The Hot Fashion IssueEdit
- Editorial by Derek Blasberg and photography by Terry Richardson.
Anticipation isn't the right word. I'm sitting in a small recording studio's lounge in New York, waiting for Lady Gaga to arrive and play her about-to-be-released album, Born This Way, for an hour. We're on Gaga time here.
Then, in an instant, she appears. The 25-year-old former Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta is petite in stature but gargantuan in charisma. She is scantily dressed in tights, black underwear, and a black bra under a studded, slashed, and shredded military jacket. Her accessories include fingerless gloves, winged boots, and a spike-covered Hermès Birkin. And, yes, the horns that she debuted Grammy week--and the ones you see in this story--are on full display, protruding from her cheekbones and forehead.
"Gaga!" she announces, extending her black-clawed hand in a ladylike manner. "It is an absolute pleasure to meet you." She points toward a studio, spins around, and marches off.
When we are ensconced in this dungeon of sound, the first topic of conversation is the single "Born This Way," which, when it was released in February, set a new iTunes speed record for going to number one (less than three hours) and was Billboard's 1,000th number-one hit. "It broke all the records!" Gaga cheers, bopping up and down, adding that what she found most remarkable was that the song attracted new fans. "I was happy with the fans I've already got. But it opened this new fan base of people who love the simplicity and joyfulness of it." As the millions of people who have seen the video for "Born This Way" can attest, Gaga devotes as much artistic energy to her visuals as she does her audio. But today she's still editing the Nick Knight--directed opening sequence, where we meet her newest creation, Mother Monster. She offers a sneak peek but warns, "You're not ready!" presumably referring to its awesomeness. "Nick Knight? He's such an asshole," she proclaims, which means he's a genius. And her inspiration for the video's out-of-this-world surrealism? "A lot of weed."
Gaga is happiest, as she says, "living every day somewhere between reality and fantasy at all times." The only tense part of our conversation occurs when I try to transition her fantasy into reality, asking about the new look--a series of sharp bones that protrude from Gaga's shoulders, cheekbones, and temples. How long does it take to apply the makeup and prosthetics to her face and arms?
"Well, first of all," she says, "they're not prosthetics. They're my bones."
Okay, so when did the bones appear?
"They've always been inside of me, but I have been waiting for the right time to reveal to the universe who I truly am."
Did she will them to come out for this album? "They come out when I'm inspired."
Is she worried that this new look will inspire other people to "grow" similar bones?
"We all have these bones!" she says tersely. "They're the light from inside of us. Do you mean body modification?"
"No, I'm not concerned about that."
The reason I'm pushing this is that in the past, Gaga has spoken openly about her drug use while at the same time being quick to clarify that she doesn't endorse it. So one can't help but wonder if she has considered that some of her Little Monsters, as she calls her fans, may actually hurt themselves trying to emulate her transformation.
"I haven't hurt myself," she says. Then, with her darkened eyes narrowed, she continues, "I want you to be careful how you view this."
Help me view it then. It's artistic expression," Gaga says. "It's a performance-art piece. I have never, ever encouraged my fans or anyone to harm themselves, nor do I romanticize masochism. Body modification is part of the overarching analysis of 'Born This Way.' In the video, we use Rico, who is tattooed head to toe [including a skull on his face]. He was born that way. Although he wasn't born with tattoos, it was his ultimate destiny to become the man he is today."
And this was Gaga's destiny?
"I have never had plastic surgery, and there are many pop singers who have. I think that promoting insecurity in the form of plastic surgery is infinitely more harmful than an artistic expression related to body modification."
"And how many models and actresses do you see on magazine covers who have brand-new faces and have had plastic surgery, while I myself have never had any plastic surgery? I am an artist, and I have the ability and the free will to choose the way the world will envision me."
But can she acknowledge that some people will misinterpret a woman putting horns on her face?
"Trust me, I know that. I think a lot of people love to convolute what everyone else does in order to disempower women. But my fans know me. They would never hurt themselves. And if they have hurt themselves, they come to me and say, 'Gaga, I want to stop, and your music helps me want to stop. Your music makes me want to love myself.' I am in no way promoting sadomasochism or masochism."
