As one of the best-selling pop artists of our time, Lady Gaga is a name few would fail to recognise. From ‘Poker Face’ to ‘Telephone’, her artistry has earned her a level of notoriety comparable only to a few other music legends. Along with her success, she’s built a loyal fanbase that she affectionately refers to as the ‘Little Monsters’. At shows, she often invites her ‘Little Monsters’ on stageBut, how does Gaga manage these apparently conflicting identities and what linguistic devices does she use to achieve this? In her 2018 paper, Mary-Caitlyn Valentinsson decided to find out:
To examine the ways in which Gaga navigates the ‘ordinary person’ and ‘celebrity superstar’ identities, Valentinsson examines tweets sent by Gaga aimed at her fans and transcripts taken from media interviews with Gaga.
|A group of Lady Gaga's superfans - her 'Little Monsters'|
Central to Valentinsson’s analysis are the concepts of stance and stance-taking. These two terms describe two aspects of communication. The term ‘stance’ refers to the way that people align or position themselves in relation to some object, person or idea. So when a speaker expresses their attitude towards something, that speaker is taking a stance. The notion of stance-taking refers to the actual process of making that alignment, which is usually achieved through communication. For instance, if you said, ‘I don’t like cheese’, you'd be taking a stance that you ‘don’t like the dairy goodness of cheese’. The Stance-taking bit would be you actually saying those words.
To examine Lady Gaga’s stances in relation to her fans and journalists, Valentinsson first turns to Gaga’s Twitter account where she observes that Gaga often creates a stance of alignment with the ‘ordinary people’. She does this through a number of linguistic strategies. For instance, in one tweet aimed at her fans, Gaga uses terms usually associated with the family (‘mommy’, ‘kids’, ‘mother’) to take a stance of intimacy that allows her to align with her fans. In another tweet, which references the two awards that Gaga won at the People’s Choice Awards, she uses the third-person pronoun ‘we’ in the sentence: ‘we won two people’s choice awards’ to include her fans as recipients of the awards. In other contexts, Gaga uses the @ function of Twitter to ‘speak’ to her fans directly, referencing an awareness of issues effecting her fans in real life. Together, these ‘strategies’ allow Lady Gaga to create a stance of alignment with her fans, rejecting her celebrity status, therefore presenting herself as an ‘ordinary person’.
In interviews with journalists, however, Valentinsson observes an altogether different set of strategies used by Gaga. In these contexts, Gaga adopts a relatively confrontational stance. She does this by refusing to answer questions she deems inappropriate or correcting journalists’ comments about her stage performance. For instance, in one interview, asked whether the sexual references in her songs would negatively influence her record sales, Gaga responds by confronting the interviewer with her achievement of selling 4 million records. Valentinsson argues that, by taking these stances, Gaga explicitly creates a stance of disalignment with the ‘media enterprise’ and reinforces her earlier identity as an ‘ordinary person’.
Concluding, Valentinsson argues that Gaga maintains an ‘ordinary persona’ by engaging in stance taking moves that emphasise her alignment with her fans above all other audiences. So, it seems, at least Gaga is not a ‘Judas’ afterall and she’s certainly not as ‘Shallow’ as the media would like you to believe…
Valentinsson, Mary-Caitlyn (2018). Stance and the construction of authentic celebrity persona. Language in Society 47, 715–740.
This summary was written by Christian Ilbury