The Battle Between Écriture Féminine and Objectification: “Yoü and I”

Analogous to “Bad Romance,” “Yoü and I” displays a multitude of Gagas, including Yüyi, the mermaid; Jo Calderone, Gaga’s male alter ego; a nymph; and the Bride of Frankenstein, a persona perhaps contiguous with the Gaga of the final scene of “Bad Romance,” suggesting that “Yoü and I” is a continuation of or an elaboration on the former video.

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Bride of Frankenstein: “Bad Romance”: 4:59

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Bride of Frankenstein Returns: “Yoü and I”: 1:02

Each of these brides is rather the worse for wear.  The bride from “Bad Romance” is covered in soot, and the ankles of the bride from “Yoü and I” are raw and bleeding.  What is more, they are both part mechanical: the bride from “Bad Romance” is wearing a sparking bra and the bride from “Yoü and I” has a mechanical arm and voice box.

The Brides of Frankenstein, however, are not the only correlation between the two videos.  Each video is characterized by multiplicity and circularity and, in fact, these elements are even more extreme in “Yoü and I” than they are in “Bad Romance.”  A heightening of the style of écriture féminine is particularly appropriate, for it corresponds with the more intense, perhaps intentional, reductionistic objectification that Gaga’s lover inflicts upon her.  Throughout the video, Gaga’s hulky, mad scientist lover operates on and injects Gaga, using instruments that do not look like they are designed for the human body.  These instruments, the barn/operating room, and the lyrical reference to “muscle cars” (“Yoü and I”) suggest that the mad scientist might be treating Gaga more like a car that he is trying to fix than a human being.  Through these operations, Gaga’s lover treats her like an object by denying her autonomy and her subjectivity as well as by treating her as violable:

In this scene, clearly against Gaga’s will, her lover squirts something into her mouth, penetrating her boundary-integrity.  Moreover, it is obvious from her struggles that Gaga does not want to be strapped down.  However, her lover is much stronger than she and is able to restrain her and then force substances into her mouth and neck.  Because “Yoü and I” does not follow a linear narrative, it is difficult to say whether the lover attempts to transform Gaga from a mermaid into something more compatible with his physique in order to have (heteronormative) sex with her or whether a mermaid is the result of his work.  The purpose of Gaga’s lover’s operations is also unclear.  In one sense, these operations can be understood as intentional, reductive objectification: Gaga’s lover attempts to control her and make her into something other than what she is in order to suit his particular purposes.  His main goal is domination over Gaga, epitomizing the way Man, the Subject, has tried to control Woman, the Object.  However, in another sense, these operations can be understood as unintentional, reductive objectification: Gaga’s lover operates on her, not to deny her humanity, but to make it possible for them to be together.  He is trying to control her so as to make their relationship work.  While Gaga’s lover’s actions are far from benign, in this sense, they are more understandable, and there are a few moments, especially when he fills her bathtub and when he taps on a glass tank, that suggest he cares about Gaga:

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Barnyard Bathtub: “Yoü and I”: 3:03

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Glass Tank: “Yoü and I”: 4:09

The first image depicts Gaga’s lover gently pouring water over her and refilling her feed trough/bathtub.  In the second image, he worriedly taps on Gaga’s glass holding tank; it seems as if his operations might have led to unforeseen and regrettable consequences.  These two scenes intimate his concern for Gaga, complicating the interpretation that his operations are driven merely by a sadistic desire for control.

Like “Bad Romance,” however, Gaga is multiple, and, therefore, uncontrollable.  Her multiplicity illustrates the manner in which écriture féminine “wreck[s] partitions, classes, and rhetorics, regulations and codes” (Cixous 1952).  In the case of “Yoü and I,” while trying to express a fluidity of identity, Gaga deconstructs the idea of a singular self by wrecking traditional, standard grammar.  For the first part of the chorus, Gaga sings,

Sit back down where you belong

In the corner of my bar with your high heels on

Sit back down on the couch where we made love the first time

And you said to me there’s

(Something), something… (“Yoü and I”)

These lines can be read a couple ways.  According to Eddie McCaffray, Gaga quotes Lüc Carl, her “(now ex-) boyfriend” (“Grammar Trouble”).  He is the referent of “you.”  Then, Lüc quotes her.  Thus, in the chorus, Gaga quotes her lover quoting her.  With proper punctuation the chorus reads,

