Trigger Warning: sexual assault, ED
In one of the most bizarre moves of a career characterized by publicity-grabbing stunts, Lady Gaga invited performance artist Millie Brown to vomit on her during a rendition of her song “Swine” at the SXSW music festival Thursday (March 13).
The ensuing cries of disgust have placed Brown on the defensive in the days since. “I believe in absolute freedom of expression,” she tweeted. “If art is your communication it should not be censored.” In the past, she’s defended her work as an opportunity to “challenge people’s perceptions of beauty, expressing raw elements of human nature.” What exactly those ‘elements’ are remains unclear.
By remaining entirely unclear on what the purpose of the performance was, Gaga and Brown have failed to satisfy critics of the graphic and altogether unpleasant piece. One particularly outspoken critic has been pop star and mental health advocate Demi Lovato, who took to Twitter to express her anger toward the performance’s perceived glorification of eating disorders. “Putting the word ART in it isn’t a free card to do whatever you want without consequences,” she responded to one follower during what became a fairly heated discussion.
Writing for The Independent, Felicity Morse pointed out that Lady Gaga has spoken about her past struggles with bulimia, making the performance “utterly indefensible.” Commenters on her article shared what seems to be the most accepted interpretation of the performance among “Little Monsters” (a phrase I’m looking forward to never hearing again, by the way): the song and the vomiting, they say, are symbolic of sexual assault.
It’s not an artist’s responsibility to explain their work to others, but in a case that’s causing this much outrage, Brown’s weak attempts to do so aren’t doing her and Gaga any favors.