crystals constitute Superman’s extinct home-world of Krypton, the spaceship that transports him to Earth, and a secret base called the Fortress of Solitude. The elegant and shimmering quality of crystals associates purity and perhaps even divinity with the act of creation, whether the progeny is a Superman or superstars. Gaga’s guise as extraterrestrial – the most “outsider” being possible – meshes with Formichetti’s repeated descriptions of his Mugler designs for Gaga as “alien.”

The image of the celestial Gaga, legs spread, giving birth to her new race occurs even as her hellish counterpart gives birth to evil, which is embodied as a machine-gun that sprays star-like bursts of bullets. The site of the heavenly birth takes place on “G.O.A.T.,” a “Government Owned Alien Territory,” an area of space where the “eternal mother” is in labor (the name of the birthing site can perhaps be tied to the irreverent lyrics of another album track, “Government Hooker”). The acronym brings to mind Capricorn the sea-goat, although the video’s rendering of the constellation also approximates the female reproductive organs and the Satanic figure of Baphomet, who is himself imprinted with a pentagram. 

Constellation of G.O.A.T, shaped like the female reproductive system.

Image of Baphomet

Indeed, the bound silver bouffant Gaga wears has been compared to the images of elongated alien heads created by the surrealist artist H. R. Giger. She wore her hair in a similar manner during her interview on the Gayle King Show and other recent public appearances. Curiously, Giger has produced a stunning work where a pearl-skinned woman said to represent the mythical spirit Lilith straddles the head of Baphomet. Note that both Gaga and Giger’s Lilith wear gilded collars.

Mother Monster upon her throne.

Lilith and Baphomet, H.R. Giger

To be clear, I am not suggesting that “Born This Way” is somehow a vehicle for diabolical beliefs. Rather, this is another instance of Gaga’s subversion of images and symbols that are already so pregnant with meaning. In claiming that everyone is born a superstar, Gaga directs our attention to the heavens, which is the realm of actual stars as well as human hopes for an afterlife. She confronts creation myths and belief systems that also marshal the imagery of stars. Her own vision of creation, however, is underway at the present moment. The “mitosis of the future” involves an actual star giving birth to superstars that can shed the biases of the past.

Gaga’s interest in the image of the “superstar” is not new. A song titled “Superstar” was written in 2008. The lyrics describe a stardom that is accessible to all. “Tonight you are a superstar,” she sings, “Can’t you see? You’re my celebrity.” Gaga’s take on the “superstar” idiom can also be seen as a link between her aesthetic and the work of Andy Warhol. Like “Born This Way,” Warhol understood stardom as an innate quality. Certain people were particularly interesting to Warhol, which led to their inclusion in his minimalist films, often playing only slightly exaggerated versions of themselves. The artists and performers who most closely associated themselves with Warhol’s Factory were baptized as “Superstars.” New Factory identities were adopted via stage names like Ultra Violet, Ingrid Superstar, Viva, and Billy Name. By labeling themselves as what they sought to become, they undertook a conscious project of building their own fame. This intent is clearly expressed in Gaga’s “Manifesto of Little Monsters,” where she states, “We are nothing without our image. Without our projection. Without the spiritual hologram of who we perceive ourselves to be, or rather to become, in the future” (see also Durbin and Vicks 2011). If you call yourself a superstar, if your mother (Monster or natal) tells you that you were born a superstar, then that is what you are.

After Warhol’s death in 1987, the Factory Superstars had a second coming in the Club Kids and their “King,” Michael Alig. In response to the declaration of the “Death of Downtown,” Alig initiated a wave of Club Kid theatricality that dominated New York nightlife via a love of outré fashion that is not dissimilar to what the Haus of Gaga celebrates. In Warhol’s own Interview magazine, Alig states, “We were all going to become Warhol Superstars and move into The Factory and recreate the whole thing.” But the Warhol scene was twisted into a Leigh Bowery-esque piece of performance art. Alig claims, “I guess we were making fun of the Warhol Superstars. We changed our names like they did, and we dressed up in outrageously crazy outfits in order to be a satire of them – only we ended up becoming what we were satirizing.” Their performance of superstardom had a sinister end, however. While Gaga’s approach to fame as performance art now imagines the birth of a new people, the Club Kid King’s reign culminated in the killing of a fellow reveler (Alig will be up for parole in the coming years). It is curious, however, that from his jail cell, Alig has contributed writing to a stage production called “Of a Monstrous Child: A Gaga Musical.” The work, directed by Alistair Newton, chronicles the ambition and ascendancy of Gaga, perhaps Warhol’s greatest heir to date.

Andy Warhol and the Superstars Brigid Berlin, Candy Darling, and Ultra Violet

The Club Kids

Whether birthed by Warhol, the Club Kids, or Gaga, what is the essence of being a Superstar? That each person is beautiful in his or her own way? Perhaps. But individual agency is also vital. When telling her followers to “Rejoice and love yourself today,” Gaga is asking that they look toward the promise of G.O.A.T. and then look inward with satisfaction rather than anxiety. This celebration of the uniqueness of individual identity has led some critics to see Gaga as merely a gentle reformer rather than a gender-bending revolutionary. As Powers of the Los Angeles Times writes, “‘Born This Way’ never hints that outsiders should remake the world in their image, instead invoking God and mommy to suggest that society’s frameworks need not change, only open their doors a little wider.” The song is certainly a call to amplify social spaces so that marginalized persons may be included and upheld. But it is significant when a song that subsumes “transgendered life” and other identities under superstardom becomes a mainstream pop hit. As Gaga told Vogue, “...every show there’s a little more eyeliner, a little more freedom, and a little more ‘I don’t give a fuck about the bullies at my school.’” The long road to a glistening, judgment-free G.O.A.T. has to start somewhere.


Betancourt, Roland, Eddie McCaffray, and Meghan Vicks. “I Wanna Take A Ride On Your Disco Egg! – ‘Born This Way’ Preliminary Thoughts & Discussion.” Gaga Stigmata 14 February 2011.

Bollen, Christopher. “Michael Alig.” Interview 16 April 2010.

Durbin, Kate and Meghan Vicks. “From The Fame to Born This Way: Lady Gaga and the Monstrous Evolution of Identity.” Gaga Stigmata 1 March 2011.

Powers, Ann. “Snap Judgment: Lady Gaga, ‘Born This Way.’” Los Angeles Times 11 February 2011.

Van Meter, Jonathan. “Lady Gaga: Our Lady of Pop.” Vogue March 2011.

Author Bio:
Victor P. Corona, Ph.D., is a Lecturer in the Department of Sociology at Columbia University. His writing is available at http://victorpcorona.com.

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  1. (I'm french don't pay any atention 2 my bad english)Really interesting topic, you write really well. I love how she talks about the Imaculate conception when in 1900 Madonna realeased the Imaculate Conception.
    Thank you again for you're fantastic blog! WOuld not live without it!

  2. immaculate collection*

  3. Thanks for reading, Lucas, and thanks to Meghan and Kate for assembling this fascinating series.



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