 You say, “Sit back down where you belong

In the corner of my bar with your high heels on

Sit back down on the couch where we made love the first time

And you said to me, ‘There’s

(Something) something…’”

McCaffray questions, “With this in play, does Gaga have a stronger claim than Lüc himself to the narrator, to be the character of the character song?” (“Grammar Trouble”).  In considering the title of the song alone, it would seem that “you” refers to Gaga’s lover, while “I” refers to Gaga herself; however, in the chorus, there is a switching of speakers or narrators, and, therefore, a switching of referents.  Sometimes “you” refers to Gaga’s lover; sometimes it refers to Gaga herself.  With this ambiguity, the I/You binary is challenged, and to whom these pronouns really refer in the title is put into “irresolvable play” (“Grammar Trouble”); they can signify both Gaga and her lover.

In fact, this irresolvable play may allow for more ambiguity than McCaffray acknowledges, for the lover’s quotation may be indirect and the second command may come, not from the lover, but from Gaga herself.  Instead, the chorus may be read as,

You say, “Sit back down where you belong

In the corner of my bar with your high heels on.”

Sit back down on the couch where we made love the first time

And you said to me [that] there’s

(Something) something…

Instead of acquiescing to her lover’s command to sit in the corner, hence, in an out-of-the way location, wearing footwear that restricts freedom of movement, Gaga refutes her lover with, “[You] sit back down on the couch.”  In this case, the reminiscing is performed indirectly by the lover as Gaga remembers what he once said.

McCaffray points out that the ambiguity between the “you” and the “I” has important implications for power relations, for “it is just by blurring, through art-ificial performative identity, the line between beholder and beholden (subject and object) that power, beauty, and identity are made available or attainable for an individual who had previously been objectified into passivity and exploitation” (“Grammar Trouble”).  The empowerment of the object can especially be seen in the second reading of the chorus where Gaga tells her lover to “sit back down on the couch” (“Yoü and I”).  Having been his object “in the corner of [his] bar with [her] high heels on” (“Yoü and I”), Gaga returns with a subjectivity that prompts her to refute her lover’s command.

Returning as the beloved places Gaga in a role characterized by objectivity; however, the manner in which she returns places her outside of the logic of subject and object, for she is a subject choosing to fulfill the role of object.  In this way, Gaga is one of the “peripheral figures that no authority can ever subjugate” (Cixous 1949), for, being both subject and object, she deconstructs this binary opposition and escapes the discourse that would relegate her to one of these two roles.  This deconstruction is further emphasized in that, originally, she had been his “baby doll” (“Yoü and I”) whereas, now, she returns after two years, saying “I’d give anything again to be your baby doll” (“Yoü and I”) and proceeds to be anything but a baby doll, including a Bride (of Frankenstein), a mermaid, and a nymph.  Gaga not only escapes traditional subject/object discourse, but she also escapes by way of myth, illustrating the seemingly magical position of being on the periphery.  All of her personas are monstrous, for they are all hybrid—part human and part something else.  Even the nymph, who appears to be the most natural persona, does not seem fully human as she stares blankly into the camera, and her private clearing in the middle of the cornfield suggests that she inhabits a different world.  Through these monstrous personas, Gaga may be considered a Medusa.  Parallel to the Medusa, who is unrestrained by phallocentric discourse, Gaga has the freedom to be whatever she wishes to be.

Gaga’s rather monstrous or mythical personas in the video support Cixous’s claim that “[w]omen’s imaginary is inexhaustible, like music, painting, writing: their stream of phantasms is incredible” (1943).  These monstrous personas with their many different roles and mannerisms are like a never-ending stream of crazy makeup, hair, and costumes, demonstrating Gaga’s intense creativity.  Even though Gaga is not always writing a normal human body (humans do not generally have fish tails) through these different characters, perhaps she is writing her imagination.  In describing how women speak in public, Cixous says, “She doesn’t ‘speak,’ she throws her trembling body forward; she lets go of herself, she flies; all of her passes into her voice, and it’s with her body that she vitally supports the “logic” of her speech.  Her flesh speaks true.  She lays herself bare.  In fact, she physically materializes what she’s thinking; she signifies it with her body” (1947).  When analyzed as text, the music video of “Yoü and I,” shows that Gaga literally “lays herself bare” (1947), and uses her body to make meaning beyond the lyrics of the song.  As a mermaid, she’s topless, and as a dancer, she’s only clothed in strips of leather; her corn silk nightgown reveals her nymph-like legs.

