By Feroz Qadri
Religion and popular culture are two social dynamics that have formed close ties through time. Religion is a major part of popular culture and culture in turn is a big part of religion as both seem to share a symbiotic relationship. Pop-culture as religion is a kind of branching out of this vice versa relationship in a sense that pop-culture has been empowered as a religion on its own and celebrities who reach that pedestal of ultimate stardom acquire a god-like position. They have the ability to influence people like no clergy or monk can; iconic stars become prophets of a religion called pop-culture and their artistic works become gospels and religious doctrines for their devotees.
Such is the case with Lady Gaga, an iconic name in the spectrum of today’s popular music scene. Her fame has escalated to such heights that she has been proclaimed a goddess by many and as her hit song ‘Born This Way’ portrays, she has indeed managed to create a “new race” not in the literal sense but metaphorically with her cult-like fan base. Many including Gaga herself claim her concerts, or “monster balls” as she calls them, to be a “religious experience” where her engagement with the audience is emotional and cathartic. Indeed Gaga herself has become a religion; a religion known as popular culture that she, among a few others, is the current reigning queen of. Over the years many pop icons have surfaced and washed away but the only ones that have left a significant mark on culture are the ones that have created a philosophy for their artistry and stirred the minds of their audience.
Artists such as Britney Spears and the likes have indeed achieved great success in pop music, with their girlish charm and sex appeal, simply because sex sells. But then there are artists like Lady Gaga that embellish sex with religion and esoteric mantras; two things that are perhaps as marketable as sex if not more. Gaga is attacking, adopting, proselytizing and incorporating religion as a fame strategy in all and any way possible. It is a fusion of infamy, appraisal, devotion, reproach, controversy and sensationalism resulting from her notoriety that has escalated her career from a mere pop icon to a cultural deity.
Gaga is blending the power of pop-culture with the command of religion to create an ultimate “sociology of fame”. The University of South Carolina has in fact even developed a sociology course titled “Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame” dedicated to Gaga’s life, work and rise to fame. It cannot be ascertained that she is a Freemason who worships the devil or any said deity for that matter. Gaga was born a Christian but today defines her religion in terms of her music and the message of acceptance and empowerment she preaches through her creative productions. Her artistic works may be deemed bizarre or blasphemous but ultimately Gaga’s policy of utilizing religion as a tool for fame has proved to be a quick and clever strategy of utilizing popular culture as a recreational aesthetic institution; one that, as in this case, also conveys a latent, by way of an overt, idea of religiosity which constitutes as crucial an impact as any institutionalized religion, if not more.