The Guardian, formerly known as The Manchester Guardian (founded 1821), is a British national daily newspaper in Berliner format, currently edited by Alan Rusbridger, that has grown from nineteenth century local paper to a national paper associated with a complex organisational structure and international multimedia presence with sister papers The Observer (UK Sunday paper) and The Guardian Weekly (paper published worldwide comprising articles from The Guardian, The Observer and other papers) and a large web presence. The Guardian has become a political and cultural phenomenon referred to in Hansard. The paper is identified with a major political demographic in Britain, loosely centre-left liberalism and the mainstream voice of the left in general; that group is the 'Guardian readers'.
It is late in the evening when Lady GaGa arrives, wearied by tour rehearsals, television shows, radio appearances. She yawns theatrically, her fluffy false eyelashes droop, and she slumps into her chair, a little awkwardly, in her PVC corset and knickers.
Lady GaGa is the 22-year-old New York recording artist currently enjoying the No 1 spot in the UK singles chart with Just Dance, an homage to overindulgence and the restorative effects of dancing. The song is her opening gambit from her debut album, Fame, a ceaselessly hedonistic, sexually charged rumination on modern pop culture which sounds at some intervals like Ace of Base and at others like the soundtrack to a weekend in Vegas, but mostly bears something of a close resemblance to the music of Pink and Christina Aguilera and Gwen Stefani - a blur of pop and dance and pelvic thrusting that simultaneously makes a grope in the direction of female empowerment.
Having successfully subdued the charts, GaGa is now touring with the Pussycat Dolls, delivering shows that combine pop music with risque costuming, choreography and home-made video. "I just shot these art films called 'crevettes'," she says huskily. "That's what I call them. It means shrimps, in French," she adds helpfully. "And shrimps are small, but decadent and tasty, which is how I think my films should be." The crucial thing about Lady GaGa is that she sees herself as not just another pop muppet, but as a living, breathing work of art. As well as writing songs for herself and for others (including Britney Spears and the aforementioned Pussycat Dolls) and producing her crevettes, she has her own fashion house and an entourage she likens to Warhol's Factory, and insists that not only are her songs inextricably linked to their performance and to her life in general, but also that she is doing something tangibly different from anything ever done before. "It's got a real, genuine, like, soul of innovation," is how she defines her music.
Born Joanne Stefani Germanotta, she was raised in Manhattan, and even in childhood she was a performer and a proponent of a DIY aesthetic. "I was in the Three Billy Goats Gruff when I was in kindergarten," she recalls in her lazy Italian-American drawl. "I was the big billy goat. I decided to make my billy-goat horns out of tinfoil and a hanger." She attended the same school as Paris Hilton, the Covent of the Sacred Heart. "I went to a lovely school and I got an incredible education," she says. "And I actually think that my education is what really sets me apart, 'cos I'm very smart." She taps her head. "I don't know that my schooling was conducive to wild ideas and creativity, but it gave me discipline, drive. They taught me how to think. I really know how to think." She searches for an example. "If I decide to make a coat red in the show, it's not just red," she explains. "I think: is it communist red? Is it cherry cordial? Is it ruby red? Or is it apple red? Or the big red balloon red? I mean there's like so many fucking different kinds of red. And so you have to say, well, what are we trying to say in this scene? Is it a happy red? Or a sad red? Is it a lace red? Or a leather red? Or a wool red? It's like there are so many components to making a show and making art, and my school taught me how to think that way."
The success of Just Dance has been a long time coming. "We've been trying to get it played in the US since March," she says. Many of the American radio stations recoiled, concerned both by the song's content and, she insists, by its musical innovation. "I mean it just doesn't sound like Katie Perry's I Kissed a Girl - which is a beautiful, lovely, amazing hit record and it sounds like a radio hit," she says. "My song doesn't sound like a radio hit. I mean it does, but it doesn't. Now here in the UK it might, because electro-pop is not this stinky underground thing, it's a real genre. But in America electro-pop is dirty underground music." There are other mainstream artists, she concedes, who have brought dance music into the records, "But I am taking it to another level. I mean my records are borderline dance records. They've got a real electro-rock heart and soul, and the vibe of the sentiment is pop, but there's a lot of people that were like, 'This is a dance record.'"
