by Gione Pagdanganan
About five years ago, the music industry is filled with interesting developments, changes, and controversies. American albums of pop superstars like Britney Spears, Nicki Minaj, and Katy Perry were released, but one thing that probably stood out the most during that time is Lady Gaga’s third solo studio album, Born This Way.
Lady Gaga’s Born This Way is not your typical and regular pop music album—it is perceived both positively and negatively not only by the American consumers, but also the worldwide audience.
Lady Gaga’s hotel arrival at Makati Shangri-La for the Born This Way Ball in Manila
One of the highlights of the promotion of the album is the accompanying worldwide concert tour. The production team of The Born This Way Ball Tour travelled to six continents, with an opening show in South Korea. Fans and critics are glued to the opening show in Seoul to see how Lady Gaga and the whole production team would produce and create another spectacular yet controversial concert.
Because of Born This Way’s thematic and unconventional approach to certain timely issues in relation to politics, religion, self-empowerment, and gender equality; the international audience and concert producers back then are apprehended to bring Lady Gaga’s concert in their respective countries.
In the Philippines, there are controversial issues regarding the staging of Lady Gaga’s concert in Manila. Out of all the issues in the album and concert, one that stood out the most is Lady Gaga’s portrayal and dramatization of various images and actions pertaining to the traditions and rituals of Catholicism. Lady Gaga’s hit singles in the album, specifically Judas is probably the most argued and talked about due the song’s and music video’s blasphemous acts.
Months before the much awaited concert of the international superstar in Manila, various groups, organizations, and Catholic leaders took the streets of Manila to become activists by protesting to cancel the concert in Manila. According to them, Lady Gaga and her body of work is a negative example for the youth, and that her songs, costumes, and messages are representing demonic symbols and should not be allowed to spread all over the country.
By then, the media became a compelling tool in this issue. Various TV shows and news covered different facets of the story, making the mass audience to become more interested to Lady Gaga. The one-night concert immediately became a two-night concert because of the high demand of tickets.
The interest of the people then to Lady Gaga became huge because of the power and usage of different forms of media. Although in 2012, social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are present during those times, television is still the most prominent avenue of main issues and news. Lady Gaga is evident during that time especially on Philippine TV. Also, different Web 2.0 platforms gave opportunities to different people to burst out negative opinions and commentaries about Lady Gaga, ranging from personal shaming up to singer’s work-related issues.
In this short video from her concert in Manila, Lady Gaga addresses a message for protestors:
Lady Gaga at 3:01: “I just feel like, you know so many have been protesting, and it really doesn’t bother me truly because I know that there has to be change…”
The sold out two-night concert is a success. And although the concert already ended in Manila, there are still succeeding stories about the concert as it continues to travel the world—such as the post issues regarding the postponement of the Born This Way Ball Tour in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Photo of Lady Gaga’s departure day in Manila with policemen
Organizers of Lady Gaga’s concert in Jakarta decided to cancel the show because of the absence of the singer’s entry permit to Indonesia, security threats by the Islamic Defenders Font, as well as the protests made by people due to the vulgarity and evil message of the singer’s works.
As the whole production team travelled to different countries for the show, another compelling issue continues to gleam the media such as her shows Moscow in Russia, dubbed as one of the ‘flop’ shows of the Born This Way Ball Tour due to the low tickets sales and number of attendees. With this, the main message and topic of Lady Gaga’s concert is primarily about gender equality, which is contrast to the political beliefs and laws in Russia such as the anti-gay propaganda law.
Lady Gaga holding a Russian flag at the Born This Way concert in Moscow
The controversies regarding the Born This Way Ball concert in Manila somehow lasted for a very long time. The concert in Manila happened during May 2012, and issues started to flicker the media around December 2011. The worldwide tour which was supposedly to end during March 2013 did not happen due to Lady Gaga’s hip injury—leaving few cancellations of some remaining concert shows. In a typical cycle of the American music industry, as a particular pop superstar ends a particular concert tour, a new “era” in his or her career will start to commence; meaning that there are new news and issues to watch out for.
After the concert tour, there are different personas of Lady Gaga that captured the eyes and minds of the local and worldwide mass audience. The media helped and became a compelling instrument to further grasp the inner identity of Lady Gaga as a worldwide music icon. Her worldwide concert is a great signifier that music is indeed a universal language. However, it also reflects how the international consumers are bounded by the sphere of the American cultural imperialism. Artists are extensions and canvas of entrepreneurs, and in this case, singers are vital when it comes to the marketability of songs in the global scene. Lady Gaga and her concert is a projection on how different countries around the world continues to have a common ground, and perhaps a more deeper concept of the homogenization of different cultures—most specifically when it comes to music. In the Philippines, the music industry is faced with a lot of challenges, most especially from the influence of other countries. This challenge is primarily about the distribution and consumption of local music, and how the local audience poorly consume local music. Indeed, global media can hurt local context.
But also, let us take a look on the other side. With the bunch of issues that Lady Gaga has caused and brought particularly in the Philippines, we can take some positive notes regarding this and how it can confidently affect other underlying issues in the Philippines. The several protests that happened before Lady Gaga’s concert reflects the civic participation of the audience to address particular social concerns, and in this case, the blasphemous dramatization of a particular belief and tradition in a form of media which is hugely related to the Philippines as a Catholic nation.
This issue happened and boomed almost five years ago. In the years between 2012 and 2017, various changes happened, be it technological or cultural. With the further advancement of technology in the coming years, expect to have new ways and approaches on how artists, particularly singers will release and promote their respective musics around the world. As every artists becomes active producers and consumers in today’s digitization of media, the problem is not primarily about how entrepreneurs or marketers will come up with new strategies in relation to the selling of music, but most importantly on how each culture will strengthen their cultural identities with issues brought by foreign influence and domination.