Lady Gaga’s new single offends, misrepresents Muslim culture
If you’ve seen the marketing campaign for the new Robert Rodriguez movie, “Machete Kills,” which premiered Oct. 11, you might be aware that a new Gaga song, “Aura,” is being used to promote the film in television and Internet advertisements.
And if you pay close attention to the song’s lyrics, you may be offended by Gaga’s cultural insensitivity toward people who wear burqas.
The world-famoussinger of “Poker Face” spends much of “Aura” singing about wearing a burqa in order to be seductive.
“Do you want to see me naked, lover?” the chorus begins. “Do you want to peek underneath the cover? … Do you want to see the girl who lives behind the aura, behind the curtain, behind the burqa?” An alarming sentiment, considering the burqa’s significance in Muslim culture as a way of dressing modestly.
You might say sure, but Gaga’s entire raison d’etre is to be alarming. True, but it’s not exactly offensive to any particular group for her to, say, cover herself in fake blood and act out a death scene onstage at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. Even at the next year’s VMAs, when she wore a dress made of raw meat, which you might say is offensive to animal rights activists, Gaga at least claimed to have an artistic reason for it — to show, among other things, that she is “not a piece of meat,” as she explained on the Ellen DeGeneres Show.
Not so with the burqa references in “Aura.” She, in fact, goes out of her way in the lyrics to deny the thought that she might have given any deep thought to her actions: “Enigma pop star is fun/She wears burqa for fashion/It’s not a statement as much as just a move of passion.”
Gaga may not be trying to make a statement by wearing, for example, the translucent hot pink burqa she wore during Philip Treacy’s Fashion Week show in September 2012, but she’s still come under fire from the Atlantic Wire, the Huffington Post, Jezebel and countless other bloggers for her garb, which they justifiably deem cultural appropriation.
Cultural appropriation is the act of a privileged person or group taking — appropriating — elements of an unprivileged group’s culture, usually misunderstanding or oversimplifying those elements in the process. For example, Miley Cyrus has also recently come under fire for cultural appropriation of twerking and what she called “hood music” in a Billboard article in June.
In “Aura,” Gaga is taking the burqa — a piece of clothing with a strong religious meaning — and turning it into a tool of glamorization: “My veil is protection for the gorgeousness of my face,” she says in the song. In doing this, she is reducing the burqa to a simplified icon representing the direct opposite of how many Muslim women perceive it.
“The sexualization comes from this need to colonize Muslim women and their wombs — to invade and purify,”said Muslim activist Ilana Alazzeh, according to Feminspire. “It’s why the Western man hates the hijab and covering, because it’s an overt way of saying ‘My body is for me’ and ‘I’ll choose you if I want you’ … Sexualizing a woman in [a] burqa or hijab is the easiest way to demean, dehumanize and take away power from women who only want to share their sexuality with a few, or just don’t want to be defined by their sexuality at all. … It’s about non-Muslim women capitalizing on speaking for and over Muslim women’s voices.”
Psychology senior Farah Atta expressed her feeling that “Aura” contradicts the real reason many women wear head coverings such as the burqa.
“It’s kind of mocking the hijab or burqa, because … women wear it to protect themselves from men checking them out — checking out their butt or whatever,” Atta said. “And that song totally goes against the whole purpose of it, and it’s really disrespectful. It’s inappropriate, not just toward Muslims or Islam, but even if it was about Jesus. … Religious things should stay in the context they’re in and not be put into that kind of music.”
It’s unlikely that Gaga will listen to critics and see the pitfalls of appropriating others’ culture to make a quick buck, but if she does, I’d like to suggest she follow the example No Doubt set last year with their music video for “Looking Hot.”
Controversy exploded immediately upon the Nov. 2, 2012 release of the music video, which depicted lead singer Gwen Stefani dressed as a stereotypical Native American. In an unexpected and laudable move, No Doubt completely removed the music video from their official Youtube and Vevo platforms the next day and published a public apology on their website.
“We sincerely apologize to the Native American community and anyone else offended by this video,” the band said. “Being hurtful to anyone is simply not who we are.”
It’s simple: take down the offending material, apologize and avoid doing it again.
Though it might make Gaga lose sales — after all, without a music video, “Looking Hot” peaked at an abysmal 397 on the UK Singles Chart — it would show that she has a modicum of respect for her fellow human beings.
Sadly, there’s no sign that compassion will win out against big bucks any time soon. Sorry, Gaga, but you can now officially consider me a lost fan. Next time you want to make headlines, consider a kimono, a sari, a kaftan — or an apology.
Copy chief David Bryant is an English literature senior and may be reached at [email protected]