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Malia Griggs Headshot

Why Lady Gaga Class Is Not Sexy

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For its February issue, Cosmopolitan magazine listed my university's Lady Gaga class as something that's "sexy now." They write, "Finally, an excuse to wear a bustier to study sessions." Well, as a student of this class, let me tell you -- it's not sexy.

I'm four classes into "Lady Gaga and the Sociology of the Fame," and every day, someone new demands, "What are you doing in there?" Maybe, like Cosmo, they envision that I clothe myself in bubble wrap and lunch meat as part of my pre-class ritual. Maybe they think I'll get an excused absence for Gaga's concert in April. Maybe they think a lot of things that aren't true.

This is a serious course about the sociology of music. What it does not cover: The coded symbolism behind "Alejandro"; Gaga's decision to wear a dress made of Kermit the Frogs; whether she has a disco stick for real. This is, as my professor underlines, a class about the social conditions that contribute to the fame of Lady Gaga.

Mathieu Deflem (that's the professor) has a background in the sociology of law and cultural anthropology. He never seems to wear color, stresses that he is "always five minutes late, but you must never be," has a fan site for Gaga and has yet to blatantly reveal to me whether or not he has gagagled this blog. Fine by me. I like my professor and his tongue-in-cheek humor but want to remain as invisible as possible - Clay-Aiken-"Invisible," but significantly less creepy ("If I was invisible / Then I could just watch you in your room"? Really?).

Last class, I counted eight guys in attendance and puzzled over their motives for signing up; does Gaga have a subculture of straight male monsters? A few of my classmates are familiar with Deflem already. These students cluster closer to the front and laugh at our professor's remarks as if they are in a one-on-five conversation instead of a one-on-50.

A boy in this group reminds me vaguely of Kurt from Glee. He's started making friends with a girl who looks like Glee's Quinn, if she had a penchant for sparkly, black hair accessories. When the professor makes a point, this boy volunteers commentary such as: "I believe there's a Zimbabwean proverb that expresses what you're saying -- 'If you can talk, you can sing / If you can walk, you can dance.'" (Side note: Also a Talib Kweli lyric.)

But from what I gather, most students around me lack experience in sociology; they were just curious about the class.

I know I'm supposed to address the syllabus of this course; that's what everyone wants, right? Here's an outline:

  • First, we will explore the sociology of music (and popular music, more specifically). We are already well on our way; this school of thought does not emphasize the quality of music but instead evaluates society's cultural understandings, perceptions and construction of music.
  • Second, we will read a biography of Lady Gaga's life.
  • At this point, we will turn in research papers detailing a single social condition contributing to Gaga's fame - and then, we will analyze her fame. The findings of our papers will have an effect on the direction of discussion because, as Deflem argues, fame is as much about the fans that popularize the famous as it is about the artist.


And so, in that sense, this is a class about me and about my professor and about everyone enrolled in the course. Especially Fake Kurt. We are all guinea pigs in this mad sociologist's experiment.

What keeps me coming back is the expectation. I don't know where this semester is going and just how Gaga we're going to get. I know something's coming, but what?

In our second class, Deflem noted that the title for his course says "of the Fame," which is a subtle nod to Gaga's song "The Fame." I listen to this song on repeat, and in it, she says: "Fame, doin' it for the fame." But what is the fame, I wonder? And what is the "it" that she's doing? And what am I doing, exactly?

Guess I'll find out. Until then, I'll skip the front row seats.