Lady Gaga, Social Media and the Fanbase Phenomenon.


Fig 1: Lady Gaga’s Twitter Profile.


In recent years, Lady Gaga has shot to fame and become a worldwide sensation. Gaga’s domination of the global industry has marked a pivotal moment in the way the public interact with popular music. This essay will explore the ways in which Lady Gaga has utilized her tremendous fan devotion to create a revolution in the consumption of pop music. Through a dedicated and masterful use of social media Lady Gaga and other popular artists have created legions of devoted fans whose generational identity has been altered by social media and the maverick artists who weld its power. A crucial aspect in understanding the shift that is occurring within the fan/artist relationship, is the development of an online persona or avatar and the role of the technological native that today’s noughties kid generational identity has created. The Internet has become an extension of identity and its role in the fan base dominance is fundamental. It allows for true freedom of expression for good or bad as the anonymity presented through social media sites such as: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr allow individuals to forge their own persona and express without fear of reproach, the things they are passionate about. Through the use of these elements, the fan dedication, the media manipulation and the ambiguity offered by the internet, today’s pop stars are changing the face of pop music and it’s role within Western culture.

Lady Gaga is by no means the instigator or leader of the social media phenomenon, her adoption of it rather, becomes a lens in which to view today’s modern media evolution. Gaga can be seen as an accumulation of the internet generation, taking the foundations of: social media, teenage isolation, online persona and interconnectivity, Lady Gaga created a place for herself within the hearts and computer screens of the modern audience. Gaga uses the Internet as a direct line to her audience and through intimate and attentive use of Facebook and Twitter; she creates the illusion of companionship and closeness. In her frequently updated Twitter feed, Lady Gaga refers to her fans, the “Little Monsters” using personal pronouns. This use of informal and familiar language creates a sense of closeness and kinship; Gaga is effectively inviting her fans into her personal space. Through the course of Gaga’s extensive promotion for her upcoming album Artpop on Twitter, she frequently uses this closeness to forge a relationship between herself and her fans, ‘…I am so excited to show you!’, ‘I may need your attention at first, so I can sing you my song. But it’s the ‘Applause’ after that let me know if I’ve entertained you.’(Lady Gaga) Through her Twitter persona and her use of intimate language, Lady Gaga creates a relationship with her fans that is radically different from the practice even as recent as 5 years ago. Social media when used in this way becomes a tool to communicate directly with the audience, to form the appearance of friendship that encourages the devoted following of fans. This intimacy between audience and performer was a previously unheard of practice, without social media there was no way to create a one on one rapport that encourages a deep connection and loyalty within the audience.

In his article ‘Memory Monsters and Lady Gaga’, Victor P. Corona explores the modern phenomenon of the social media relationship between the audience and the performer. Corona places Gaga as very much a product of her time, as society faces disillusionment from the constant threat in the news of financial and cultural crisis and the 21st Century social ennui. Lady Gaga then and her pop star affiliates offer a break from the mundanity of 21st century life and give the audience a glimpse of the glamour and glory of fame, they fulfill the cultural need for constant distraction and satisfaction. Lady Gaga’s online persona then directly relates to the audiences need for immediate gratification for novelty. This constant presence is not only a requirement to satisfy the consumer but it also becomes about ensuring the longevity of Lady Gaga’s star power.

In order to remain relevant, Gaga must be actively involved; she must supply her audience with the material it needs to keep away boredom. In his article, Corona surmises this as he states, ‘To sustain such devotion, however, a captivating voice, an ingénues smile and dizzying dance moves will no longer be enough.’ (Corona)  Through this it becomes clear that not only is the social media persona of Lady Gaga a product of the internet generation, it also a move to ensure that her legacy is long lasting and remains relevant in the fast paced 21st century attention span.  Viewed in this way, Lady Gaga’s use of modern technology becomes a vehicle for her own endurance and a savvy manipulation of audience practice. In the YouTube age of brief celebrity, Gaga is creatively mastering the digital platform to make sure her image lasts and that she remains a cultural icon.

A fundamental element to the relationship between Lady Gaga and her fans is undoubtedly the prevalence and importance of technology in modern society. Without the technology there would be no conduit through which to achieve the connection and exposure that the Internet and social media offer. In the last decade personal technology has witnessed a drastic development and consequently so has the younger generations, as they grow up in an age of: iPhones, Laptops, iPods, Smart Phones and Tablets. These devices have radically changed the way in which the individual interacts with the world, you don’t just tell you friends about your life, you blog it to the world; this mass communication structure has acted as a catalyst for the progression and emergence of the Lady Gaga model of celebrity. Society has, thanks to the Internet and new technologies, the world in the palm of its collective hand. With the touch of a button, the public can satisfy its need for instant gratification for scandal, gossip and curiosity fulfillment. Technology has revolutionized social structure and interaction.

