I remember Lady Gaga’s meteoric rise like I imagine most millennial gays do: it was 2009 and I was in first period drama class and no one, queer or straight, could stop talking about her VMAs performance.
“Do you think she really bled?”
“Did you hear the whole audience gasp when she did it?”
Monster or not, it’s hard to deny Stefani Germanotta’s dominance from 2008 to 2011. She was the weirdest and most thrilling pop star on the planet, a media and radio fixture who, for a short time seemed poised to consume culture in its entirety. Consider the ill-conceived “Telephone” video; even a veteran like Beyonce — rather out of character — plays along with Gaga’s antics, because in 2010, she too felt the eclipsing nature of Mother Monster’s popularity. After all, “rah-rah-ah-ah-ah” was as ubiquitous in my middle school as “if you like then you should’ve put on a ring on it.”
But like Icarus, Gaga’s ascent would stop short in 2013 — the sun in this metaphor being Artpop AKA Gaga’s nose-dive into her own gaga-ness. While the pop star’s earlier releases always possessed a certain level of self-awareness, a sort of lyrical wink that implied, “I know I’m being ridiculous, but gosh, isn’t it fabulous?”, Artpop tried to peddle Warholian theory to the masses that frankly, just wanted to dance.
Nonetheless, Gaga’s critical and commercial fall from grace has not chipped away at her base. Her fans are as shook by her every move as they were in 2009. So even prior to my viewing of A Star is Born, I was skeptical of Gay Twitter’s glowing reviews. Admittedly, I walked into the room with a bad attitude, but as the movie began, I was surprised by how much I was rooting for star. In the dark of the theater, away from the inflated praise that clogged my social feeds, I remembered that middle school boy who was so mesmerized by this artist’s talent.
Lady Gaga was really good in A Star is Born, maybe even great — but she doesn’t deserve the Academy Award for Best Actress. Now, before you find my Instagram and cyberbully me, hear me out.
There is lots to praise about her turn as aspiring singer-songwriter Ally, particularly Gaga’s ability to lend believability to her character’s storyline and distract the audience from the fact that they’ve actually seen this all before, with the very same performer in almost the same wigs. Against all odds, she actually made me feel nervous for her character as she prepared to sing “Shallow” to an unknowing audience. I hope she does OK, I thought to myself, for a moment blissfully forgetting I was watching one of the world’s most successful entertainers.
However, despite everything Gaga gets right, I don’t believe she delivered the best performance of the year. Obviously, there is always a level of subjectivity to these kind of things. It’s worth pointing out that A Star is Born is and has always been a melodrama, which are not exactly the best vehicles for profound and moving performances. While Gaga, as usual, wowed me with her talent, her performance hasn’t lingered with me in any meaningful way. Not the way Melissa McCarthy’s layered, Glenn Close’s zeitgeist-y, Yalitza’s Aparicio subtle, or Olivia Colman’s broken performance have. But if social media is a barometer, the majority of queers don’t agree with me — what gives?
I’m not so pretentious to believe my taste is somehow more refined; I weep watching Gilmore Girls. I also don’t think I’m out of touch with my community. Rather, I’d wager we’re confusing what we’re watching. People were profoundly moved by A Star is Born; they told us so in all caps on Twitter. But I wonder if somewhere along the way fans stopped seeing Ally and started seeing Lady Gaga. Gaga was crying, Gaga lost a lover, Gaga’s career suffered…
I suggest this because it’s how I felt when I watched Judy Garland in the 1954 version of A Star is Born. I projected the attachment I had for the performer to the performance, and when her character weeps that “love isn’t enough” to save an addict, I didn’t see “Esther” talking about her husband — I saw Judy talking about herself.
At what point can we separate our affinity for a celebrity from their work? It’s an emotional thing to watch an artist you love, particularly one whose rise coincided with the discovery of your identity, stumble artistically. I wonder if the fervor with which Lady Gaga fans advocate for her Oscar has less to do with the performance itself and more with the personal connection they have to the contender. So many queers, rightfully or not, view the singer as a symbol of the community Some may even be conflating her success with their own. Gaga’s return to critical acclaim after a series of artistic missteps is arguably a more powerful star is (re)born narrative than that of her character. Perhaps some of her fans look to this Oscars race for vindication: despite releasing Joanne and retreating to the Vegas strip, Lady Gaga has still got it.
Reader, I don’t think anyone thinks she ever lost it. No one can take away Lady Gaga’s accomplishments. She’s fucking Lady Gaga. She doesn’t need to steal an Academy Award from someone else to remind her that she was born a superstar and neither do you. Simply put, Lady Gaga did not give deliver the year’s best performance by an actress. I think you know that. However, when you love someone as much as many gays love Gaga, perhaps objectivity is too much to ask for.
Go stream Artpop.
Jacob Seferian is a Texas-bred journalist living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @disco__bitch. That's disco, two underscores, bitch.