Former Bikini Kill frontwoman Kathleen Hanna said some not nice things about Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, as well as a couple other artists, in an interview with CNN. Hanna’s opinion is not to be taken lightly: Bikini Kill was a pioneer in the “riot grrrl” movement, which was born in the underground feminist punk scene.
In the interview, CNN asked Hanna to explain what she thinks “…of singers like Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Ke$ha who are seemingly touching on themes of gay empowerment in their music, but for some reason it doesn’t quite resonate?”
Is it really that different when it’s a skinny white woman in a bathing suit singing these things? None of these women ever wear pants, first of all. Second of all, just because you’re wearing a goofy hat doesn’t make it performance art.
Hanna seems to be aiming at Gaga (I’ve heard she hates pants almost as much as she loves goofy hats, which is A LOT), but I’ll get to Gaga in a moment.
In her answer to the same question, Hanna criticizes Perry’s breakout single, “I Kissed a Girl”:
It’s exactly every male fantasy of fake lesbian porn. It’s pathetic. And she’s not a good singer.
I’m with you here, Hanna. Katy Perry sucks and so does the sick brand of female sexuality she’s made millions hawking. But, with all due respect to your contribution to music and feminism, Hanna, you have got to back the fuck off of Lady Gaga.
First, Gaga regularly uses her mega pop star status to raise awareness for gay rights. The woman has campaigned tirelessly to end Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and to promote equal marriage. She also wore a dress made of meat to symbolize the struggle for gay rights. What more do you want?!
Funnily enough, Hanna actually praised Lady Gaga’s activism in an interview with Spinner.com, which was published the same day as the CNN interview. In the interview, Hanna said this about Gaga:
Am I a huge Lady Gaga fan? No, but I think some of the stuff that she does that helps LGBT kids is amazing. And it’s great that that’s mainstream. It’s fantastic that there’s a pop star who’s willing to put herself out in that way.
Hanna has a point about it being “great” that Gaga and “some of the stuff” she does to promote gay rights is mainstream. Making life better for the LGBT community has a lot to do with winning hearts and minds; ending legal discrimination has to happen, of course, but unless the ‘mainstream’ is forced or, better yet, convinced to get its head out of its heterocentric, homophobic arse, then life will not improve much for the LGBT community.
Hanna recognizes Gaga’s unique position of influence in the ‘mainstream’ campaign to win hearts and minds. Yet first she must relieve us of the notion that she might actually be a fan. I don’t care that Hanna isn’t a fan of Lady Gaga, but it pisses me off that she seems so concerned about people thinking she might be.
Yes, we get it. You’re cool. You’re the queen of the underground, and so it is not necessary to tear down someone who a. is not making music for you (mainstream, remember?) and b. is very important to the people for whom she is making music.
A lot of those people are young. Many identify with feeling disconnected from or rejected by their family, peers, community, etc. (Was this true of the riot grrls?) Lady Gaga’s mainstream popularity means her fans, her “Little Monsters,” can be part of a diverse, enormous community. She writes songs that celebrate individuality AND takes it to the street to fight for gay rights on the regular. I don’t get what an established underground artist like Hanna hopes to accomplish by knocking Lady Gaga.
The correct answer to CNN’s question is that an empowering gay message in pop music can indeed resonate. Even if the pop musician happens to be averse to pants and serious hats.