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Yüyi the Mermaid: “Yoü and I”: 3:20

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Aqua-Haired Dancer: “Yoü and I”: 2:41

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Nymph Legs: “Yoü and I”: 4:15

Mother Monster proves herself multiple and mysterious, “[blazing] her trail in the symbolic, she cannot fail to make of it the chaosmos of the “personal”—in her pronouns, her nouns, and her clique of referents” (1954).  As Gaga’s discourse escapes the rules of grammar, her performance of her discourse places her on the “Dark Continent” (1951) and in the world of the Medusa, allowing her freedom beyond the ordinary.

Mythical creatures, however, are not embraced by all feminists.  In The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir says, “Women are still, for the most part, in a state of subjection.  It follows that woman sees herself and makes her choices, not in accordance with her true nature in itself, but as man defines her” (137-138).  According to de Beauvoir, women try to embody the myth of femininity that has been set up by men instead of focusing on what they are able to become.  De Beauvoir points out that this myth, however, is impossible to embody perfectly.  She writes,

It is always difficult to describe a myth; it cannot be grasped or encompassed; it haunts the human consciousness without ever appearing before it in fixed form.  The myth is so various, so contradictory, that at first its unity is not discerned: Delilah and Judith, Aspasia and Lucretia, Pandora and Athena—woman is at once Eve and the Virgin Mary.  She is an idol, a servant, the source of life, a power of darkness; she is the elemental silence of truth, she is artifice, gossip, and falsehood; she is healing presence and sorceress; she is man’s prey, his downfall, she is everything that he is not and that he longs for, his negation and his raison d’être.  (143)

Interestingly, Lady Gaga follows this myth discussed by de Beauvoir almost flawlessly.  She is both the pure virgin bride and the tainted Bride of Frankenstein.  As a mermaid, as a dancer, and as a bionic bride, “she is artifice […] and falsehood” (143), but as a nymph she becomes both “healing presence and sorceress” (143).  Strapped down in the operating room-barn, Gaga is her lover’s “prey” (143), but as a mermaid, “she is everything that he is not” (143).  Eddie McCaffray points out that the tattoo wings on her lover’s back bring their differences into even clearer focus, for Gaga, the “fish woman,” contrasts sharply to her lover’s “birdman” (“Bifurcation”).

According to de Beauvoir, myths prevent women from transcending; instead of pursuing meaningful life projects, instead of asserting their humanity, women flounder around in their immanence, always the Objects trying to be the ideal objects for men, the Subjects.  This aspect of myths is easily observed if the lover’s reductionistic objectification of Gaga is considered intentional.  Strangely, however, Gaga seems most autonomous as a bionic bride, a nymph, and a mermaid; she is most like a subject when she exhibits the most mythic identities.  As a bionic bride, Gaga returns, unaccompanied, to her lover.  Her bleeding ankles are not signs of weakness; rather, they signify her strength—she is determined to return, cost her what it may.  The nymph, too, demonstrates autonomy by being in control of the stand-up piano and by offering, through her facial expressions, subtle commentary to her song.  In fact, Yüyi, the mermaid, in spite of being relegated to a metal bathtub/water trough and in spite of having to depend on her lover for fresh water and a means of respiration, is almost triumphant as she enjoys her lover’s careful refilling of her tub, basks in a ray of sunlight, and dances while sitting in her bath.  She is in control of her lover’s sexual gratification (or lack there of); her fishtail determines the rules of the game, and her joyful fin flips would suggest that the odds are in her favor.  When Gaga takes on the form that most resembles an object:

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Yüyi in Transit: “Haus of Ü—Yüyi”: 0:57

—a mermaid out of water must be carried and cared for—she also exhibits as much subjecthood as when she appears as the Bride of Frankenstein who returns to her lover of her own accord.

For de Beauvoir, trying to embody myths, especially those about femininity, is dangerous, but Judith Butler claims, “true gender is a fantasy” (2549), thus complicating the concept of myth.  Butler posits the idea that gender is inherently perfomative; it is what we do that makes us who we are, not who we are that makes us do what we do.  In Gender Trouble, she explains,

acts, gestures, and desire produce the effect of an internal core or substance, but produce this on the surface of the body, through the play of signifying absences that suggest, but never reveal, the organizing principal of identity as a cause […] That the gendered body is performative suggests that it has no ontological status apart from the various acts which constitute reality.  (2548)

For Butler, gender is all performance; for Gaga, identity itself is all performance.  Ironically, Jo Calderone, Gaga’s male alter ego, and, arguably, her most performative persona, complains about Gaga during the 2011 MTV awards, saying, “I want her to be real.  But she says, ‘Jo, I’m not real.  I’m theatre’” (Calderone).[1]  Through Jo, who at the moment is acting out a female persona, Gaga declares that she creates—she performs—her identity.  The Haus of Ü video clips illustrate well Gaga’s performative identity in “Yoü and I.”

