Cyborg Divas

What is with female pop stars these days and their apparent obsession with becoming cyborgs?

Beyonce has adopted the alter ego ‘Sasha Fierce’ and cranked up her experimentations with avant-garde fashion, mechanical dance moves and a cyborg-like glove:

Beyonce emerging from a metallic casing during a live performance as 'Sasha Fierce' (Source: Daily Mail).

Lady Gaga resembles a fashion-forward robot in the metallic corset she wears in the video for her song ‘Paparazzi’:

Lady Gaga in a Thierry Mugler creation in the 'Paparazzi' video (Source: Google Images).

And what are we to make of Christina Aguliera’s latest incarnation on the cover for her album Bionic?

The cyborg-like cover of Christina Aguilera's latest album 'Bionic' (Source: Google Images).

Last but not least is Janelle Monae, an emerging young singer with a ferocious voice and an android alter ego to match. As she sings at the beginning of her song ‘Many Moons’: “I’m an alien from outer space, I’m a cyborg girl without a face, a heart or a mind.”

Monae appears as cyborg persona Cindy Mayweather on the cover of her EP 'Metropolis: The Chase Suite' (Source: Google Images).

A blog writer identified this as the ‘robo-chic’ trend, picking up on the similarities between Aguilera’s new image and that of Monae. So what are the cultural implications of these female artists adopting characteristics of the cyborg, defined as a part-organic, part-cybernetic organism that extends beyond human capabilities?

Out of the four female artists featured above, Monae is perhaps the only one who utilises the political possibilities of adopting an androgynous, cyborg stage persona. Her identity as a black woman compounds the effectiveness of her message. As she states in the interview below, she recognises the privileged position she is in to provide a voice of hope for those who grew up in disadvantaged environments:

Feminist and cyborg theorist Donna Haraway has written extensively about the possibilities of the cyborg as a metaphor. As an identity that exists on the boundaries of human and non-human, it challenges the apparent unity of concepts such as gender and race that present limited possibilities for the enactment of identity. Haraway has discussed the construction of women in science fiction, and Monae’s adoption of the persona ‘Cindy Mayweather’ as a rebellious figure who defies authority in a dystopian future is a worthy addition to the discourse about ‘women of colour’ as a political, postmodern identity (Haraway 1991, 155).

Monae performing live (Source: Google Images).

Monae’s power as a songwriter is proof of Haraway’s assertion that “cyborg writing is about the power to survive, not on the basis of original innocence, but on the basis of seizing the tools to mark the world that marked them as other” (1991, 175). Monae is carving out a new identity for herself and rejecting the limited perceptions of how the identity of a ‘black woman’ can be negotiated in contemporary society. Monae makes that explicit in her song ‘Tightrope’ in which she sings “you either follow or you lead”, leaving no doubt about the path she intends to take when negotiating the tightrope of cultural expression.

Further Reading:

Haraway, Donna. (1991). Simians, cyborgs and women : the reinvention of nature. London: Free Association.

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