Last week Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” was released. It is supposedly, according to Gaga, “the new gay anthem.” It’s a somewhat catchy song, although it borrows heavily from Madonna, particularly her single “Express Yourself.” I, personally, was unimpressed. But there are some valid criticism’s of Gaga’s latest track- namely, its status as the “new gay anthem,” and the use of the words “chola” and Orient.
I would like to note that these are simply observations. The words “chola” or Orient do not apply to me, and I would rather not disclose my sexuality here.
First of all, Lady Gaga has revealed that she is a bisexual cis-woman. She has done great things for the GLB community. I left out the T for a reason, but that is another post for another day. That being said, I feel that it is important that gay, lesbian, and bisexual people (other than Gaga) should be allowed to pick their own anthems without being told “this is your song.”
That is all I have to say about that.
The use of the word “chola” is tricky because it has a different meaning depending on who you ask. My explanation of why this word is inappropriate derives from two different definitions. “Cholo/Chola” was originally an ethnic slur used for (A) racially mixed people, especially of American Indian or Hispanic descent, and (B) a Hispanic or Latino/a person who fits the stereotype of a gangster. (See: “Lean Like A Cholo” by Down AKA Kilo).
Later on the term would take on a more positive definition when Hispanics or Latinos/as used the term to indicate pride in their ethnic culture during the cultural movements of the 1960’s.
Therefore, criticisms fall into two groups in terms of the word “chola”; people who aren’t offended by it because they take it to mean pride in a aspecific, rich ethnic culture, and people who are offended by it because it is a slur, in this case a slur used by a White woman who wouldn’t necessarily know the weight of these words from her own experience. But just because there are people who take it lightly or as a prideful thing, this group does not erase the offended group.
Then we have the word Orient (as in Oriental), which is a word that literally means “East Rising,” as in the sun rising in the East. The opposite of the word is Occident, which refers to anything in the West. “Orient” or “oriental” is used to describe anything from the Eastern part of the world. No… not any PEOPLE from the East. AnyTHING. The word “Orient” is dehumanizing in that way. The same way you can say, the person (that Gaga may be referring to) is Orient, you can say, the rug is Oriental. And that’s a sensitive problem for a lot of people.
I know since I’ve pointed this out that people will say, it’s just semantics. You’re reading too much into the song. My response to that would be, i’m not telling anyone that this is a bad song, or that they shouldn’t listen to the song or to Lady Gaga’s music in general. And I am certainly not saying that Lady Gaga is the only person who has this problem with certain words in her songs- plenty of artists do it. The reason why I pointed it out in THIS song is for the following reasons: it got a lot of attention in the somewhat “underground-fourth-wave” feminist movement, or blogs, and because it forced me to think about words in songs, and what they mean.
Let us take a hip hop song for example. Plenty of hip hop songs are filled with sexism, misogyny, racism, etc. People say things like, “I don’t listen to hip hop because it is demeaning to women.” This is a valid argument. Perhaps listening to Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” is demeaning to another group of people. Quite frankly, semantics are underrated these days and a lot of people do not realize the impact that the meanings of words can have on a person or on a group of people.
I think that this is a legitimate concern that we should apply to all songs, not just Lady Gaga’s- but we have to start somewhere. This may be the first time I blog about semantics in the lyrics of popular culture, but it will not be the last.
I want to emphasize that the intention of this blog post IS NOT TO SAY THAT LADY GAGA IS RACIST OR A BAD PERSON. The intention is to point out words that can isolate some of her fans, and why. Lady Gaga is a talented singer/songwriter and a great performer, but that doesn’t mean she is excluded from criticism.