Lady Gaga performed on stage with Covid. Did we learn nothing from the pandemic? | Arwa Mahdawi

Should you go into work when you’re sick with a contagious virus? Lady Gaga has spoken and the answer, it seems, is “sure, why not?” During a recent Q&A for an HBO concert special based on her 2022 Chromatica Ball tour, the pop star was asked to reveal something she had never shared before. In response, she said that she’d performed five shows while sick with Covid. It probably would have been wise to never share that little titbit, to be honest, and it is a little disturbing to nonchalantly share it now. Still, rather than seeming troubled by this information, the crowd watching the Q&A appeared to cheer and applaud while Lady Gaga grinned.

To be fair, Lady Gaga isn’t a monster (though her fans are – they call themselves “Little Monsters”): she made it clear that she did have a little think about the ethics of spewing infectious droplets into an enclosed space. The singer said she shared her Covid diagnosis with everyone on her team at the time and told them they didn’t have to work if it made them uncomfortable. As for the concertgoers? “The way that I saw it is the fans are all putting themselves in harm’s way every day coming to the show,” she reasoned.

These revelations have had a mixed response on social media. Some Lady Gaga fans marvelled at her work ethic and physical stamina. (And, morals aside, the fact that she could perform with Covid is impressive; I could barely wash my face.) Others called the pop star selfish and wildly irresponsible. Someone even claimed, in a viral but unsubstantiated tweet, that their aunt died of Covid after going to a Lady Gaga concert. “We wouldn’t have gone if we knew Gaga had Covid,” the person wrote.

As Lady Gaga noted, there is clearly an automatic level of risk involved in going to a stadium-show packed with 50,000 screaming fans. Chances are, some of them will probably be Covid-positive. Does the fact that the headliner definitely has Covid significantly add to that risk? I’m obviously not qualified to give a statistical analysis, but I am qualified to say: “Dude, that was messed up.”

I mean, we do all remember that Covid killed at least three million people and left millions more with debilitating long Covid, right? I know that many of us have blanked the pandemic out of our minds, but we do understand that Covid hasn’t disappeared. And, in 2022, when Gaga was performing while Covid-positive, the worst days of the pandemic were still a raw memory. Most people were vaccinated, sure, but an awful lot of people were mourning loved ones who had died from the virus. It feels disrespectful for her not to have let her fans make an informed decision about going to her shows. Did we learn nothing from the pandemic?

Unfortunately, the answer to that question seems to be: “Nope.” There was a brief moment, in 2020, when I was naive enough to think the world might emerge from the pandemic a better place. Maybe, I thought, we’d all reassess what was truly valuable. And for a while, that did seem to be case when it came to hustle culture. For a sustained period there was a lot of chat about how Covid had started a trend of “quiet quitting” and got everyone to step away from toxic productivity.

But capitalism is gonna capitalism, and it feels as if we’re right back to the bad old days of rise-and-grind culture where your inner worth is measured by your output. You can see it in Kim Kardashian’s viral advice telling women to “get your fucking ass up and work”. You can see it in the weird platform that LinkedIn has become, where every post is now someone building their personal brand with a 5,000-word piece of productivity porn. (The intro to one recent, egregious example: “I proposed to my girlfriend this weekend. Here’s what it taught me about B2B sales.”) And you can see it in the cheers that Lady Gaga’s admission of singing-while-sick received. It looks as if we’re firmly back in a world where coming into work while sick, and knowingly putting others at risk, isn’t just tolerated – it’s celebrated.

Arwa Mahdawi is a Guardian columnist

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