Tag Archives: lady gaga

Singing a New Song

By Steven Philp

It goes without saying that these are trying times. Yet it is in the face of crisis that humankind produces its best music, art, and literature; while grappling with adversity, men and women exercise their creative abilities to express anger, sadness, and—above all—hope that is both genuine and deeply felt. Perhaps it is the celebration of this latter sentiment that prompted MTV to add a new category to its annual Video Music Awards: “Best Video With A Message.” According to Reuters this award was created to “honor artists and music videos that featured a positive message or raised awareness of key social issues facing today’s youth.” Despite chart-topping performances by Pink, Katy Perry, Eminem, Rise Against, and Taylor Swift—whose songs addressed issues ranging from social isolation to domestic violence—it was Lady Gaga’s pro-diversity opus “Born This Way” that clinched the honor. And regardless of what one thinks about the quality of her music, that at the height of her career she would craft a song celebrating the spectrum of human expression—including an explicit nod to the embattled gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community—deserves recognition.

Unfortunately the spirit of tolerance embodied by the new award category was belied by MTV’s nomination of up-and-comer Tyler the Creator, who was recognized as this year’s “Best New Artist.” As a press release from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation makes note, his lauded sophomore album Goblin is a celebration of homophobia and misogyny—including 213 occurrences of the word “faggot” and its variations. Instead of sending a message of hope, his lyrics promote violence and normalize discrimination against some of the most marginalized people in our society. In the end, the VMAs is testimony to the state of American music: while there are enough songs to cobble together a new award category that features “positive messages,” our “Best New Artist”—which is selected by popular vote—is actively contributing to the adversity felt by minority communities.

So where can we look for songs of hope, when the pop charts so often lend themselves to the dissemination of bigotry? Just this month, Jewish hip-hop sensation Matisyahu uploaded a new single that serves as a reminder that the most profound inspiration can manifest in the most unexpected places. Rabbi Yonah posted a story on the Jewish-interest blog Jewlicious, detailing the history behind the song. It started with an unlikely friendship, between Matisyahu and a young boy named Elijah. Although the boy was battling cancer, his indefatigable spirit inspired the hip-hop artist prompting several years of after-concert visits and phone exchanges. When Matisyahu was on tour this year, Elijah came to his concert in Florida and asked if they could record a song together. The next morning the boy was admitted to intensive care. With his acoustic accompanist and recording equipment in tow, Matisyahu showed up at the hospital that evening. The result was “Elijah’s Song.” According to Matisyahu, most of the words and many of the lyrical decisions were made by the young boy.

Unfortunately Elijah passed away that night. Inspired by the boy’s courage, Matisyahu has made the song available online. The song can also be downloaded for a minimum donation of $1, with proceeds going to the Elijah Memorial Fund. Rabbi Yonah makes note that one would expect a song composed by a dying child would be “sad and full of regret,” but the lyrics point to the opposite: that in the face of adversity, hope can be found. Just as artists like Tyler the Creator showcase the damaging power of words, Elijah reminds us that in every creative act is the potential for redemption. In his own words:

Never know what tomorrow brings,
Don’t have the answers to tell you.
Take it one step at a time,
See where G-d will lead you.

For Glee’s Lea Michele, A Nose is a Nose is a Nose is a Nose

by Amanda Walgrove

Last week’s episode of Glee preached the self-acceptance of mother monster Lady Gaga’s single, “Born This Way.” Creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk used the hour-and-a-half special to cram in as many subplots as possible, advocating various avenues of self-love in coming to terms with sexuality, OCD, and physical imperfections. Revisiting a recurring reference of the show, Rachel Berry (played by Lea Michele) finds herself struggling with the option of rhinoplasty, even though her idol, Barbra Streisand, refused to go under the knife.