In this clip featuring the Bride, Gaga rips off her wig and twirls it around her head, showing that her hair is not real:

When she is featured as Jo, Gaga strips, exposing a bulging crotch; armpit hair can be seen peaking out of the sleeve:

(It is rumored that, as she performed during the 2011 VMAs, she wore a “prosthetic penis” (Huffington Post).)  As a nymph, Gaga portrays herself as a ballet dancer:

Even though none of these personas speak during their videos, Gaga makes it clear that each one has different mannerisms and personalities; in each she is obviously performing.

In the nymph’s Haus of Ü clip, however, Gaga does not explicitly reveal that she is performing.  With the least flamboyant outfit and the least amount of makeup, it would seem as if the nymph comes the closest to being the “true Gaga,” the Gaga who has stepped from behind the curtain of makeup and pretending.  In fact, Samantha Cohen even calls her “Nature Gaga,” highlighting her supposed naturalness (Cohen).  However, upon closer analysis, the nymph, too, is fake.  In “Yoü and I,” while singing the first round of the chorus, she puts on an artificial smile, which accompanies the line, “where we made love the first time” (“You and I”), perhaps insinuating that it was not all that great.  Her cutesy wave in the corner during the previous line of the chorus, “In the corner of my bar with your high heels on” (“You and I”), is as disarming as when she stares blankly into the camera.  Cohen confidently claims that the nymph’s relationship with Jo Calderone, who perches on the nymph’s stand-up piano, is an example of “consensual BDSM,” and “[w]e see Gaga’s consent in this relationship of slapping/grabbing, as well as asserting her agency not to be slapped or grabbed.  The violence in this relationship is ironic and playful” (Cohen).  However, Cohen does not seem to have taken into account that the nymph may very well be one of the most fake of Gaga’s personas.  Therefore, the relationship between her and Jo can never be analyzed with perfect confidence.  Ironically, the character who at first appears to be the least made up, may, in fact, be the hardest to read.  Her seemingly transparent veil of artificiality prevents any certain revelation of who she actually is; like the rest of the Gagas, the nymph, too, is only ever acting.

As if trying to highlight Gaga’s performative identity, the nymph is paired with none other than Jo Calderone, so the Gaga who (at first) appears to perform the least, sings to, or with, the Gaga who seems to require the most performance:

Even though the Bride of Frankenstein may have a mechanical arm, even though the dancer may have aqua hair, and even though Yüyi may have a tail instead of legs, all of these Gagas fall into the realm of femininity; their gender cannot be contested.  Jo Calderone, then, slicking back his hair 1950s style and puffing on his cigarette, is the most fantastical of the Gagas precisely because he seems to be a relatively normal male.  For Butler, “drag implicitly reveals the imitative structure of gender itself” (2550).  In drag, people deliberately perform gender, so between their appearance, their exterior, and their anatomical sex, which is linked to a stable interior, a corresponding gender, there is a discrepancy—a person in drag does not act in a way consistent with who, it would seem, he or she really is.  However, paradoxically, the very performance of drag calls into question what true gender really is; those in drag seem to be saying that, although their anatomical features do not match their performance, their performance aligns more congruently with who they really are.  It is through drag, through pretending, that they reveal their true identity.  According to Butler:

gender parody reveals that the original identity after which gender fashions itself is an imitation without an origin.  To be more precise, it is a production which, in effect—that is, in its effect—postures as an imitation.  This perceptual displacement constitutes a fluidity of identities that suggests an openness to resignification and recontextualization.  (2550)

Drag is found in the figure of Jo Calderone, but also in the lyrics of “Yoü and I.”  With its grammatical ambiguity between Gaga and her lover, the chorus of the song recalls Rosalind, the heroine from Shakespeare’s As You Like It.  In order to escape from her cruel uncle, Rosalind travels the countryside disguised as the boy Ganymede; however, when she runs into Orlando, the boy with whom she is in love, Ganymede decides to give him courtship lessons.  These lessons take the form of a mock-courtship between Ganymede, who pretends to be Rosalind, and Orlando.  In other words, Rosalind pretends to be Ganymede who in turn pretends to be Rosalind.  If this seems complicated enough, one might be reminded that, in Shakespeare’s time, the only actors were men, so when As You Like It was originally performed, even another layer was added to the already complicated character of Rosalind; a boy played a girl who played a boy who played a girl.

