50 People Who Matter 2010 | 44. Lady Gaga

Paparazzi darling.

When does a star become an icon? The moment she passes the six million mark on Twitter? The day she is nominated for six Grammy Awards? Or the month (August 2010) in which it is calculated she has sold more than 15 million albums and 51 million singles worldwide? Lady Gaga (left) has done all these things.

But that's not it. In her own words: "God put me on earth for three reasons: to make loud music, gay videos and cause a damn ruckus." Ah, the ruckus. It has become the Gaga art form, most recently seen in the shape of a dress made of raw meat that she wore to the MTV Video Music Awards, provoking outrage and uproar in equal measure ("What does Lady Gaga's meat dress mean?" asked the BBC).

Gaga is used to such reactions: the world attends her every theatrical move, from the live routine that left her blood-soaked and ailing onstage to the red leather Elizabeth I dress that she wore to meet the Queen at the Royal Variety Show last year. And yet, while some say she redefines empty exhibitionism, her army of obsessed fans - whom she calls her "Little Monsters" - surge to her defence.

This is Gaga's trick. While she is mainstream enough to sell huge quantities of records and duet with Beyoncé (on the nine-minute song "Telephone", whose video features prison bondage and lesbian kisses), she has established herself as an ambassador for the marginalised, the lonely, the misunderstood. It's a lucrative market.

There's a limitless supply of alienated teenagers willing to sign up to a life of Gaga worship, especially since she tattooed her love for them on her arm (near another of her tattoos, from Rilke: "In the deepest hour of the night, confess to yourself that you would die if you were forbidden to write. And look deep into your heart where it spreads its roots, the answer, and ask yourself: must I write?") But she was not always Gaga.

Born in New York City in 1986, Stefani Germanotta went to a private Catholic school on the Upper East Side, although she says her parents were from "lower-class families". She was always, she says, an outsider, but a dorm-mate at New York University remembers her as "a very suburban, preppy, friendly, social party girl".

The name "Lady Gaga" was born of a misspelt text by her then collaborator and producer, Rob Fusari (who tried to sue Gaga, saying she failed to pay him royalties for songs that he had co-written) - yet a New York Post profile claimed it was concocted by music industry executives.

This, too, is Gaga: a myth. The comparison is often made with Madonna - Gaga has inherited her mantle of Catholic-girl-turned-provocatrice. The feminist author Camille Paglia calls it "theft", an image of an icon repurposed for modern times, but Gaga has morphed the brand with her own uncompromising, outlandish, androgynous style.

And for her millions of Little Monsters, she is not just an artist, a singer, or a wearer of impossible clothes, but their champion and heroine: the ultimate "self-professed freak".


Previous: 43. Amartya Sen

Next: 45. Malalai Joya

Back to list

Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 27 September 2010 issue of the New Statesman, The 50 people who matter

Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

It's time for the government to think again about Hinkley Point

The government's new nuclear power station is a white elephant that we simply don't need.

Today I will welcome Denis Baupin, Vice President of the French Assembly, to Hinkley.

His own choice to come and visit the site of the proposed new nuclear power station reflects his strong desire to prevent the UK disappearing up a dangerous dark alley in terms of energy policy. It also takes place as France takes a totally different path, with the French government recently adopting a law which will reduce nuclear energy in the country.

Greens have opposed Hinkley ever since the government announced its nuclear strategy. Hinkley, with its state aid and an agreed strike price of £92.50 per megawatt, has always been financially and legally suspect but it is now reaching the level of farce. So much so that George Osborne is required to be economical with the truth in front of a House of Lords committee because he cannot find anything honest to say about why this is a good deal for the British people.

Mr Baupin and I will join hundreds of protestors – and a white elephant – to stand in solidarity against this terrible project. The demonstration is taking place under a banner of the triple risks of Hinkley. 

First, there are the safety and technological risks. It is clear that the Pressurised Water nuclear reactor (EPR) – the design proposed for Hinkley C – simply does not work. France’s nuclear safety watchdog has found multiple malfunctioning valves that could cause meltdown, in a similar scenario to the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident in the US.  The steel reactor vessel, which houses the plant’s nuclear fuel and confines its radioactivity, was also found to have serious anomalies that increase the risk of it cracking. Apart from the obvious safety risks, the problems experienced by the EPR reactors being built at Flammanvile in France and Olkiluoto in Finland have pushed the projects years behind schedule.

Secondly, Hinkley poses risks to our energy security. Hinkley is supposed to produce 7% of the UK's energy. But we now know there will be no electricity from the new nuclear plant until at least 2023. This makes power blackouts over the next decade increasingly likely and the only way to avoid them is to rapidly invest in renewable energy, particularly onshore wind. Earlier this week Bloomberg produced a report showing that onshore wind is now the cheapest way to generate electricity in both the UK and Germany. But instead of supporting onshore wind this government is undermining it by attacking subsidies to renewables and destroying jobs in the sector. 

Thirdly, there is the risk of Chinese finance. In a globalised world we are expected to consider the option of allowing foreign companies and governments to control our essential infrastructure. But it is clear that in bequeathing our infrastructure we lose the political control that strengthens our security. The Chinese companies who will be part of the deal are part owned by the Chinese government and therefore controlled by the Chinese Communist Party. What a toppy-turvy world globalisation has created, where our Conservative British government is inviting the Chinese Communist party to control our energy infrastructure. It also seems that China National Nuclear Company is responsible for the manufacture of Chinese nuclear weapons.

Of course it is the Chinese people who suffer most, being at the hands of an oppressive government and uncontrolled companies which show little respect for employment rights or environmental standards. By offering money to such companies from British consumers through their energy bills our government is forcing us to collude in the low human rights and environmental standards seen in China.  

Research I commissioned earlier this year concluded we can transform the South West, not with nuclear, but with renewables. We can generate 100 per cent of our energy needs from renewables within the next 20-30 years and create 122,000 new quality jobs and boost the regional economy by over £4bn a year.

The white elephant of Hinkley looks increasingly shaky on its feet. Only the government’s deeply risky ideological crusade against renewables and in favour of nuclear keeps it standing. It’s time for it to fall and for communities in the South West to create in its place a renewable energy revolution, which will lead to our own Western Powerhouse. 

Molly Scott Cato is Green MEP for the southwest of England, elected in May 2014. She has published widely, particularly on issues related to green economics. Molly was formerly Professor of Strategy and Sustainability at the University of Roehampton.