The following is the letter I gave to Lady Gaga when I met her on my birthday, February 26th, 2016. Some personal details are taken out, but if you were curious as to why I love her so much, this should provide some insight.
My name is Claire Johnson, and this weekend I flew from Eugene, Oregon to Los Angeles to not only support The Hunting Ground documentary but also for the chance to meet you on my 21st birthday. My friend’s mother produced The Hunting Ground, and I have worked to combat campus sexual assault at my own university for three years. When I read that you were contributing to the film, my heart was filled with warmth and pride, as you have been my role model since I was 14. The opportunity to not only meet you but also support such an important film is out of my wildest dreams, which is why I found it necessary to write a letter to fully explain to you how you’ve inspired me– as I’d never be able to encompass it all in a brief conversation.
It’s not often you hear a song for the first time and it gives you chills, but I can’t forget the moment I heard your debut release, “Just Dance.” I was hooked on your sound and knew that you were an artist to stand out amongst the rest. The Fame album was the summer anthem for my friends and I as we incited adventures throughout our suburban California town. For me, that album resonates a sentiment of careless fun and an unabashed freedom of expression.
My best friend, Tim, and I saw you tour The Fame Monster in San Jose, and I’ll never forget how the show opened with “Dance in the Dark.” At the time, I felt trapped in an abusive relationship. Throughout the trials that relationship put me through, “Dance in the Dark,” “Brown Eyes,” and “Speechless” felt like empathetic choruses from a friend who understood. Unfortunately too naive at the time, I look back feeling so grateful that I found your music to motivate my strength throughout the challenges.
I crave to analyze the deeper concepts behind your lyrics, and you can trust I’ve written plenty of essays throughout my time in school about your work. It’s absolutely phenomenal the way you weave social commentary and individual empowerment with melodic music so transformative it transcends genres. When you released Born This Way, I knew I was a little monster for life. As a millennial developing my religious and spiritual identities, “Judas,” “Bloody Mary,” and “Black Jesus” spoke to me as ways I could incorporate my dedication to higher purposes with modern creativities and expressions.
Songs such as, “Heavy Metal Lover,” “Bad Kids,” and “Edge of Glory” inspired confidence in my friends and me, a quality immeasurably important for young teenagers in high school. My boyfriend at the time played an acoustic version of “Edge of Glory,” knowing how much I love your work, and I cherish the memory of belting the lyrics with him. Your music is such a powerful outlet, and I can’t thank you enough for that alone.
At the time Born This Way released, I was undergoing one of the most significant transformative experiences of my life to date. I found freedom of expression through dying my hair; red, blonde, purple… and I attributed each phase to a unique lesson in my life. “Hair” encompassed the empowerment I felt of controlling my own identity, on the exterior and within.
I knew in my heart that I had to see this album performed live, but I was concerned about finding the money for a ticket. For a month before your tour came to the Bay Area, I visualized myself every morning dancing my heart out at your show. I knew I was going to be there; I just had faith that I would figure out how. Driving to school one morning a week before the show, a local radio station announced they were giving away tickets. I gave the station a ring, followed by a second call. I’ll never forget the shock and joy I felt when they titled me the winner. It felt destined to see you live once more, especially for an album that spoke to me so much. Your show was incredible, as they always are.
I cannot express enough how out of all your work, “Marry the Night” truly has impacted me the most. I suffered from severe depression and anxiety for six years, and “Marry the Night” was my anchor during the toughest evenings. While songs from other artists empathized with my pain, none simultaneously empowered me the way “Marry the Night” does. You bring me so much courage. Whether it’s just to get out of bed or to confront my own demons, this song changed my life. To this day, “Marry the Night” brings me to tears. I’ll never forget the grace and support your lyrics gave to me when I needed to hear them the most, and its message withstands to the days I still need them now. Your advocacy for self-care and mental health has given me the courage to speak up, seek help, and support others who also needed it.
Next to “Marry the Night,” “Gypsy” has had the most influence on my own happiness and sense of fulfillment. It’s manifested as an anthem of personal independence, empowerment, and unconditional love across borders and time. As I’ve journeyed this last decade in my life towards self-actualization, I have yet to come across a song that touches upon this period in my life quite as sensitively as “Gypsy” does. After I finish school, I plan to try my hand in a communications career in Berlin, Germany, far from any place I’ve ever called home before. Your rendition of this song performed live in Berlin, along with the message the lyrics convey, have brought me further inspiration and courage to pursue this nerve-wracking, yet thrilling dream of mine.
Throughout my high school and college careers, I have advocated for sexual assault prevention and education. I currently work at the University of Oregon for their Organization Against Sexual Assault and student government as the Vice President. As you may be familiar with from The Hunting Ground, the UO tragically has a shameful history of sexual violence. My work on campus is difficult and exhaustive, to say the least, which is why I was simultaneously relieved and heart-warmed when “‘Til It Happens to You” released. For those working in sexual assault prevention, it’s so great to see important messages such as these receive widespread publicity and national attention. We strive every day to spread the same song of support, but the cause gains so much traction from Diane Warren’s words, your voice, and the media platform you both share. This is something that we need to see more in the mainstream media, and you have paved the way and set the standard for others. You cannot be thanked enough for the value of the spotlight you have brought on such a crucial issue.
As someone who has worked in this field for years now, I understood the value of your lyrics when they were first released. However, only until I was sexually assaulted for the first time just a month ago did your words resonate with me on another level. It is undoubtedly true that “until it happens to you, you don’t know how I feel.” Your song has been such a comfort to me throughout my transition from ally to a survivor. I’m still grappling with this; I know it’ll take time. But god am I grateful to have music as my solace, and this song as an empathetic emblem.
Currently, I am pursuing a public relations major with a minor in business. In an unconventional way, I seek to pursue my career path with you continuing to be my role model in that realm. I strongly believe in leaving this world better than how I came to it, and that will translate into my career. Working in the public relations sector, preferably within the music industry, I plan to exclusively support brands that make positive impacts on our culture and society. The dream would be to create an inclusive and safe music festival that simultaneously bridges quality music with an education of social justice movements and environmental sustainability. Regardless of where I end up, I’m inspired by your talent of synthesizing art and important messages. You frame and package necessary messages in ways that creatively captivate and engage audiences. The meat dress to protest Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; “Born This Way” and “Aura”; Your tactics are genius.
You are a voice for countless who are silenced. You are an inspiration for those without courage, strength, or hope. You are a hero for so many who need a role model that truly looks out for the well-being of others. The impact you’ve had is immeasurable and will withstand for generations to come. Thank you for all you’ve done and continue to do. I hope you feel how much you are loved.
I would not be the same person I am today had I not known you or your work. I am so honored to have had the chance to meet you and would love to extend an invitation to spread shared values in our individual spheres. If you are interested in continuing a conversation, please feel free to contact me via email or by cell phone.
Congratulations on the nomination. I can’t cross my fingers any harder for you, Diane Warren, and the rest of The Hunting Ground team. You all deserve it so much.
Again, thank you for everything.