In her article, “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century” Donna Haraway a feminist scholar of science and technology, explores an intricate and developed discussion of the modern condition as she the views 21st Century through the lens of a hybrid existence. This then becomes significant to the issue of Lady Gaga and the digital age, as it helps one understand the social need that Gaga is fulfilling in her pursuit of the online persona and how this need has been created within society. For Haraway the post-modern world is a space where the lines are being blurred creating a new reality in which society and technology come together to form a new way of being, as Haraway states, ‘…we are all…hybrids of machine and organism…’ (Haraway) Using Haraway’s theory as a way of understanding the 21st Century condition, society can be viewed as a product of technology as we extend our understanding of self to include the items that have become vital to modern living. Lady Gaga then becomes a product and a driving force of this idea, as she herself is driven by technological determinism and manipulates it serve and benefit her.

Understanding Lady Gaga as a figure who is a product and instigator of her time, goes in some way to conveying the role she plays within society and how this affects the response of the audience. One could argue that this engineering of social media marks Gaga as both maverick and commodity as she inhibits at the same time the exploitation of societal structures and the conformation to it. Lady Gaga has utilized her role as a pop star within the 21st Century to forge a devoted fan following that spans multiple mediums and has allowed her to reach a superstar status that now marks her as an icon of modern Western culture. By using the social media format, Lady Gaga invites her fans within her personal sphere, rewarding them with attention and worth. For some this particular brand of self appointed importance and value is an expression of conceit, however when associated with a public figure it is turned into a different thing entirely. Through the intimacy and closeness formed by Lady Gaga’s social media interaction, she endears herself to her target audience and forms strong bonds between herself and her fans.

In the article ‘Making Monsters: Lady Gaga, Fan Identification and Social Media’ authors Melissa A. Click, Hyunji Lee & Holly Willson Holladay explore Lady Gaga’s image and persona and the parallel to her devoted fan base. ‘Like her chart-breaking musical success, Lady Gaga’s relationship with fans, built in equal parts by her messages of empowerment and self-acceptance and by her intense engagement with fans through social media, is unparalleled.’ (Click, Lee and Holladay)  this it can be seen how Gaga acts as a music industry commodity as this transaction of emotion is directly a result of industry strategy, as the Gaga image targets the teen to late twenties audience and particularly the misfits and social outcasts.

By targeting this subset of society, Lady Gaga is aiming her message at an audience that feels detached from society and it can be argued, that they see the internet as a means of self expression and individuality that they are not awarded in society at large. Gaga then has utilized her star image in such a way that enables her to combine the specific target audience and social media communication practice to ensure that she succeeds and makes the most of the internet generation. That is not to say that in doing this she alienates other audiences or that it is solely the underdog audience that interacts with Gaga on a technological level. The singer’s catchy pop songs and interesting visual style and dress mean that her fan base is wide and varied and exists on many platforms.

Perhaps one of the most important elements of Lady Gaga’s image and fan relationship is her role as the “Mother Monster”. Through the creation of the mother persona, Gaga immediately associates herself with the maternal and the nurturing. This suggests to her fans and to society at large the role Gaga herself wishes to fulfill within the media. The mother role is authoritive but affectionate so by connecting herself to this image she is giving herself power and authority but at the same time encouraging trust and friendship. The mother figure reinforces her connection to the misfit and social outcast element of her fan base, it encourages closeness and affection that forms the “Mother Monster” and “Little Monster” bond. Lady Gaga uses social media to nurture and support this relationship. The performer uses Facebook and Twitter to stay in constant contact with her fans, so that she herself becomes a persistent presence in their lives.

In ‘Making Monsters: Lady Gaga, Fan Identification and Social Media’ the authors explore this daily existence in the lives of her audience, stating that, ‘…she is both a maternal safe haven and an eccentric symbol drawing on the current cultural preoccupation with the monstrous. Unlike contemporaries who use sex appeal to create desire in their audiences, Gaga emphasizes her oddities to give shelter, support, and solidarity to her fans…’ (Click, Lee and Holladay) in this way then Gaga becomes a caregiver and confident, she fulfills a need that is perhaps being ignored by an individual’s personal society. This connection with society’s underdog and Gaga’s use of social media to connect with them, illustrates the power of the technological age of communication has to create subcultures and intense fan/ performer relationships. Lady Gaga uses her “Mother Monster” image to champion herself and become a champion to her fans.