The bossy, ambitious, and charmingly vulnerable Rachel gets served her own “Marsha Marsha Marsha” moment when she receives an accidental blow to the nose during a dance practice. Considering her deviated septum, a doctor suggests that it would be a good time for a “vanity adjustment.” Donning an impressive schnoz of his own, he reassures Rachel that his daughters had their noses done at sixteen and describes the cosmetic surgery as a “rite of passage for Jewish girls.” A conflicted Rachel, who has been consistently proud of her Jewish roots and concerned about her intended Broadway career, weakly offers, “But Barbra…” to which the doctor replies, “She’s also one in a million.” In other words, this is the norm, and Barbra, an unachievable ideal, is the exception.

At first, Rachel agrees to go through with the surgery, using the excuse that it will enrich her talents and help the glee club at nationals. In truth, Rachel wants to look more like Christian Barbie doll beauty, Quinn Fabray (played by Dianna Agron). Adding a real-life layer to this diverse comedy, Agron herself is actually Jewish, whereas Michele (born Lea Michele Sarfati) is of mixed ancestry. When Rachel shows the composite photos of her future nose to her fellow glee club members, she excitedly refers to them as “less Hebraic and more Fabray-ic.” Of course, Rachel doesn’t receive the support she desires. Self-described “hot Jew” and former love interest, Noah “Puck” Puckerman chimes in to say, “Every year girls show up to my temple after their sixteenth birthday and look suddenly slightly different…but they’re not as hot.”

With hormones raging, Puck has been known to associate a “Jewish” look with attractiveness. In the Season 1 episode, “Mash-Up,” he first became interested in Rachel after his mom pressured him to date a Jewish girl. Thus ensued a kitschy dream sequence in which Rachel came into his room through the window wearing a shining Star of David, stirring in Puck the feeling that they were destined to be together because of their religious ancestry: “It was a message from God: Rachel was a hot Jew and the good Lord wanted me to get in her pants.” Presented through the same lens of religious observance, Puck has also said that his family celebrates Simchat Torah by ordering Chinese food and watching Schindler’s List. Murphy and Falchuk have taken many liberties in representing complex societal archetypes on Glee and Puck’s adolescent Judaic enthusiasm is just one example among the mix.

It isn’t until her good friend Kurt stages a “Barbra-vention” that Rachel decides to cancel her appointment. Kurt delivers an inspiring speech, crediting Barbra with redefining the Hitchcockian ideal of blonde beauty and warning Rachel not to spit on that legacy. Additionally, Puck throws in that the supposed cosmetic “rite of passage” is not as important as upholding the nasal legacy: “Your nose has been passed down from generation to generation as a birthright. It’s a sign of the survival of our people.”

While Rachel could have opted to change her appearance in order to have her “ideal” nose, she removed herself from the societal pressure and, in true Rachel fashion, continued striving full-force towards that other ideal: Barbra’s “one-in-a-million” success story. Channeling the legendary singer, Kurt tells Rachel that she herself is one-in-a-billion and if she were to get a nose job, she would be letting down all the little girls who will look at her beautiful face one day and see themselves. An avid Barbra fanatic herself, Lea Michele told US Weekly last year, “I’ve always been proud of my body, my Jewish nose and all of that.” Michele also told the New York Daily News that she never thought there would be a place for her on television, citing her very specific look as a combination of Jewish and Italian ethnicities. But what the twenty-four year old actress described as specific may have just provided her with more universality than she thought. Be it be a Jewish nose, a bubbly personality, or an unforgiving desire to realize some elusive dream, Michele brings qualities to Rachel that are undeniably relatable.

Whether or not you find yourself to be a fan of Glee or this episode’s insipration Lady Gaga, both preachy vehicles have rapidly expanded into widely recognized media commodities, with intentions of speaking directly to a young generation. In an episode devoted to self-love in the face of societal differences, seeing Rachel embrace her nasal prominence in the name of a Jewish icon was endearing. In a famous 1977 interview, Ms. Streisand credited her deviated septum with producing her unique voice, saying, “If I ever had my nose fixed, it would ruin my career.” So besides chutzpah, how does one account for the commercial appeal of Lea Michele, forerunner Barbra Streisand and fictionally Broadway-bound Rachel Berry? Perhaps they were just born that way.