That settled, conversation reverts to safer territory: avant-garde fashion. In her early music videos, before she became the darling of the fashion industry and could show up on morning TV dressed in a condom-inspired latex ensemble (to raise awareness for safe sex, of course), Gaga pushed boundaries. Three years ago, before she was a pop icon, she was known as the singer who refused to wear pants. Her relationship with the stylist Nicola Formichetti is one of fashion's great love affairs; she even closed his first womenswear outing as the creative director of the house of Mugler in March dressed as a club-kid bride. She also greatly admires Hussein Chalayan, who designed her "vessel" for the Grammys and who she describes as "an incredible mind and a genius human being. He truly leads the way in the avant-garde world."
Her other fashion hero is the late, great Alexander McQueen. When McQueen comes up, Gaga leans back and a sense of wonder glows from her face. She thinks that after his suicide, McQueen began working through her. "I think he planned the whole thing: Right after he died, I wrote 'Born This Way.' I think he's up in heaven with fashion strings in his hands, marionetting away, planning this whole thing." Supporting Gaga's claim was the decision by the label--not Gaga herself--to move up the release date for "Born This Way," ultimately to the exact day of the one-year anniversary of McQueen's death. "When I heard that, I knew he planned the whole damn thing. I didn't even write the fucking song. He did!"
If McQueen, from beyond the grave, did help Gaga with this record, he had his work cut out for him. After she unlocks her iPod (with some difficulty, given those claw fingernails), she blasts the entire album. It is epic. Gaga wants the listener to be intoxicated by every song, but in different ways. "'Born This Way' is the marijuana to the heroin of the album. The [album's] experience gets massively more intense as you explore it. All the different songs are different kinds of highs."
The song "Marry the Night," which Gaga wrote once she was this superstar she had always dreamed of being, is particularly memorable. She says that once she had become a household name--after winning Grammys, after wrestling with Madonna on Saturday Night Live, after countless magazine covers--she felt pressured to move to the pop-culture mecca that is Los Angeles. "I had all these number-one records, and I had sold all these albums, and it was sort of this turning point: Am I going to try and embrace Hollywood and assimilate to that culture?" Suffice to say, it didn't work out. "I put my toe in that water, and it was a Kegel-exercise vaginal reaction where I clenched and had to retract immediately," she says in a very vivid metaphor. "I ran furiously back to New York, to my old apartment, and I hung out with my friends, and I went to the same bars." On a list of Gaga's passions, there's music, then fame and, somewhere lower, material comfort and cash. When she came back to New York, she returned to her studio apartment, which she says is the size of the recording studio we're sitting in, and it's where she still lives. Asked what she spends her money on (upwards of $62 million a year, according to Forbes), she says it goes to her live shows and her friends. She flew about 20 people to L.A. for the Grammys, and if anyone on tour needs equipment, it comes out of her piggy bank. "I spend my money on my props and my creations. I'm an inventor."
Financial freedom has been a tonic for any emotional fatigue. "The true luxury of my success is that I can do it all on my own terms now, even though the roller-coaster ride is still going." But now she owns the roller coaster. "I own the whole theme park, actually."
What Gaga has realized, and what she is extolling in Born This Way, is that there is more to life than the paparazzi (even though she wrote an entire song devoted to the glamour of being stalked by photographers) and fortune. Is it hard to give up the glamorous life? "It's not if it doesn't mean anything to you," she says. "What means something to me is my music. I don't want to make money; I want to make a difference."
She says she doesn't read tabloids but is amused that they have such a vested interest in her personal life. (She's happy to respond to recent claims: "I'm not engaged, and I'm not a drug addict, but thank you for asking.") But in getting people's attention, Gaga has been universally sensational. In an early video interview, she looks into the camera and uses the word gaga as an adjective. "I've always wanted to be an adjective," she says with a smile. But she adds, "Back then, I was just delusional. I'm going to make a T-shirt that says, I'M NOT A PROPHET, I'M DELUSIONAL."
And what if it hadn't worked out? What if she was still struggling Stefani? Gaga says she'd be just as happy as she is now. "I would still be living next door to my friend Jennifer, playing at the clubs I've always played at. It was never not going to work out for me because I was already living my dream when I was playing music."
Born This Way will have a tour, and after that tour will come another album "and another Grammy performance, and the cycle continues," Gaga says. Is she worried about reaching a saturation point with the media? Nope. "You can quote me on this: People love you when they think you won't be around for very long, and people hate you when they can't get rid of you. But I'm not going anywhere."