On a cold, wet night in January last year, I was introduced to Lady Gaga in a dark alley behind the London nightclub Heaven. She was sporting a monstrous blonde wig, huge sunglasses and not a great deal more. Her flimsy mac flipped open to reveal black boots, high cut knickers and a silver breastplate. “It’s as close as I can get to naked in public these days,” she drawled, conspiratorially.
Yet there were no paparazzi around to capture this moment. Why would there be? She wasn’t famous yet. “I dress like this everyday,” she airily insisted. “It’s not for the red carpet, it’s my life.”
Lady Gaga is the pop star the world was waiting for. Ignoring all the doom-laden predictions of the end of the music industry and the death of the superstar, she has staged a full-frontal assault on global consciousness with the fierceness of a disco valkyrie, fire erupting from both barrels of her conical metal bra. With a blonde ambition and media awareness to rival her idol Madonna, last year former New York art student and burlesque stripper Joanne Stefani Germanotta made an album entitled The Fame and it made her famous.
Since her emergence at the tail end of 2008, she has sold around eight million albums and 35 million singles, notching up three number one’s in Britain and the US. In January, she walked away with two Grammy Awards — best dance recording for Poker Face and best electronic/dance album for The Fame. Last month, she appeared at The BRIT Awards (collecting the awards for best international female solo artist, best international breakthrough act and best international album) before her sold-out Monster Ball tour arrived in British and European arenas.
But when I met her all this was yet to come. With only one hit single in the US, the addictive Just Dance, few in Britain knew who she was. She was touring as support to lingerie girl band Pussycat Dolls and fitting in some solo club appearances.
She spoke about Andy Warhol, Madonna and Grace Jones as if they were not just her influences, but almost her intimate confederates. “I have always been an artist,” she insisted. “And I’ve always been famous, you just didn’t know it yet.”
I was very taken with Gaga: she was utterly preposterous yet obviously smart, focused and talented. Everything she was about to become was already apparent, even on a shoestring budget. At Heaven, she was travelling with a manager, sound operator and two dancers, and had spent the morning making her own absurdly long fake eye lashes, for which she briefly removed her sunglasses to flutter at me. Just 12 months later, she has a live band, 10 backing dancers and her own travelling collective, The Haus of Gaga, who work with her on design, fashion, construction and production, so that she can turn around her fanciful ideas (like performing on The X Factor in a giant bathtub) in 48 hours.
We conducted the interview in a people carrier parked behind the club, the only place we could get some privacy. And even though we were sitting practically nose to nose in the dark, she never removed her sunglasses. “It’s just like a high school date,” she cooed, with mock seduction. But even her flirtatiousness was purposeful. She was a woman with an agenda. “You’ll never ever sit down with an artist in their twenties who is as focused or as passionate as me. Not a chance.”
Germanotta was born in New York to affluent Italian-American parents and attended the same private Catholic school as the Hilton sisters, Paris and Nicky, who made a big impression on her. “I am fascinated with the blonde woman as seductress,” she explained (Gaga is naturally brunette).
“There’s a way that these women position themselves in front of the cameras. There’s a real art to fame.”
‘Researching’ her future
She played classical piano from a very early age and attended New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, where she told me she did a “crazy thesis, like 80 pages on Spencer Tunick [who creates nude installations] and Damien Hirst, great pop artists”. She spoke about this as if it was “research” for her own future, some idea of herself that was percolating with music and art and sex and celebrity.
“I was classically trained as a pianist and that innately teaches you how to write a pop song, because when you learn Bach inversions, it has the same sort of modulations between the chords. It’s all about tension and release. But I want to do something that speaks to everyone. To me there is nothing more powerful than one song that you can put on in a room anywhere in the world and somebody gets up and dances. If you put a classical piece on, everyone’s not gonna mobilise. It’s gotta be something that resonates on a visceral level.”
