That’s the question I got emailed this week from a friend of mine. Since I wrote a book about how Lady Gaga built her loyal fan base, he thought I would know. Well, this confusion from my friend is a classic Gaga technique for building loyalty and is one of the lessons in my book.
In history, studies of cultures and societies often show an emergence of shared symbols. We can all visualize many symbols we share with others as members of a given group, city, or country. These shared symbols are tangible vehicles through which some meaning is expressed. The symbols could be gestural, pictorial, object-oriented, linguistic, or some combination of these. Through the repeated process of rituals, symbols are given significance in the group. Shared symbols also have the ability to be exclusionary. Those who can recognize and understand the meaning of these symbols feel part of the group, like they be long, while outsiders will not understand the meaning and turn away, sometimes mocking the symbols. Gaga and the Little Monsters use many symbols to communicate with each other, with the most well known one being the “monster paw.” By using these symbols that only her loyal fans understand, she is speaking to them in a special language. Fans feel a strong bond to the community, and to Gaga, because they feel part of a special club of people who understand what the symbolism represents, while outsiders do not.
This is exactly what Gaga was doing with the VMA performance of her new single, “Applause,” from her upcoming album ARTPOP. The concept of the album is that Gaga wants to bringing art back into pop culture. The 4:51 minute performance was chock full of costume changes (three in all), blue metallic balls and face painting.
You may not have understood all the imagery or references, but Gaga doesn’t care. She want to create an entertaing performance for everyone but she includes these special symbols that she knows only her diehard fans will understand. Here’s what most Little Monsters recognized
Special metallic blue balls the size of cantaloupes are carried by dancers at one point in the performance and even Gaga grabs one and throws it across the stage. The balls are a reference to pop artist Jeff Koons “Gazing Balls” exhibition from earlier this year. Gaga is a big fan of the artist and he is mentioned in the lyrics to “Applause.”