The role of the “Little Monster” is a crucial element in exploring Lady Gaga’s dominance within the social media, without her army of fans and their vocal online persona, Gaga’s online presence and mechanisms would have no bearing; the “Little Monsters” are what give Lady Gaga her unrivaled digital influence. The “Little Monsters” weld their online persona and give power to the Gaga image, when she Tweets, they reTweet, quote it on Facebook or post it on Tumblr; they reinforce the viral message, giving it strength and momentum. The fans become part of the message; they perpetuate it and give meaning to Lady Gaga’s image. Without the reciprocal relationship between Lady Gaga and her “Little Monsters” her online persona would not be as effective nor would it be able to transition through mediums, as the fans use creative means to spread the Gaga message throughout social media. In this way the “Little Monsters” becomes very much about community and interconnectivity, in her article, ‘Researching Online Fandom’ media studies academic Lucy Bennett discusses this community mentality, ‘I discovered that Lady Gaga uses Twitter…to communicate directly to her fans as fellow partners, and they are positioned as making vital contributions to her work. This practice seemed to en- courage, for some fans, strong feelings of inclusion and value, despite their placement as one among potentially millions of followers.’ (Bennet) Lady Gaga’s fans then can be seen as a vital element in the Gaga image and fame, without them, the singer’s online persona that guides so much of her influence, would have no traction or audience. It is the fans interaction with Gaga’s social media presence that gives it power and dominance and validates Lady Gaga as a 21st Century icon and pop culture symbol.

However for some, Lady Gaga’s image and persona is nothing but a sequence of contradictions. The singer herself openly admits the inconsistencies and ambiguity in her image and has been quoted stating that she frequently lies. This then poses a problematic issue as to the authenticity of the persona presented by Gaga both in reality and online. The “Little Monsters” respond to Gaga as she offers them a haven from persecution and encourages individuality and freedom from judgment. In his article, Victor P. Corona quotes Gaga to illustrate her fan message, ‘…use me as an escape…I am the excuse to explore your identity. To be exactly who you are and to feel unafraid. To not judge yourself, to not hate yourself.’ (Corona) For some this open contradiction is a expression of Lady Gaga being a corporate commodity, she is a carefully constructed image designed to target a specific and beneficial audience.

A particularly vehement critic of Lady Gaga is journalist Camille Paglia, in her article ‘What’s Sex Got to do with it?’ The author strongly critiques the Gaga brand and presents her as a vapid, useless pop music product stating that, ‘How could a figure so calculated and artificial, so clinical and strangely antiseptic so stripped of genuine eroticism become the icon of her generation?’ (Paglia) This is a valid and interesting point of view, despite the biased vitriol that shapes her argument; Paglia poses an crucial issue for discussion. Gaga’s image is a constructed and purposeful performance device, and by association this removes from the authenticity of her persona. Lady Gaga in this way becomes a symbol, but perhaps herein lies the importance and validity. By creating her persona so completely both online and in actuality, Gaga is creating a safe space and neutral receptor for the audience. She becomes what the her “Little Monsters” need her to be allowing them to freely express themselves and use the internet and Gaga’s social media presence to do this. The juxtaposition of authentic and fake then rather than taking away from Lady Gaga’s presented persona reinforces her message and relationship with her fans. By being both a constructed idea and presentation of individuality through this, Gaga is creating a model for her fans to follow and uses social media to engage and encourage this freedom of self.

To conclude, they can be no doubt that in the last 5 years Lady Gaga has dominated the pop industry and become a powerful symbol and lasting icon of pop culture. Without her clever use of social media, it could be argued that Gaga’s reach would not have gotten so far, and without the interconnectivity that her internet presence offered Gaga would not have been able to become the “Mother Monster” and would not have a resource the socially influential “Little Monsters”. Lady Gaga’s at times problematic image has become an ingenious construction that both celebrates and strengthens her image and also speaks to her millions of fans, giving them a surface to reflect their own individuality. By understanding Lady Gaga as both a product and manipulator of her time, the larger topic of social media and technological determinism can be explored. Without the internet Gaga would not have the phenomenal influence she has know achieved but at the same the singer has exploited the digital age to benefit and secure her star status.

Work Cited:

Bennett, Lucy. ‘Researching Online Random’ Cinema Journal. Volume 52, Issue 4, Summer 2013. 129 – 134. Print.

Click, Melissa. Holly Willson Holladay and Hyunji Lee ‘Making Monsters: Lady Gaga, Fan Identification and Social Media’ Popular Music and Society. Volume 36, June 2013. 360 – 379. Print.

Corona, P. Victor. ‘Memory Monsters and Lady Gaga.’ The Journal of Popular Culture. Volume 46. Issue 4. August 2013. 725 – 744. Print.

Haraway, Donna. “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century” Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1991. 149 – 181. Print.

Lady Gaga. Twitter Feed. (accessed 10.31.2013.) Web.

Paglia, Camille. ‘What’s Sex got to do with it?’ The Sunday Times. London, September 12th 2010. 14 – 21. Web.

Fig 1: (accessed 8th December 2013.) Print.

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