Her first forays into performance were on the underground burlesque scene, much to her parents’ dismay. “My father couldn’t look at me for months,” she admitted. She did a heavy metal and disco strip act with her friend, Lady Starlight. “I was onstage in a thong, with a fringe hanging over my a** thinking that had covered it, lighting hairspray on fire, go-go dancing to Black Sabbath and singing songs about love. The kids would scream and cheer and then we’d all go grab a beer. It represented freedom to me. I went to a Catholic school but it was on the New York underground that I found myself.”
Gaga signed to hip-hop label Def Jam in 2005, aged 19, but was dropped after three months, an experience that made her rethink her act. When she was picked up by Interscope Records, she was ready to listen to advice about reaching a wider audience. “I was wearing motorcycle jackets and high-cut sequinned panties. They were like: ‘Your hair needs to be softer, you look like a stripper.’ I said: ‘Is this the only major label on planet Earth that is asking a female pop artist to put more clothes on?’ They wanted me to be myself but in a way that people would listen and I appreciate that. I grew a keener eye for it. I became good at channelling my ideas through a pop lens. It’s not dumbing down, it’s challenging me as an artist to say it better.”
I watched her soundcheck in an otherwise empty club, putting two lithe, semi-naked, black male dancers through their paces, fine-tuning a highly erotic routine even as she checked her backing track, microphone and monitors. She had video backdrop of a short film, in which she appeared in pudding bowl blonde wig and black Ray Bans as Candy Warhol, blankly muttering epigrammatic art slogans. “I look at what I do as a shock instillation pop performance piece,” she said. “I put on a show, orchestrate it to pop music and I test people, I push them to experience and witness things that aren’t comfortable.”
For an international sex symbol, Gaga is not particularly pretty. She certainly knows how to pose, to pull her neck so that it looks like she might actually have a chin and turn her head so that you can’t quite see how prominent her nose is. The ever-present sunglasses and wigs cover most of her face anyway. And while she is certainly aerobically fit, she is actually quite small and robust, with big, quarterback thighs.
But like Madonna, she has charisma and drive, the kind of will to make others see her as she sees herself. “What I wanna impress upon people is that you can become whoever you wanna be. Music is the place where I’m allowed to be as strange as I am.”
Lady Gaga’s rise has been rapid, inexorable and global. It has built not just through a succession of hit singles but through headline-catching videos and televised performances. She is a self-invented, self-composing, self-choreographed pop missile on a mission to explode preconceptions.
“People are supposed to argue about whether what I’m doing is valid. That’s exactly the point. It’s not valid, but it is! I think I have the right pH balance, concept to pop to sex,” she said.
She reckoned it would take “another four singles” before audiences realised she was not just another pop bimbo. In which case, the 23 year-old is already ahead of schedule. “I always wanted to be a star,” she said. “It’s in the marrow of my bones, how I feel about music and art. I sacrifice, bleed and am sleepless for my craft in a shameless and loving way.”
Art or gimmick, fact is people are going gaga over Lady Gaga’s latest music video.
Released last Thursday, the controversial nearly 10-minute-long mini video for Telephone features Beyoncé and in three days had racked up more than 15 million views on YouTube.
Its themes include lesbianism and mass murder, and references the ongoing debate about Lady Gaga’s genitalia, leading to reports it would not be screened on TV. This, however, is not the case. “The reports are false… the video’s been airing since Friday morning on AMTV,” read MTV’s manager of programming Tuma Basa’s post on Twitter, reported contactmusic.com.
Read her lips
– Staff Report
Has Lady Gaga met her match? As the face of M.A.C’s latest Viva Glam campaign, which raises funds for women and children affected by HIV/Aids, she’s been given a lip colour all her own — the Viva Glam Gaga, a limited edition light blue-pink, which will be on M.A.C counters from the middle of next month. The star says she’s been wearing the brand’s make-up since she was 10 years old, and so was overjoyed to be picked — alongside ’80s superstar Cyndi Lauper — as the face of the campaign. “I’ve been familiar with this campaign since it began, and I’ve always respected M.A.C. for what it stands for — all ages, all races, all sexes,” she said in a statement. “This is more than just make-up. Anything I can do to help raise money for HIV/Aids awareness — that’s what I’m here for, and I’m very honoured to be a part of this.” [Source – GN]