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Lady Gaga Jo Calderone, VMA Awards 2011, Toxic Masculinity Performance, Drag King Persona Analysis, Gender Performance Critique

Lady Gaga’s perfect demonstration of toxic masculinity

drag king kings of joy lgbtqia+ performance Jun 06, 2024

Image: Getty

I love Lady Gaga. I love her as an entertainer, a vocalist, an actor, a pusher of boundaries, and an entrepreneur. As you might guess, this is not a damning or critical article of her, so if you’re looking for gossip, undermining or hate, go elsewhere.

One of my favourite songs by Lady Gaga is her lesser-known country ballad, You and I. In the film clip, she appears as Lady Gaga and as her male alter-ego, Jo Calderone. Complete with a quiff wig and sideburns, it’s always fascinating to see someone’s ‘male’ self.

Jo’s peak of fame rose at the VMA awards in 2011 Dragging himself and his signature cigarette onto the stage, he begins with a monologue. He expresses the pain of his tortured relationship with Lady Gaga.

His unbridled performance of You and I starts on the piano, then cuts to a twisted choreographed dance with male clones in white t-shirts and black belted pants. After a spectacular guitar solo by Queen’s Brian May, Jo climaxes with the bottle of whiskey being consumed, splashed and sprayed everywhere.

From time to time, the camera cuts to capture people in the audience.

There’s Bruno Mars in half disbelief.

There’s Katy Perry and Russell Brand. She is in shock and mirth, mouth open, eyes wide both stunned and impressed by the smashing of gender expectations. The flicker across Russell’s brow, reveals a worried concern about what is being represented… 

Jo himself in a self-referential moment declares this as theatre.

Another celebrity woman, whose identity is unknown to me, has gotten the joke and is laughing at the audacity, the boldness and the balls of Lady Gaga’s portrayal. Perhaps also some laughter of recognition at how man is being represented.

And then there is Justin Beiber, face quite unmoved, staring intently. My guess is that he has decided to use this performance as an opportunity to study the performance and vocal technique of the artist. 

No one is on board. Why?

Jo Calderone is the embodiment of toxic masculinity. 

  • Disrespect
  • No reverence
  • Unlikeable
  • Not endearing
  • Resentful
  • Irresponsible
  • Taking up space in the worst way

The only time anyone in the audience got on board with the performance was when Brian May came on stage and was cheered by another rock guy in the audience.

The rest of the time was confront. Resistance, distaste. Disgust. 

My theory has always been that we’ve seen enough toxic masculinity in life. In fact, for a queer audience, we may have experienced even more toxic masculinity. Therefore we (the queer community) don’t need to see it being represented on stage and re-live the experience.

As always, there’s a place for everything.

There’s a place for a cathartic performance that allows a Drag King to claim back power by impersonating their perpetrator. Maybe that’s in a workshop though and not on the stage.

The VMA awards have a history of edgy performance in your face, designed to shock the mainstream. Think the Britney and Madonna (and Christina Aguilera) kiss.

And there’s a place for Jo Calderone. And perhaps the most perfect place was at the VMA Awards for a predominantly hetero-normative audience and environment. Mainstream. 

Was it in your face? Yes. Was it uncomfortable? Hell yes. 

One of Kings of Joy’s core values is non-toxic masculinity. Our Kings are a persona, not a character. A persona comes from within. It’s a larger-than-life version of yourself, created by leaning into the masculine. 

I don’t believe any of my Kings are assholes. So they are not going to create a persona who is a douchebag. Jo Calderone is a douchebag. And the perfect example of one. 

Danica Lani

The King Coach

P.S. Wanna be a Drag King? Learn how to become a Drag King. Click here to join the waiting list for Kings of Joy

Hello handsome, 🌈 I'm Danica Lani, also known as The King Coach. I'm here to empower you in your exploration of gender, sexuality, and performance. I have proudly mentored and choreographed 106 first-time Drag Kings since December 2020. Welcome to the joyous community of Kings of Joy, where we uplift and celebrate each other every step of the way! 🎉🤩 Let's embark on this Drag King journey together, cheering each other on! 🤗💖 #KingsOfJoy 

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