Gaga’s Desert Heart Sings For Arizona – But Is It Protest, or Posturing?


At the Monster Ball in Arizona this weekend, Lady Gaga answered the dissatisfied murmurings about her continuing her tour through Arizona when so many musical artists are boycotting the racist SB-1070. (@joemygod)

If you’ve ever been lucky enough to attend the Monster Ball, you know that in between the dancing and the architectural demon keytars and the seventeen-inch platform heels, there’s a healthy dose of radicalism – in this case, Gaga performed with STOP SB-1070 written on her forearm, and gave the following speech to her fans:

It’s an interesting question, and a more nuanced one than we usually expect from pop stars: how do we affect change in policies that we don’t like? Do we withdraw our support, or make noise about them? Or are those approaches mutually exclusive? Can you make change with your work, or do you have to make change by threatening to withhold it? Is SB-1070 the monster that ate our hearts and brains?

The marriage of live music and political activism has been a long and storied one – that is the point of art after all, to comment on the world we live in and inspire change, and where better to do that than in the concert setting when you’ve got your whole community in one place?

Contemporary pop music concerts don’t necessarily have the same strong association with changing the world, though – the concert boycott that many musicians imposed after the introduction of SB-1070 was pretty much as good as it got, besides like Live 8 or Farm Aid. “Pop” music by nature is supposed to be popular and appeal to all different groups of people regardless of political affiliation. Taylor Swift won’t even tell the media who she voted for in the 2008 election (though we can probably guess who).

Let’s take Gaga’s point and run with it for a moment, though – what if music itself, and the way that you made and performed it and listened to it, could be a protest that worked towards social change? Not just in the form of benefits – not in the sense that art is a product that can be sold for a good cause or removed from the market in order to make a statement, but that the experience of it, in and of itself, can be a force for change. Could that be a thing that happens in the real world? Lady Gaga apparently thinks so, but she also thinks that lobster claws are shoes sometimes.

I mean, obviously music does have power, and it does change things – Bob Dylan’s lyric “you don’t need a weatherman/to tell which way the wind is blowing” was the inspiration for the violent activist/domestic terrorist group The Weathermen; strong female artists from Salt n Pepa to Dolly Parton have changed hearts and minds with their lives as well as their art; rappers like Talib Kweli and Common and Mos Def make hip hop that comments on poverty and racism and politics; obviously the Indigo Girls and Ani Difranco helped turn you into a politically-active feelings-having-flannel-wearing lesbo, and the list goes on and on.  And it’s important on a personal level, a level that’s hard to explain in concrete terms – it’s about sharing something, it’s about crying during the encore and looking up to see that you’re not the only one, it’s about how you’re never the same after that moment of connection as you were before it.

The Monster Ball is definitely an example of this – when our own Intern Elizabeth went to the Chicago Monsterball last year, she wrote that “I’m not usually into dance music. I’m not even into dancing. But being in that room in that energy and knowing that I wasn’t the only one there attending her first big stadium show — I actually felt like dancing. I know that it seems exaggerated or cliché that I say Lady Gaga and The Monster Ball changed me, but it did.” Is it crazy or wrong to argue that music and musical artists can be meaningful, can do things that matter, that the art they produce makes a difference? No, definitely not.

On the other hand, though, tickets to the Monsterball are roughly $200 at their cheapest, and while Lady Gaga did dedicate that night’s performance of “You and I” to a boy whose brother had been deported by SB-1070, it’s unlikely that that same boy could normally have afforded to see her show. Lady Gaga likes to tell Monsterball attendees that she’s locked the doors to the stadium to “keep all the freaks outside”; while we understand that sentiment better than anyone, it makes us wonder whether anyone outside the concert had even considered whether it might be a protest of anything besides having to wear pants instead of bronze leotards. Which brings us to the question: how much does this have to mean, and to whom, before it, uh, means anything?

It’s refreshing that Gaga acknowledged that “dumb fucking pop stars” aren’t going to “collapse the economy of Arizona,” but can a large-scale, corporate-sponsored, expensive, mainstream pop concert be considered a “protest”? She could have pointed out that refusing to play doesn’t hurt the politicians who made this law, it only hurts the fans, and the people working on her tour, and the local businesses, which would have been a valid argument on its own – did she need to couch her reasons for being there in some form of political act?  And do you buy it?  She did say that the real work in protesting this law needs to happen on the ground – how much do you think can happen on the stage?

Thoughts? Feelings? Feelings set to music? Was anyone at the Arizona Monster Ball? Share with us!

(In actual news about SB-1070, a district court judge has blocked many aspects of the law, making it slightly less horrible and reprehensible but still mostly awful.) (@huffpo)

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!


Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

Rachel has written 1142 articles for us.


