Masks, Wigs, Diamonds and Hair: Lady Gaga’s Identity Parade
Lady Gaga’s eccentric performance of Hair on the Paul O’Grady Show raised more than a few eyebrows. Hair was an intriguing choice of song, a self-validating anthem of teen independence which certifies that your hair has a crucial role in the construction of your personal identity as an individual. Lady Gaga’s performance on the Paul O’Grady Show was not just a normal, run of the mill powered-up belting out of the ballad; it was an artistically self-conscious play on medium, art and message. If we take the lyrics of the song at face value, “I am my hair”, then your hair defines who you are. Pretty much “I coiffe therefore I am”. Simple enough. But when you consider the way that the song was delivered, things get a bit more complicated. As Lady Gaga sat at her hair-covered piano, we are invited to think that if her identity is in her hair and she bestows that on the piano, the medium which both conveys and produces her art, then she is making a statement that her music is her identity. So far so good. But then Lady Gaga did something completely unexpected: she removed her hair to reveal a bald head and placed the wig on a mannequin.
This lays bare the illusory nature of the performance – we all thought that we had got to grips with who Lady Gaga is by reading meaning into the statement of covering the piano with hair, but then we suddenly realise that we don’t really know her at all when she surprises us by placing her own hair on an empty mannequin. It’s tempting to think of this a comment on celebrity: can we get “the look” of one celeb and simply put it on a mannequin? Are all people in the media replaceable, simply one mass-market-produced drone replaces another? But the wig on the empty mannequin is not the fierce queen we all want, she is sat at the piano bald. Her baldness is curiously unsettling – it feels as if she’s laying herself bare for us all to see in the most shocking way, revealing her identity for us all. Or is she? Due to her demanding performance schedules it would be disastrous to shave off one’s hair and wait for it to grow back. So she must be wearing a skull cap. But wearing a skull cap is ironic because all we get is the illusion of bare naked identity when she’s still not revealing herself to us fully.
Let’s think about the meaning of Hair: the way that our identity is both shaped by and illustrated in our hairstyles. Now let’s take a look at how Gaga has used her hair to display her changing looks over her career so far, and how her hair is very much in tune with the masks which she wears. In some cases, such as her wonderful costume for the Brit Awards, her hair is very literally her mask. It’s interesting that Gaga changes her hair, and masks, noticeably whenever she enters a new phase of her artistic career. this most commonly happens in tandem with the release of new records, encouraging us to think that, since her hair is so intrinsically (physically and metaphorically) connected with her masks, then a change of hairstyle may also be connected with her metamorphosing personae in her records.
We all remember the trademark fringe and poker-straight long blonde hair of Gaga’s early days. It’s also worth remembering that in public her overly large sunglasses often acted like a mask, and that the Ziggy Stardust facial art which she commonly adopted is a very conscious connection with David Bowie, who most famously created a performance persona whose fame threatened to eclipse his own.
The Fame Monster
First of all, the album cover smacks of Andy Warhol, and the album title obviously wants these two cultural references to be read alongside each other: is this Lady Gaga’s fifteen minutes of Fame? While this severe, distressed bob may be an ironic, self-deprecating comment on the fickle nature of fame and celebrity culture, Gaga’s hairstyle changes significantly during the videos and promotion of this album.
Bad Romance showcased a change of direction in Gaga’s look: with longer, more flattering hair and make-up which nods to classic screen sirens of Hollywood. The video for Bad Romance operates as an exploration of the fragility of femininity and the exploitation of women in the sex trade, and this is reflected in her hairstyle and mask. The outfit given to her by her captors is made from diamonds (which are often connected with whores because of the legend that they were paid with diamonds), and these dirty diamonds cover her mask, a claustrophobic cage that is assumed against her will, which spills over and contains her hair.
Born This Way
Once again we see a change in style from Gaga, with a startlingly edgy black and white hairstyle to compliment the trademark studded leather look throughout the album.
So we can see how Gaga is using hair as a tool for expressing her changing identity throughout her career, and it is also used as a medium for exploring issues related to identity such as her promotion of gay rights and stance against consumerism. That infamous meat dress was intended as a protest about the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy regarding homosexuality in the American military, but what’s really interesting here is the way that she not only wears the dress on her body, but also her hair. In the Telephone video, which is all about American mass-consumerism, Gaga wears Coca Cola cans in her hair. This is not only a novel way of recycling, but also seems like a rather dire warning once we understand the links between identity, self-expression and hair in the world of Gaga: even the ideology of one of the most American capitalist icons can infiltrate our personal being, our hair and our own identities.