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Lady Gaga’s releases powerful single ‘Till It Happens To You’

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Video directed by Catherine Hardwicke

Video directed by Catherine Hardwicke

Lady Gaga has a new political public service announcement that’s different from the one that so emphatically claimed that she was “born this way.” Her newest single, “Till It Happens to You,” released Sept. 18, depicts the raw reality of sexual assault on college campuses.

On paper, the lyrics lack poetic depth, but when belted out by Gaga alongside the graphic music video, the message becomes very clear. The video shows three different situations where sexual assault survivors are assaulted in a college context. One setting is a party where some form of “date rape” drug is put into drinks and given to two women. The other two settings occur in a dorm room and in a bathroom.

Steph George, a junior at UMass, thinks that the commonality of the settings chosen will strike a chillingly familiar chord with college students who, generally speaking, frequently dwell in all of the selected places. This is exacerbated by the fact that the perpetrators in the video all appear to be students, or at least in a relatively similar age range to the survivors.

“It’s not like some creepy old guy in a bar, it’s someone you have class with,” George said in reference to the sexual assaults that so often happen in casual social environments by unassuming people and even acquaintances.

George is the secretary for the Coalition to End Rape Culture, which is an organization at UMass designed to engage the campus on the existence of rape culture and find ways on how to resist it. As an activist within the realm of sexual assault prevention, George appreciated how the video brought focus to the aftermath for a survivor.

“That is something that can get glossed over,” she said.

George believes the graphic scenes serve a purpose in demonstrating realistic representations of what sexual assault truly entails before, during and after it happens. The video is prefaced by a trigger warning for viewers that may have difficulty watching the video.

The black and white lens that is used deposits a feeling that it has been stripped of color and overall life, which parallels the emotions of the survivors in the video. Catherine Hardwicke was chosen as director because of her gritty style, which heavily permeates the video.

“Till It Happens to You” does end on a hopeful note, as the survivors are all shown support from their friends and file out of their dorm rooms with countless other survivors, hand-in-hand. George explains that support is vital in the recovery process from both friends and administration when dealing with sexual assault on a college campus.

While Gaga ends her vocals saying, “Till it happens to you, you won’t know how I feel,” it suggests a barrier between misunderstood survivors and those who are aren’t. But both receive love and support. The lyrics, composed by Diane Warren, were deliberately kept broad so that they could be applied to many issues and therefore more relatable.

Overall, George found the video to be “a good multimedia teaching tool,” but one needing improvement in representation of diversity across race and gender orientation.

The video ends with an alarming statistic saying that “one in five college women will be sexually assaulted this year unless something changes.” It also provides the National Sexual Assault Hotline as a reference and asks its viewers to join the “It’s On Us” movement.

“It’s On Us” is a one-year-old campaign launched by the White House whose goals align with those of CERC, in ending and helping combat sexual assault on college campuses. The September release of Gaga’s single was intentionally done to parallel the anniversary of the White House’s campaign.

“It’s On Us” bore two documentaries: “It Happened Here” and “The Hunting Ground” that both center around real-life stories of sexual assault survivors on college campuses, including UMass’ neighbor, Amherst College. Gaga’s single was presented by “The Hunting Ground,” which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this January.

Lady Gaga may not be a politician formally invoking a movement, but she is a gifted pop-star and sexual assault survivor herself. Gaga revealed in an interview with Howard Stern that she was raped at the age of 19. Along with her journey to recovery, music has been a healing tool for her, especially when she can deliver her own justice and give hope to others with her own music.

From meat dresses to wildly eccentric music videos, Lady Gaga always dares to go farther than most. She challenges pre-set standards and replaces them with her own. In the culture of pop music that can so often contain a dearth of socio-cultural realities, Gaga dares to promote a message of truth in an often impenetrable industry.

Erica Garnett can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @GarnettErica.

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