  1. I hate to say it about our Queen Mother Lady Gaga, but I think that tweet was a bit much. It’s a pain in the ass to cancel a concert, and its’ not fair to fans, ticketholders, or people working the venue, none of whom are necessarily responsible for the immigration law. They just live in Arizona and like Lady Gaga. That’s reason enough to keep the concert, but by claiming it was a “protest”? A bit heavy-handed, maybe.

    I hope nobody kills me for saying that. i love lady gaga 4ever. i say weird things on twitter all the time.

    • i appreciate you for saying that. i still haven’t sorted out the posturing stuff myself enough to really enjoy her properly, and for that i am constantly on an island of minority loneliness. cisgender minority loneliness.

      • I agree that calling it a protest is a bit much and my (one?) beef with Gaga is her naiveté and the fact that she just sometimes takes herself too seriously especially considering she does make somewhat typical pop music. That being said, I love that bitch (respect) and the fact that she’s plugging into a mainstream subconscious with her (super gay) images and a message of inclusion. That’s why I particularly love the music video to Alejandro. Just thinking of over a million people, some from very conservative upbringings, seeing androgynous men in high heels being taken from behind by Gaga gives me a semi (too much?). But I am glad she decided to not boycott Arizona, because her (or any popular artists’) presence is a lot better and much more motivating in terms of change for the audience. It reminds me when Morrissey boycotted touring in Canada because of seal hunting – when really what Smiths/Morrissey fan condones seal hunting? (Maybe they do exist, but you get my point.) Him boycotting Canada did nothing for animal rights or that particular cause. Maybe Gaga did influence some people in her audience which she couldn’t have done if she just didn’t show up.

        • Also, obvs I love me some Gaga but sometimes what she does or says in her stage shows or on twitter comes off a tad disingenuous. Like telling a room of 2000+ people that you love them “SO MUCH” and that it’s going to “MAKE ME CRY”. She may be sincere but it does come off as posturing sometimes.

          I saw her in Toronto and she encouraged the crowd to donate to a local charity (an American charity) for gay homeless teens. I was just shocked to see so many ignorant Canadians pull out there phones and donate to an American charity because Gaga says so. I understand that her heart is in the right place, but we don’t have gay homeless youth in Canada too? Just really got to me because my BF works for a gay rights organization (Egale Canada –, raising money everyday for gay youth and they hit the pavement, the phones and major donors everyday for the cause. But if they called or stopped any of these kids they probably wouldn’t even look twice. I guess I just get kinda tired of people blindly following her. But I do love Gaga – in my way.

          • It would have made more sense for her to have the crowd donate to Canadian charity. Besides that part, I find it pretty cool that she can control so many people, getting them to do positive. I think it’s great that she can get a crowd who normally wouldn’t think twice to help to cause.

          • For sure, giving is giving is good and a Canadian charity would have been great, and I also wonder if she had legal commitments to this one particular charity. So I don’t really blame her as much as I blame the crowd for being coerced into sending all their money to America.

        • Ric, this comment encapsulates every feeling I have on this and every other issue, from the halfy to the Canadian seals. Bravo!

  2. I was a happy attendee of the AZ Monster Ball last Saturday, and while it may have indeed been a bit heavy-handed of Gaga to label her concert a “protest,” it definitely inspired some feelings of kinship and gratitude amongst us Zoni’s. We’ve been suffering the boycotts of corporations, entertainers, and businesses for months because of something that we have no control over. It was refreshing to finally feel like there was someone on our side of the ring, who wanted to fight with us rather than leave us in the dust like the rest of them. Essentially, even if her speech was just pure rabble-rousing, I’m glad it was said. I’m curious (and hopeful) to see if she follows through on some of her statements about protesting the law. And, hey, if nothing else, at least some formerly uneducated tweens left the Monster Ball a tad more politically aware.

    • I was also there, and I couldn’t agree more. I’m glad she decided to come and attempt to encourage Arizonans to do something instead of passively taking Arizona off the calendar. It’s amazing that someone who holds onto beliefs that a large part of our society is adamantly against is able to be the most influential star of today.

      I feel it’s unfair to assume that since it’s a “large-scale, corporate-sponsored, expensive, mainstream pop concert” it’s less valid as a protest. Part of her influence on popular culture comes from the fact that she’s so over the top, it really is a theatrical production. She’s been able to get Virgin Mobile to donate $25,000 dollars a show for LGBTQ homeless youth – an extremely bold step for a company to take (it shouldn’t be, but let’s face it – it is).

