Lady Gaga's increasingly daft and desperate attempts to be "shocking" and "thought-provoking" have reached a new nadir. The Italian-American singer/conceptual fashion embryo has been trying to make "burqa swag" happen for a while by traipsing around in burqa-like garments; now, a track that's allegedly leaked from her forthcoming album ARTPOP indicates that she's planning on unleashing her cultural appropriation on the innocent ears of America. Please, please go back to wearing lobsters on your head.
The track has yet to be confirmed as hers, but several music blogs are treating it as such, for several reasons. It sounds like her atonal mewling, it fits in with her sexualized "burqa swag" trend — in 2012, for instance, she wore a fur niqab to a fashion show; at the same event, she walked on the runway in a see-through, hot pink burqa through which you could see her bedazzled underwear — and she seems to have Tweeted about it last October:
"Burqa," which is also maybe titled "Aura," sounds like what would happen if you took a series of "ethnic" GarageBand samples and put them in a blender, and then took that blender to a torture dungeon run by Calvin Harris and rattled it around arrhythmically. Here are some of the lyrics:
I’m not a wandering slave I am a woman of choice
My veil is protection for the gorgeousness of my face
Do you wanna see me naked, lover?
Do you wanna peak underneath the cover?
Enigma popstar is fun
She wear burqa for fashion
It’s not a statement as much as just a move of passion.
Eschewing the perhaps more traditional Western pop culture view (that automatically equates the burqa with total oppression), Lady Gaga turns the burqa into a prop in a sexual game, an extension of her sexuality and playful experimentation. Though it's not the usual narrative, it's still patently offensive, blatantly appropriative, and hideously context-blind. And, as Allie Jones points out at the Atlantic Wire, she heightens the offense further by effectively using her position of privilege in order to shrug off any responsibility for utilizing such a meaning-laden cultural symbol. "It's not a statement/She wear burqa for fashion" is something that Lady Gaga can say; she can don her Fashion Burqa however she pleases because she doesn't have to worry about any perceived complex meaning behind her decision to do so. She's a ridiculously wealthy, white American woman. The voices of those she offends are consistently overpowered and ignored in public discourse.
As tumblr user maarnayeri put it:
The words “appreciation” and “admiration” are painfully hollow when you take a piece of clothing from a community and strip it of its intent and the consequences that come from it... If I wear a burqa, nijab.. or hell even a fucking hijab, I’m a stupid, brown savage who has no capacity to think for herself. But when Gaga wears it, its revolutionary and fashionable. People love to scream equality and colorblindedness when such an event arises, but such a world is completely theoretical until we fix these the caricatured perceptions about Islam. The power dynamics here cannot be ignored.
Keep in mind that wearing a hijab in America and looking Muslim can get you attacked. Not everyone has the option of donning a burqa (or nijab or hijab) as harmless, enigmatic, fashion fun.
Furthermore, to turn the burqa — a garment worn by millions of women worldwide — into an avant-garde fashion piece smacks of orientalism. "Oooh, look at these exotic women and their exotic clothing! I could make that sexy and weird and provocative!" is the basic line of thinking here. It hypersexualizes a garment meant to maintain modesty. "Burqa swag" is not accepting — or even normalizing — of the burqa as a cultural/religious symbol. As Carmen Rios argues at Autostraddle, as a song, "Burqa" effectively minimizes the POV of those women who actually non-ironically wear burqas (and aren't given a choice as to whether or not they want to):
Instead of giving insight into a heritage that already exists, she superimposes her own desires — to be seen as sexual in a specific way — onto women who never asked for it. She reduces a religious and cultural tradition to a sexual ploy; the burqa becomes a way for Gaga to seem coy and mysterious. To Lady Gaga, the burqa is a sexual accessory, instead of a garment with layers of significance that she doesn't have the experience to understand or the right to play with.
You can't just ornament yourself in other cultures (especially not if those cultures are specifically targeted for violence and harassment in your home country). And, sadly enough, people are already absorbing and re-circulating her terrible example.
Images via Getty and Splash.