Feminist Year in Review: Top Albums, Part 1

Without the Scheiße: Lady Gaga’s Liberating “Born This Way”

The year 2011 hit all the right feminist notes. Usually, I am rather disappointed with the lack of female empowerment in contemporary popular music. However, this year was rather different. The music gods have fortunately blessed us with two strong, talented ladies who released what I believe to be the best feminist albums of the year. Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” and Adele’s “21”  are albums that artfully balance vulnerability and strength, and compel women everywhere to release their confident inner divas.

As a devoted and self-professed “Little Monster,” I may be completely biased in claiming that Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way”  is not only the most empowering feminist album of the year, but the most empowering musical compilation I have ever heard. Although Lady Gaga is a rather polemical figure in both the musical and feminist world, I believe “Born this Way” is sincere in its efforts of encouraging feminine strength, sexual liberation, and artistic independence. More importantly, the album teaches us to love themselves and  embrace the “freak” or “misfit” within all of us. As its title clearly denotes, the album is a beautiful homage to self-acceptance.

My favorite track on the album is the ballad “Hair.” In its espousal of unadulterated self-expression and resistance of mindless conformity, “Hair” is the song that I wish I heard while I was trying to  discover and accept myself while growing up in high school. Lady Gaga understands the importance of hair as a means of forming both an artistic and sexual identity. Whether we keep our tresses long and seductive or rock a sexy pixie cut, hair helps us express ourselves and personalities. The song “Hair,” however, is not about hair at all, but rather uses hair as a metaphor to decry those who try to limit the self-expression of others. Lady Gaga denounces both her parents and her peers for encroaching upon the independent formation of her personality:

“I scream Mom and Dad, why can’t I be who I want to be?”
“I just want to be free, I just want to be me
And I want lots of friends that invite me to their parties.
I don’t want to change, and I don’t want to be ashamed.
I’m the spirit of my Hair, it’s all the glory that I bear”

With a crooning saxophone battling Gaga’s soaring vocals and its emotionally evocative lyrics, the song is a long-awaited melody for anyone who has felt left out and misunderstood while simply trying to be themselves.  Most importantly, I love the universality of “Hair” – it can have a number of different meanings, and Lady Gaga maintains enough ambiguity in the lyrics to allow her listeners to attach their own personal significance to the song.

“I just wanna be myself
And I want you to love me for who I am”

“Born This Way” also includes the gutsy and angsty feminist anthem “Scheiße.”   The song oddly begins in what appears to be part broken German and part gibberish, but its infectious rhythm and feminist lyrics immediately won my ears and heart. “Scheiße” is the album’s cry for feminine independence and sexual liberation. The song’s pounding beats are perfect for a girls’ night out to the club or cocktail bar. The song envisions a world free of patriarchal opinions where being in a  relationship does not matter and men do not define female existence. The song’s refrain contains my favorite lines in the entire album:

“When I’m on a mission
I rebuke my condition.
If you’re a strong female,
You don’t need permission”

In fact, the song was apparently inspired by a wild girls night out experience in Germany. Lady Gaga revealed on Twitter that the song was written a day after going to a “dirty party” in Berlin, and “that it was about wanting to be bad without permission”:

This song I wrote right after I left Berlin. I went to the Laboratory club the night before, I had some fun with my friends then the next day I wrote ‘Scheiße’. I meant it like ‘sh*t, it’s good.’ But I also meant it the other way; because this song is really about wanting to be a strong female without all the bullsh*t that comes along with. Anything that gets in your way from being brave. It’s not the only word I know, I just like that word. It’s sexy.

Thus, the song is simply about women pursuing their dreams and desires while resisting the “scheiße.” We can be free of the fear of being single or what men think about us. Who cares if a man calls us a “slut” if we enjoy sex, dress a certain way, or party too much? Who cares if a man calls us a “bitch” if we resist a heteronormative or monogamous relationship? I interpret the enigmatic “dirty” German word as beyond merely sounding “sexy.” The word refers to the unwarranted judgments that plague women everywhere. Therefore, the seemingly meaningless gibberish that Lady Gaga utters at the start of the song actually mirrors the futility of sexist or judgmental speech. Lady Gaga preaches that we can live without the “scheiße”  and that we do not need patriarchy’s permission. We can do whatever we want.

“Blonde high-heeled feminist enlisting femmes for this
Express your woman-kind
Fight for your right”

Another song that I believe deserves mention is “The Queen.” Although found only in the deluxe special edition of “Born this Way,” I believe “The Queen” undoubtedly needs to be Lady Gaga’s next single.  The song contains elements of a dreamy rock ballad that could easily be sung by the legendary Freddie Mercury. I love this song for its simple, heartwarming message of unleashing the inner “queen” or “diva” within all of us. Indeed, the ballad introduces a laudable and heightened form of confidence or self-acceptance.“The Queen” encourages women to be strong, fierce fighters of their dreams. More importantly, the song urges its listeners to be confident and be impervious to those who doubt or discourage us.

For example, the following lines are a triumphant declaration of a woman asserting herself and promising to prove that she truly is a regal “queen”worth noticing:

“Oh, tonight I’m gonna show
Them what I’m made of, oh!
The killer queen inside me’s
Coming to say “Hello!”

“The Queen” truly crowns the “Born This Way” album and provides a nice finishing touch to a feminist soundtrack. I hope everyone takes the time to listen to the song and the entire album. Lady Gaga is beyond a mere Top 40 pop songstress – she is an inspiration, a role model, and a new feminist figure worth listening to. 2011 was truly the year of Gaga.

“Whenever I start feeling strong, I’m called a bitch in the night
But I don’t need these 14-carat guns to win
I am a woman, I insist it’s my life”

Click here to read Part 2.

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