      As far as the “expensive” part goes, most tickets were listed between $40-ish and $90-ish for Phoenix. The reason people had to pay so much more is because of Ticketmaster, not Gaga. Ticketmaster sold a ton of the tickets to scalpers right off the bat. The $200 ticket was the VIP package (which two of my friends payed for). As far as my ticket, it was FREE (is it making me biased? Maybe). I volunteered helping homeless youth and in return Gaga and Virgin Mobile gave me a floor ticket free of charge. I also saw multiple groups with badges there, such as the Make a Wish Foundation. It’s true that the boy whose brother was deported probably couldn’t afford a ticket, but the important factor is that Gaga took the time to go talk to him and others.

  3. No matter Lady Gaga’s true intentions, I think it’s more constructive to hold the concert and maybe galvanize her fans by speaking out than simply joining the chorus of other artists who’ve skipped on AZ, which can arguably be seen as posturing too. You want to show solidarity in opposition to the law but maybe she genuinely thinks a boycott isn’t the best way going forward – and I can’t blame her for holding her shows in high regard.

    I’ll admit I’m a cynical person but I don’t think it’s fair for me to judge her feelings on the law or question her responsibility as an artist. I haven’t been given a reason to. So I give her the benefit of the doubt.

    That said, are the AZ Democrats doing anything?

    • I don’t understand why she needs a benefit of the doubt, as an Arizonan I am so so thankful for her. The artists who understand that the only thing a boycott is doing is ostracizing Arizonans are far and few.

      & yes, we are doing something. Right now the main focus is on NOT electing a Republican come election time. It’s impossible to do anything while this governor is in office because she’s a BITCH (sorry, it’s not nice to hate people – but I’m pretty close to hating her).

      • Giving her the benefit of the doubt was meant to be a compliment. I can’t read Lady Gaga’s mind (which would be awesome) but I choose to trust her judgment. Also, I get the impression that AZ Democrats are acting rather timid with midterm elections right around the corner. Then again I don’t live there and have relied heavily on the ultra-critical liberal media to inform me about such things.

        W/r/t to post though, I think a distinction needs to be made between what the tour means to Lady Gaga as opposed to what it means to her fans, many of which go to the shows for her music, not her politics. And I don’t think it’s that big of a stretch for her to frame her tour as a protest although I’ll concede a more direct response would have been better suited to answer the criticism for sticking by her guns.

        • Ahh, yes yes I see what you’re saying. The majority of her fans do go just for the music, but a pretty good size of her fan base (mostly gay) definitely see the bigger picture. It’s also hard for me to imagine Lady Gaga giving a nice little simple answer in response to criticism.

          I should really know more about what the democrats are doing, but somehow I don’t. All I know is that they’re EVERYWHERE registering people to vote.

  4. Pingback: » Blog Archive » Gaga’s Desert Heart Sings For Arizona - But Is It Protest, or Posturing? - Autostraddle (blog)

  5. Pingback: Free Pop Music Video » Blog Archive » Gaga’s Desert Heart Sings For Arizona – But Is It Protest, or Posturing? – Autostraddle (blog)

  6. I saw Gaga earlier this year in Sydney, and I swear, she is the the most inspiration person I have ever seen or heard. That might sound lame, but it’s true. I felt kinda empowered by her words (I don’t quite remember what she said, but it was all inspirational and stuff).

    Does that sound lame? That sounds lame. But it gave me feeelings~~~~

    • no I agree! I saw her just last month actually and it was definitely magical. I feel like this post came off a little harsher w/r/t Gaga than I meant it to be, I love her and between her donation deal with Virgin Mobile and her outspokenness on gay politics she’s probably done more to change things than I will in my life, honestly.

  7. I was torn with this Gaga question too. Living in Arizona and it’s present reality brought me to this thought. We, on the ground fighting this injustice, needed her solidarity. She came late to the dance and the protest had already taken the form of a Sound Strike by music artists. And we needed her support in this manner. Didn’t happen.
    But she was moved to our side after talking to activists before the concert and what she did in the end a great thing. She inspired her fans in support of a good cause. And we need Gaga and her fans in a fight that has only begun.

  8. Oh god, I’ll never be able to stop commenting. I would write a dissertation on Gaga if I could.

    • do it! there are programs for that i think! just use the word “semiotics” a lot and you’re good

  9. This reminds me of something that happened to me recently – after the asshat Hawaiian governor vetoed that civil unions bill and Argentina passed that gay marriage law, Mom sent me an email all like “Maybe you shouldn’t get married in Hawaii! Maybe you should go to a country where same-sex marriage is legal!”

    While there were many, many logistical reasons that this was just not possible (SAVE THE DATES ALREADY WENT OUT, MOM, JEEZ) one thought that stuck in my mind is that it’s not the fault of all Hawaiian people that shit went down that way. Hell, it passed the legislature! And I’m going to go out of my way to use gay-friendly vendors (for obvious reasons), so it’ll be supporting the kind of people who help, you know?

    It’s like that. Kind of.

Comments are closed.