Similarly, the chorus of “Yoü and I,” which may be read as Gaga quoting her lover quoting her, sometimes corresponds with scenes involving Jo.  Thus, in the video, Gaga performs double drag—lyrically, her identity slides in and out of her lover’s while, as Jo, her gender slips between female and male.  In fact, the first time Gaga sings “Sit back down on the couch” (“Yoü and I”), which can be read either as a continuation of the lover’s command or as Gaga’s refutation, she sings this line as Jo, adding another blurry layer to the grammatical ambiguity.  Thus the lover-as-Jo commands, while, simultaneously, Gaga-as-Jo refutes.  Both readings of the chorus happen at the same time.  In this way, and through her other identities, Gaga adequately challenges the concept of a single, stable self.

By destabilizing the concept of a single self, Gaga challenges the binary of the traditional male-female relationship.  The introduction of Jo not only demonstrates the performative nature of gender, but it also questions the heteronormativity of sexual relationships.  If gender is performative rather than ontological, then heterosexual relationships are comprised of two people acting, rather than being, male or female.  Thus, the relationship between Jo and the nymph is heterosexual in that each are performing as either male or female.  However, knowing that Jo is Gaga in drag deconstructs this heterosexual aspect.  The binary heterosexual/homosexual is not flipped, for the relationship between Jo and the nymph is not wholly homosexual either.  Jo is never fully revealed as either male or female, rather he exists between these two genders, rendering the relationship with the nymph androgynous as well.

“Yoü and I” challenges the traditional male-female relationship, not only through the relationship between Jo and the nymph, but also through the relationships between the various (and obviously female) Gagas and their virile doctor/scientist lover.  Most of the scenes between Gaga and her virile lover are incredibly disturbing.  He reductively objectifies her by operating on, injecting, and restraining her.  The wedding scenes in which Gaga is portrayed as a virginal bride are haunted by his ominous bulk and what happens in the barn/laboratory.  Surprisingly, the sweetest and most gentle scenes in “Yoü and I” occur between Yüyi and her wing-tattooed lover.  He makes sure she can breathe, douses her with water, and ends up cuddling with her in the bathtub, a scene that contrasts sharply with the yanking of Doe-Eyed Gaga from her bathtub in “Bad Romance”:

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Cuddling in the Bathtub: “Yoü and I”: 5:49

This relationship would seem the most viable, except Yüyi and her lover are not sexually compatible.  When a fan asked Gaga how mermaid sex works, she responded,

Well, that’s actually part of what the metaphor is—you can’t.  Sometimes in love, you can’t make it work.  No matter what you do, there’s this giant boundary between you and someone else.  So that’s what it’s about, perceiving in your imagination that there’s something magical inside of you that you can make it work.  (Vena)

Through the interactions with the various Gagas and the doctor/scientist lover, “Yoü and I” offers a critique of the traditional heterosexual relationship, which either involves terribly painful objectification or just does not work.  Even though the last scene portrays the virginal bride and her virile lover, who, it would seem, has just been told that he may kiss his bride, this, too, challenges the traditional relationship.  The two characters are whitewashed; they are ghost-like, and as their figures fade out of the foreground, so does their happily-ever-after:

For Gaga and her lover, at least, a traditional white wedding is merely a dream hovering over a Nebraskan farm that has witnessed all the pain and torture of trying to make a relationship work.

Through Gaga’s many identities, including a Bride of Frankenstein, a mermaid, and a nymph, “Yoü and I” challenges the idea of a singular, logical, rule-abiding self and demonstrates that, no matter how natural her persona may seem, Gaga is always performing; her identity is always and only ever performative.  By writing her body, by performance, Gaga reveals her “magical inside” (Vena), her mythical, monstrous, rule-breaking imagination.  Even though “Yoü and I” acknowledges that fantasies may provoke painful objectification, Gaga finds freedom from the phallocentric “partitions, classes, and rhetorics, regulations and codes” (Cixous 1952) precisely by performing subversive myths.  She is a Medusa who escapes the system of phallocentricity.


[1] See the appendix for a transcript of the monologue.

         

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