COLUMBIA — With more than 41 million twitter followers, Lady Gaga has more followers than President Barack Obama. But the pop musician is doing more than sharing her daily thoughts — she's created her own culture.
Through her well-read Twitter and popular songs, the musician has influenced her fans to better accept differences and love themselves, according to an MU study.
MU researcher Melissa Click, an assistant professor of communication, and her team published a study in Popular Music and Society in July 2013. The study found that by using Twitter to communicate with fans, Lady Gaga has significantly inspired her fans, especially those who considered themselves "different" from the mainstream culture, to better embrace their differences and gain self-confidence.
Click said that the study has three main findings: Lady Gaga fans' embrace of the word "monster," Lady Gaga's role as "Mother Monster" in her relationships with her fans and social media's ability to amplify a relationship.
The research team conducted anonymous one-on-one interviews with 45 fans around the world, Click said. The team heard many stories about how people were happier with themselves due to Lady Gaga's music and tweets, Click said.
"I had an interview with a woman who said she had been bulimic and really hated her body and, after listening to Lady Gaga, she was able to appreciate who she was and to stop her eating disorder," she said.
Little Monsters, Mother Monster
Lady Gaga describes herself as "Mother Monster" in her Twitter biography and her fans with a strong bond to the musician called themselves "Little Monsters," according to the study.
"Fans embraced the title 'monster,' which generally has a negative connotation," Click said. "They embraced it and filled it with a positive meaning."
By re-articulating and flaunting the word "monster," Lady Gaga encourages her fans to face their own dark side, embrace and love themselves, according to the study.
Click said the group was especially interested in why "Little Monsters" regarded Lady Gaga as their "Mother Monster." Some fans think of Lady Gaga as a "mother" who protects and cares for them, especially younger fans with damaged family relationships, according to the study.
Others perceive her as a leader and a role model because she is fearless about her own differences, Click said. Lady Gaga encourages her listeners with song lyrics such as "Don't hide yourself in regret/ Just love yourself and you're set."
"She is not afraid to look weird, act weird or talk about her own experiences with bullying," Click said.
Functions of social media
The study also found that social media, specifically Twitter, enabled and amplified fans' identification with the star. It allows more direct and intimate interactivity between fans and celebrities.
When using traditional media, such as TV, fans feel that it's difficult for the stars to hear their voices. Social media, however, allows fans to feel that they have a two-way communication, Click said.
"You may have been able to write them the 'fan mail' in the past, which they may or may not respond — who knows if they ever got it," Click said. "But on Twitter you can see celebrities interact with fans.
"Fans felt that lady Gaga used Twitter not only to promote herself and her music but to really talk to them about who she was," she said.
Twitter encourages fans to embrace their differences in two ways, Click said. Fans feel that Lady Gaga protects and cares about them. Little monsters can also find and support each other through social media.
The study also revealed that social media can have positive social influences, Click said. For example, Lady Gaga uses her Twitter account to battle bullying.
"Jamey Rodemeyer, 14 yrs old, took his life because of bullying. http://t.co/Hgq84KyV. Bullying must become be illegal. It is a hate crime."— Goddess of Love (@ladygaga) September 21, 2011
"In a culture where bullying continues and suicide is the major cause of teen death, calling attention to the fact that difference can be positive and should be celebrated is important,"Click said.
Using the same interviews, Click plans to publish a paper about Lady Gaga's political actions. The musician lobbies for gay rights and created the Born This Way Foundation to create a more accepting society.
"We are curious about how her political positions impact her fans," Click said.
Supervising editor is Elise Schmelzer.