Lady Gaga's Meat Dress: An Iconic Fashion Moment, Explained

From Jennifer Lopez's green Versace dress at the Grammys to Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears' all-denim ensembles – a.k.a. their unforgettable Canadian tuxedo moment — at the American Music Awards, some red carpet moments have managed to cement themselves into our memory banks. One of these iconic instances belongs to none other than Lady Gaga, the modern era's queen of pop. When she isn't on tour or recording music for her "little monsters," the musician is often striking a pose on red carpets.

Over the years, Gaga has become synonymous with out-of-the-box fashion. Although she's proven she can also rock Old Hollywood glamour in designer attire, Gaga often leans eclectic when adding a personal touch. Perhaps one of her most famous red carpet moments came at the hands of a butcher — quite literally. At the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards, the singer wore a dress constructed of raw beef, designed by Franc Fernandez — one example of how she's pushed the boundaries in Hollywood.

Needless to say, the outfit was a showstopper. Gaga was reportedly sewn into the pieces of raw beef just before strutting down the carpet. Attendees got a good look at the dress when the singer accepted the award for "Video of the Year" on stage. Cher, who presented the award, comically held Gaga's purse –also made of meat — while she spoke. While it might have seemed like an attempt to steal the spotlight, Gaga put ample thought into her choice of outfit.

The political message behind Lady Gaga's meat dress

While the reactions to Lady Gaga's meat dress spanned from weirded out to impressed, the singer didn't seem to consider what the general consensus would be. This is because her ensemble had a larger political meaning attached to it, one which specifically resonated with the LGBTQ+ community. In an interview where she was asked about the dress, Gaga noted that it was a nod to a speech titled, "The Prime Rib of America."

As reported by CNN, the singer gave a speech in Portland, Maine, in September 2010 amidst reignited fury over the "Don't ask, don't tell" military policy. In her speech, Gaga deemed gays and lesbians to be "the greatest cut of meat" that the country has to offer — a link to her choice of red carpet attire. "Shouldn't everyone deserve the right to wear the same meat dress that I do?" Gaga asked in her speech, per a transcript obtained by MTV. "Repeal 'don't ask, don't tell' or go home."

At the time of her speech, Maine Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe faced backlash for opposing a 1993 Pentagon ban on homosexual soldiers in the U.S. military. As of 2010, at least 13,500 military personnel had been dismissed because of their sexual orientation. The Senate voted to repeal the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy by the end of that same year.

The response to Lady Gaga's iconic meat dress

Regardless of what Lady Gaga intended to accomplish by walking the red carpet wearing nothing but beef, plenty of people were ready and willing to put their own spin on it. Cher, who presented Gaga with her award on stage at the event, posted her thoughts online. Per Reuters, the icon deemed the meat dress an "art piece" and called it "astonishing." "Modern art elicits discussion, introspection & conflict!" Cher continued, according to Reuters. "Everyone's talking about it! BINGO!"

Many experts in the world of fashion also had an opinion on Gaga's meat dress. "What she's doing is quite subversive — it's a commentary on the fashion and the music industries and I think it's very clever," University of Westminster fashion design course director Andrew Groves told the BBC. "It's like when Bjork turned up to the Oscars in a swan dress designed by Marjan Pejoski. What Lady Gaga is really saying is: 'I'm above all this, but I'll accept your award.'"

Groves went on to explain that — as Cher noted — the meat dress generated a massive amount of publicity for the singer. While some of it was shock and awe, Gaga still managed to make heads turn. In the end, she made people ask why she chose to wear the dress, giving her the platform she needed to raise awareness for her cause.

How animal rights advocates responded to the meat dress

While some people applauded Lady Gaga's choice to wear raw meat on the red carpet, not everyone was pleased by her decision — namely the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). After the singer sported the dress, PETA released a statement condemning her outfit. "Wearing a dress made out of cuts of dead cows is offensive enough to bring comment, but someone should whisper in her ear that there are more people who are upset by butchery than who are impressed by it — and that means a lot of young people will not be buying her records if she keeps this stuff up," PETA wrote in its statement. The group also lauded former talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, who presented Gaga with a vegetable bikini when she visited her show shortly after wearing the meat dress.

In response to the meat-free community and those angered by her move, Gaga expressed that she did not intend to offend anyone with her outfit, via Reuters. She elaborated on the sentiment while on DeGeneres' television show, calling herself "the most judgment free human being on the earth."

Lady Gaga's real thoughts on the meat dress

Now that time has passed and the meat dress has become a fixture in our memories, Lady Gaga has reflected on her former bold fashion choice. Many years after walking the red carpet in the raw beef, the singer spoke about the moment in a 2021 interview. "It's actually Val Garland's idea. Val Garland the makeup artist," Gaga said while speaking to British Vogue. "Her and I worked together for a long time and she shared a story with me where she had gone to a party wearing sausages and I thought this was quite funny and I said, 'Well that's a great way to make sure that everybody leaves you alone at a party.'"

Gaga went on to specify that while Franc Fernandez designed the dress, the idea came from stylist Brandon Maxwell, who worked with her at the time. Despite being vegan, Gaga said that Maxwell agreed to sew the meat onto her body at the awards show. At the end of it all, she said it was "thrilling" to wear the daring dress, via E! News. "It taps into the artistic tradition of the memento mori or the still life," Goldsmiths College art department head Richard Noble told the BBC. "The still life, after all, is a meditation on mortality and the state of decay. You have the flowers and the vegetables, but all the corrupting elements as well."