Illustration by Louise Leong.
Illustration by Louise Leong.

She is everywhere. Her music dominates the radio and music videos. To quote Vanity Fair, she is the biggest pop star in the world. But that doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Conspiracy theories have shadowed Lady Gaga from the very beginning of her rise to international fame. The theories run the gamut from the claim that the pop star has a male alter ego with the moniker Joe Calderone to the allegation that Lady Gaga is a follower of Satan. The most famous of these theories is that the star has a penis, based on blurry YouTube videos in which there appears to be a bulge in her underwear.

Since the rumor emerged, journalist Caitlin Moran followed Gaga into a Berlin sex club bathroom at the singer’s invitation and wrote confidently that the rumor is untrue.

But a new, odder conspiracy theory is on the rise. The Vigilant Citizen, a website devoted to reporting the activities of an alleged secret society which controls pop culture, has made the claim that Lady Gaga is an “Illuminati puppet.”

The Illuminati were an 18th-century society made up of Enlightenment-offshoot freethinkers and were rumored to have conspiratorial and revolutionary tendencies. They were banned by the Duke of Bavaria, a proponent of enlightened despotism, less than a decade after their inception, along with all other secret societies in the region. Nevertheless, the society is a favorite bugbear of conspiracy theorists, much like the Masons.

“Lady Gaga incorporates in her videos, photos and shows symbolism that refers to the Illuminati and mind control,” said the creator of the website, who goes only as “Vigilant,” in one of several posts on Lady Gaga.

Vigilant describes a mid-century covert CIA program known as “Project Monarch,” which explored techniques of mind control. The program was in fact investigated by Congress in 1975, and it allegedly used drugs and induced trauma like electric shocks on American citizens to produce an effect of brainwashing.

Lady Gaga, according to the article, is likely herself brainwashed by the Illuminati, but more importantly, “her whole persona (whether it’s an act or not) is a tribute to mind control, where being vacuous, incoherent and absent minded becomes a fashionable thing,” Vigilant said in the post.

Alison O’Connor-Korb, a third-year classical studies major and KZSC instructor, is amused by the conspiracy theories, but remains skeptical. She prefers to analyze Gaga as a musician, and not to look too far into outlandish claims.

“I like her for various reasons,” said O’Connor-Korb in an e-mail. “Namely for the fact that her music is (fairly) universal. You can get a car filled with people who have varying musical tastes, and for some reason, Lady Gaga is common ground between all of them. The other big reason is her sheer gimmicky-ness hides surprising depth: She’s a good singer and piano player who has her heart in the right place.”

Lady Gaga is far from the first celebrity to attract conspiracy theories. At the height of the Beatles’ fame, the theory was that Paul McCartney had been killed in a car accident and replaced by a look-alike. Skeptics scrutinized album covers and interpreted lyrics, finding mountains of so-called evidence to support their claim. The King of Pop himself, Michael Jackson, had numerous theories that followed him through his troubled life and untimely death. From the claim that he slept in a special chamber to slow the effects of aging to the lingering questions that still surround his declared homicide, not even death has staved off the rumors that follow Jackson.

Nor are conspiracy theories limited to entertainers. It’s practically a historical tradition for presidents to be considered the Antichrist in certain circles, from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Barack Obama. And today, polls show that a solid majority of Americans believe that President Obama’s birth certificate is a fake, and that he is not really an American citizen.

Vigilant said Lady Gaga uses symbols to brainwash her hordes of impressionable fans.

“You only need to look at a couple of Lady Gaga pictures or videos to notice that she is constantly hiding one of her eyes,” Vigilant said in a post.

Vigilants explains that the “All-Seeing Eye” is an occult symbol that goes all the way to the eye of Horus, from Egyptian mythology.

David Morales, an employee of Streetlight Records in downtown Santa Cruz, is as skeptical as O’Connor-Korb of both the penis and Illuminati conspiracy theories.

“It’s not true,” Morales said. “People are bored. They’re just trying to get a story.”

The Vigilant Citizen website contains detailed analyses of Lady Gaga’s videos “Paparazzi,” “Telephone” and “Alejandro,” which mirror the approach taken by “Paul is dead” theorists.

“Lady G is talking in a vaporous  and robotic way, as if she was lobotomized, about a man who ‘swallowed her brain,’” Vigilant said in an analysis of her intro tour song “The Brain.” “If this is not about mind control, I have no idea what it’s about.”

In her summer interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Gaga threw fuel on the fire by describing a recurring nightmare which she explicitly refers to as an Illuminati torture method.

“I have this recurring dream sometimes where there’s a phantom in my home,” Gaga said in the interview. “And he takes me into a room, and there’s a blond girl with ropes tied to all four of her limbs. And she’s got my shoes on from the Grammys. Go figure — psycho. And the ropes are pulling her apart. So I looked up the dream, and I couldn’t find anything about it anywhere.  And my mother goes, ‘Isn’t that an Illuminati ritual?’ And I was like, ‘Oh, my God!’”

“Monster,” the song Vigilant considers evidence of Illuminati brainwashing, happens to be O’Connor-Korb’s very favorite Lady Gaga song.

“I actually love all the Illuminati conspiracies,” O’Connor-Korb said in the e-mail. “Someone who even pushes whatever sort of boundaries a little bit is going to garner fame and notoriety. She’s in the public eye, and she’s a bit different than what we expect, so CLEARLY she has to have a penis or be an Illuminati puppet!”

In any case, Lady Gaga’s career has been far from harmed by the theories. Even between new albums, Streetlight Records sells one or two Lady Gaga CDs every day, Morales said. The obsession with the talented pop star continues to grow, fueled by conspiracy theorists as well as average young people hungry for new music, turning Gaga into a “Fame Monster” herself.