August 29, 2011

Melding and splicing our way to gender utopia, Lady Gaga as Jo Calderone at the VMAs

"I want her to be real, but she says, Jo, I'm not real, I'm theater, and you and I, this is just rehearsal."
-Jo Calderone

Hey there gender blenders,

Last night, Lady Gaga performed as Jo Calderone at the VMAs. A few weeks ago, we met Jo on the You and I single album cover. At the time, it was clear that Gaga recognized gender as a performance. But during Jo's monologue before his performance of "You and I," he reveals his desire for Gaga to be real, at least with him. He also relays Gaga's response, "Jo, I'm not real, I'm theater, and you and I, this is just rehearsal." Because Jo is literally part of Gaga's persona and not a separate person, the voicing of Jo's desire for Gaga to be "real" and Gaga's response become really interesting in terms of gender fluidity and identity, and their relation to performance.

Gaga's proclamation, "You and I, this is just rehearsal," is key. Not only does it indicate performance and a relational connection between "you" and "I" (the two genders of Jo and Gaga), it also indicates that this performance is just practice, that something else will come of it. I don't mean to suggest that Gaga has plans in the works that would produce some kind of finalized "product" of gender melding or splicing. A finalized "product" is not the point, and is also contemporarily more utopian than realistic.

What I am suggesting, however, is that in labeling this performance as a "rehearsal," Gaga/Jo recognizes the potential for new formulations in the future of gender performance/production that press/shift boundaries in ways we can't begin to estimate.

What do you think of Gaga/Jo's performance and monologue? Did you notice the close-ups of some of the audience members? What do you think their impressions were? How are they the same or different from your own?


  1. I am absolutely in awe of this performance and (if possible) just gained even more respect for Gaga! Thank you for writing such an eloquent post about it rather than fixating on the "oh my god she kissed herself" like everyone else is!

  2. I know what you mean, people seem to be focusing on surface issues without recognizing it as a performance art piece that addresses issues of gender identity in relation to performance and fluidity. Thanks for reading!

  3. Thank you! I knew there were people out there thinking beyond the surface. I am a straight female, 45 years old with musical references that lean toward 'old school' artists: Stones, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Bowie etc...
    But Like Amy Winehouse, Gaga has seduced this child of the 70s. I loved her 'performance' at the MTV Awards. I don't watch MTV on principle, but was eager to watch the Winehouse tribute. I thought it might be the first presentation, so I watched. At first, it was a big 'Who the F** is this' and I almost changed it.... and within seconds realized it was Gaga. I like many of her songs, and am impressed with her genuine talent as a musician, but I wasn't a "fan". But this just threw me, in a good way. I have fallen in love with Gaga. She is fearless. Gender-bending is not new in art, whether theater or music, but Gaga seems to be taking it to the next level, Bowie, Annie only dressed as the opposite sex...Gaga is inhabiting her alter-ego. She seems to be challenging a mainstream audience to look beyond sexual identity, to be risking alienating that mainstream acceptance...and I find that very ballsy, possibly reckless. Like you, I wondered if 'Jo' is a transitional phase for Gaga, a way to cut ties with who/what we know of Gaga to this point, a segue into her next musical, artistic chapter. I can't wait to see what this bold, intelligent artist has up her/his sleeve nest. Sorry for the ramble, but I had to thank you for validating my own impressions of Sunday night.

  4. I'm glad I was able to provide some validation! It was definitely one of my goals to speak out for a perspective that I saw being neglected in so many places. Thanks for reading!