Lady Gaga, Jo Calderone, And Pop Culture Alter Egoes

Vulture wants to know if Lady Gaga’s dudely alter ego, Jo Calderone, is “interesting? Or just exhausting?” The persona, which she stayed in throughout her appearance and performance at MTV’s Video Music Awards over the weekend:

Lady Gaga – Yoü & I (as Jo Calderone) MTV VMA 2011 from Öktem Usumi on Vimeo.

isn’t actually new. She premiered him on the cover of Vogue Hommes Japan in 2010:

And of course, he provides an opportunity for Gaga to make out with herself in the video for “Yoü And I”:

I don’t think it’s necessarily revolutionary that she’s cross-dressing or anything. What I do think is interesting about is how ordinary Jo is. The character isn’t presented as terribly attractive or together. The clothes don’t fit particularly well, and even if they were loose to conceal Gaga’s figure, they’re not stylish, or even necessarily clean-looking.

When pop stars come up with alter egoes, they’re usually about kicking things up a notch. Sasha Fierce is meant to be an even more badass version of Beyonce. Slim Shady is a way for Eminem to work out abhorrent ideas. But Jo Calderone is actually a step down from Gaga’s high-level performance of femininity, a presentation that’s often so extreme that it verges (I think intentionally) into the grotesque. And it seems like Gaga’s using Calderone as an way to critique her day-to-day performance of Lady Gaga-ness, in particular the part of her VMA monologue where Calderone explains that it’s inexplicable to him that Gaga gets into the shower in heels. I think I liked that because I thought it was an interesting and gentle way of presenting the kind of “Women. What is up with them?” questioning that shows up in pop culture a lot without an implied value judgement about the way women present themselves (even if those presentations are determined by perceptions of what men prioritize).

Gaga’s always kind of been an ouroboros of a performer. I used to joke that she’d reach a point where the most revolutionary thing she could do would be to get all Michelle Branch on us. Now, I wonder if she’s doing it by turning herself into a version of her own audience.