From middle school to now: what Lady Gaga’s music means to me

By JACOB TOOK | September 20, 2018

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Michael_Spencer/ CC By-2.0 Lady Gaga’s old albums provide nostalgia for loyal fans who have followed her throughout the years.

Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of old Lady Gaga. It’s crazy for me to think that The Fame came out over a decade ago now. Even Artpop, which doesn’t feel like an old album, dropped five years ago.

Recently, Lady Gaga has moved more into film and television roles as she shows off her acting talent. She had a starring role in American Horror Story: Hotel and will star alongside Bradley Cooper in his directorial deubt, A Star is Born. Don’t worry, she’ll still be singing in that movie, too.

That being said, recently I’ve just been finding myself feeling her throwbacks. And I’m gay, so when I say old Gaga I don’t mean her singles. “Poker Face” is a good song, and you will never hear me knock “Bad Romance,” but why settle for just the hits? Have you ever been in a gay club when “Highway Unicorn” comes on? Bliss.

It’s not to celebrate her 10-year anniversary as a pop goddess with an angelic voice. It’s not because I’m especially missing middle school or even that every song on The Fame is that good (we won’t mention “Eh, Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say)” or “Boys Boys Boys.”)

But The Fame has been my go-to album for the last month or so. I love to sit back and sing along to the familiar tracks. I know them so well I can keep my attention focused on a reading while I’m belting out “Beautiful, Dirty, Rich” or “Paparazzi.” 

Then I realized that I don’t just sing along like they’re any old songs. I know these tracks by heart. I know every single chord, the exact length of each bridge and every tiny nuance in her voice. 

Each song is so deeply ingrained in my soul that singing along is just muscle memory for me. I had three years of intensive training on the bus to and from middle school.

Part of the reason that I listened to The Fame so obsessively when I was in middle school was because I didn’t really have much other music to listen to. I’m pretty sure it was one of the only albums I had downloaded on the iPod I got in sixth grade.

I’m not exactly complaining, though, because I loved the album. Something appealed to me about the grandeur of Stefani Germanotta’s alter-ego. I liked to imagine that I could put on leather thigh-highs, a sequined leotard and a massive wig and turn into a Gaga-esque figure. Can you believe I thought I was straight?

Somewhere I’d gotten the idea that if I could lip sync her songs perfectly, I might someday be in for my own Gaga transformation, in which I’d reveal a flashy outfit and impress everyone.

I wasn’t exactly popular in middle school, which we might understand to mean that I had no real friends. I literally cannot remember the last names of anyone I knew in sixth grade. 

Sure, there were guys I hung out with in gym or the boy I sat next to on the bus, but it wasn’t until eighth grade that I started to really open up.

But in those early years, I was always overwhelmed by the idea of having friends. I was super awkward, and whenever I started to make friends I would say something to fuck it up. I had a feeling that it was out of my control, that I would inevitably say or do something to ruin any close relationships I made, so why bother.

In my moody, angsty preteen years, that feeling that I had no control pervaded every part of my life. My teachers were strict. My mom was stricter. Without friends, there was still one thing I knew I could always count on: Lady Gaga.

I knew every word by heart, I could sing along confidently, and I knew that no matter what, I’d have those songs in my head.

So great, I figured out why The Fame was so dear to me as a child, but why am I obsessively listening to it now?

Things are certainly different now compared to sixth grade. I have friends, for starters — amazing friends who I love. Also, my mom has negligible control over my everyday life and my teachers work on my dime.

But I think that at Hopkins, it can be easy to get caught up in the flow of life or get wrapped up in this or that commitment. It becomes hard to find time for yourself, and there’s a lot of things that are out of your control — meetings, deadlines, classes.

To be clear, that’s always how it’s been for me at Hopkins. But last year, I wasn’t in as many leadership positions, which meant that as long as I did what I needed to do, I was fine, and if I didn’t do what I needed to do, I was the only one who suffered.

All of those meetings and deadlines and everything else only become more pressing when other people depend on you and when you depend on other people. Soon, it’s not as easy to take a step back and practice some self care.

And so these days, when everything in life is feeling a little out of control but I can’t afford to take the afternoon off, I just bump The Fame. It helps me focus. It’s familiar. And above all, it reminds me that there are some things I have complete, confident control over. 

For me, self care doesn’t always mean taking the night off for a salt bath. Sometimes it’s just an ego boost and a reminder that there are some small things that I can focus on and that are under my control.

It’s a reminder that I’m not predestined to ruin my friendships like I thought in sixth grade. I’m not predestined to be constantly cutting deadlines too close, or running late to meetings, or procrastinating on papers.

Still, I can hold out that one day I’ll wake up wearing a meat dress perfectly lip syncing “Telephone.”

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