lady-gaga-do-what-u-want (1)

Yes, that’s the cover of Lady Gaga‘s newest single, “Do What U Want,” which features R. Kelly. And yes, that’s the Mother Monster herself sporting a thong.

It caused quite a stir when it was released last week. The actual song, which was released today (listen below), has as well. For many, they together represent a shift for Gaga; no longer is she just being provocative. Instead, they say, she’s objectifying herself for the sake of shock value and record sales. It’s an interesting concept that has been brought up a lot recently in light of Miley Cirus‘ VMA performance.

Of course, Gaga’s die-hard supporters aren’t having any of it. My girlfriend, who, like Gaga, is of Italian descent and is from Queens, N.Y., adamantly  denied the idea that Gaga was objectifying herself when I asked her about it. The word “objectification,” she said, has “such negative connotations.” She made the case that Gaga was “all about female empowerment” and that being “risque” is an expression of that notion.

I myself am a little more torn on the issue. As a music journalist, I realize that female artists have been using sex as a form of empowerment for years. Madonna, for example, may have seemed like she was objectifying herself when she came out with “Like A Virgin” — and, to be sure, sex was part of its appeal — but she was also singing it as a way to demonstrate that she was in control of her body. For her, the whole idea behind sexuality in music was not so much about dignity as it was about power. And I think the same could be said for a lot of female singers today.

On the other hand, when Gaga sings lyrics like “do what you want with my body,” which makes up the chorus of “Do What U Want,” I can’t help but think that she IS viewing her body as an object, and that’s pretty much the definition of objectification. Also, I’m not sure if putting her own ass — and literally nothing else — on the song’s cover is really a form of empowerment as it is a way to get the song some buzz.

But if you really want my honest opinion, it’s this: I believe people should be concentrating on a number of the song’s other traits first before they concentrate on its cover or even its chorus. For one, it may be one of Gaga’s most danceable singles ever, and that’s saying a lot. The song’s beat, built on a chugging synthesizer rhythm and hard-hitting drums, sounds like an ’80s electro jam souped up on steroids. It reminds me of the production used on the disco-driven songs off the Drive soundtrack, which was primarily put together by French house producers.

Secondly, Gaga is doing her best Michael Jackson impression here, and it surprisingly works. Her vocal mannerisms, the way she belts the phrase “it makes me want to scream,” even the way she goes into a lightly-sung bridge before the full-on chorus — those are all traits made famous by the King of Pop.  To be clear, most of mainstream music today has some form of MJ influence in it; artists like Justin Timberlake (“Take Back the Night” anyone?) have made a living off it. But it’s not always this apparent, and it’s not always done this well. It’s clear that Gaga has enough charisma and talent to pull it off. That shouldn’t be overlooked.

And how about that R. Kelly, Mr. Trapped In the Closet himself, is featured on the track? Kells is the man when it comes to over-the-top lyrics about sex, and he doesn’t disappoint here: He makes a Marilyn Monroe -JFK reference, calls himself the “green in your blunt” and talks about getting it on in the back of the club. Classic Kells. His voice, as buttery as ever, sounds great over the song’s thumping instrumental and adds even more to its appeal. It should also be noted that he’s singing the same chorus as Gaga, except he’s doing it from the perspective of the one in power. So, it could be argued that he’s being even more objective of women. But I guess that’s nothing new for R. Kelly.

The point is, there’s a lot more to “Do What U Want” than a picture of Gaga’s butt. And despite the fact that the chorus sounds like it’s a declaration of submission, the makeup of the song itself — the beat, the singing, the talent shown — is a declaration of Gaga’s extreme ability as an artist. What could be more empowering than that?

– Reed Jackson for The Untitled Magazine

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