Saturday, June 21, 2014

Lady Gaga’s “Do What U Want” Unreleased Video is Self-Degradation at Its Worst

Gaga gives away her power in the leaked clip of the "Do What U Want" video
 by Grant Andrews

It is little wonder Lady Gaga chose not to release the controversial video for her current album ARTPOP’s second single, “Do What U Want”: it would have crossed the line between Gaga’s claim to artistry and the accusations levelled against her of classless and pointless degradation, and it would have been the moment when the artist had finally gone too far. The single was already released through digital outlets on October 2013, and the video was reportedly shot around late November or early December of that year. But despite a marketing push and the claims by Gaga that this was one of her most personal videos, it never saw the light of day until TMZ released a 33 second clip.

The clip shows Gaga frolicking nude while being photographed by her frequent collaborator Terry Richardson, and being fondled and sedated on an operating table by guest singer R. Kelly. While she is under sedation, Kelly and a group of female dancers dressed as sexy nurses dance around Gaga, touch her arms provocatively, dangle lobster in her face, and simulate sex while arched over her. At the end, she also simulates sex with a bundle of tabloid articles written about her.

While this video clearly speaks about her sense of exploitation in the media and her vulnerability in relation to being used by others or feeling exposed and helpless, similar to (one part of) the lyrical message of the song, it backfires in that it actually exploits her further. Through the imagery, her reliance on her own sexuality, and the fact that she suggests that she actually enjoys the acts of exploitation, this video objectifies her to an extent rarely seen in mainstream media, even within our already exploitative and anti-women culture.

One of the most prominent points of degradation in the video is that both of her collaborators have had sexual assault charges brought against them, and Kelly was even featured in a sex tape with an underage girl. The fact that Gaga associates this video with men who have reputations of abuse and of sexual exploitation neuters the message of the song. How can she propose to reclaim her body and assert her ability to make her own decisions when she is being publically objectified by men, especially these particular men? While it is obvious already in R. Kelly’s verse of the song, the video clearly shows that he was in no way interested in spreading a message of empowerment through this collaboration. Richardson’s position as voyeur/ documenter of Gaga’s sexual degradation makes him complicit in it as well. And through Gaga’s choice to include them, and her position of powerlessness in relation to them in the video, she is the co-creator of her own victimhood.

Gaga’s nudity in the video as well as her state of sedation suggest that she is vulnerable and weak, unable to take control of her situation. Interestingly, she places this state in the context of tabloid rumours and articles about her personal life, linking the fact that she feels victimised by media. While the artist has always been provocative and stirred controversy, her message was always one of empowerment, self-acceptance, and strength. But in this case, the video contradicts that message. Ironically, the headline “Lady Gaga Goes Too Far” is littered across the tabloids in the video, but the video itself would have been the moment when Gaga took provocation into the realm of public humiliation for its own sake.

The lyrics say to these external oppressors: “You can’t have my heart/ And you won’t use my mind […] You can’t stop my voice ‘cause/ You don’t own my life/ But do what you want with my body”. However, in this video, Gaga is complicit in her own exploitation, and her smile and sexual gratification from the tabloids at the end of the video show this. When she rolls around in a room of newspapers, she touches herself suggestively, and plays up her role as a sexual fantasy to men and nothing more than what is present in her body. If Gaga had subverted this, and presented a video (and worked with collaborators) that respected her heart, mind, and her own “voice” or power, that would have potentially undone the harm which these external forces have inflicted on her. It would have shown that she was rising above the fact that people only want to use her for her body, and instead she was reclaiming her body and presenting herself as worth more than they gave her credit for. But the video, in its current form, could never do this.

Ultimately, Gaga should be glad that this video was never officially released, as it would have been further fuel to those who criticise her for her ambiguous and self-defeating message. Instead, if she feels that she is being used by a cruel industry which disempowers her, she should carefully consider the message she is sending about herself, and choose one which is more empowering.

See the clip at TMZ. Warning: NSFW.