To convince the American public of the brilliance of her music, Lady GaGa's tactic was simple: "I played show after show after show and murdered every single one of them," she recalls. "In the arena I'd look at everybody and go: 'Some of you know this song and me, and some of you don't.'" She says the words in a tone that hovers somewhere between seductive and threatening. "'But you're sure as hell gonna know who the hell I am before I leave this arena tonight.' And then I would sing my record. And it's just relentless and fearless and I'm gonna fucking make my mark this year, right now. I just really, really have been the kind of person's that unstoppable, and I've never let anything get in my way."
It is the relentlessness of Lady GaGa that is most striking: the songs that squeal for attention, the outfits that beg to be noticed. Up close, the songs are in truth exceedingly familiar, and the outfits predictably outre but the sheer spectacle of her suggests otherwise.
She has grazes on her knees, and all up her arms run broad, orange smudges of fake tan; they look like wounds sustained in the battle for pop supremacy. And on she fights: "I guess success is only as big or small as you see it," she says. "I thought I was quite successful two years ago, and I think I'm quite successful now, but I've got a long way to go. It's funny, I was sitting in the car and my manager's reading me off all the stats and the things that are happening, and he's like, 'This is great GaGa!' And I'm like, 'I know, but for some reason I feel like we've accomplished nothing and we've got so far to go.' And he's like, 'You're on the same page as me.' You know what I mean?" She blinks. "Because I don't wanna be one song. I wanna be the next 25 years of pop music. But it's really hard to measure that kind of ambition. That kind of blonde ambition," - here she tugs her bleached locks to underline the point - "is looked at with a raised brow, because most artists don't have longevity today, especially in fun music that's about underwear and pornography and money."
She has her role models of course. "Madonna. Britney's been around for a long time. Grace Jones is unstoppable. David Bowie was around for years and years. The Beatles. I strive to be a female Warhol. I want to make films and music, do photography and paint one day, maybe. Make fashion. Make big museum art installations. I would be a bit more mixed-media than him probably - combining mixed media and imagery and doing more of a kind of a weird pop-art piece."
She is, she explains, always thinking about the imagery. "I always have a vision - when I'm writing a song I'm always thinking about the clothes, and the way I'm going to sing." She shifts in her chair to demonstrate. "Russian roulette," she sings, and crosses her legs. "How I move, that kind of stuff is written into the song. It's not just a song and I'm not just gonna stand on stage and sing." This approach to performance has ruffled many, including her own father. The first time he saw her on stage she was wearing "a leopard-thong-fringed bikini with a sequinned high-waisted belt and granny panties, and it was so wrong it was amazing." Her father stayed for the entire show. "And he told me I did a great job. But he was shocked. And alarmed. My mother told me he broke down and told her he thought I was crazy. Really crazy. Later that week my family said, 'It was just really hard to watch that show and we think you've lost your mind and we don't know what to do.'"
She was at that time quite heavily into drugs, though surprised that her father was aware of this fact. "Because I thought I was slick as fuck," she explains. "But he was like, 'You're fucking up, kid.' So I stopped. I didn't stop completely, but I stopped for a while completely. And I would never fall into the hole that I did at that time." How deep was the hole exactly? "I kind of feel you're in or you're out with that shit, any hole is deep," she says. "I was just being nostalgic and creative and thought that I was Edie Sedgwick and making music." She stifles a yawn. "I dunno, I wouldn't necessarily encourage anyone to do it, but I do think that when you struggle, that's when your art gets great."
For all the proclamations of innovation, there is something quaintly old-fashioned about GaGa. Discussing the lyrical content of her song Boys Boys Boys - "I like you a lot lot/ Think you're really hot hot," it runs before its chorus: "We like boys in cars/ Boys boys boys/ Buy us drinks in bars" - she explains that she sees it as a response to Mötley Crüe's hit Girls, Girls, Girls. "I wrote that song to impress a guy," she says. "Yeah, that's the kind of way I think of boys. I dunno, maybe I'm just a different kind of girl but the first love of my life used to drive me around in an El Camino." She lets her voice smoulder: "It's watermelon-green with a black hood, and he has long jet-black hair and he looks like half Neil Young, half Nikki Sixx when they were young, and the way that he talks about his car . . ." she takes a deep, sultry breath, "and the way that he stalls the gas when he's turning the corner . . . that's my guy. I like guys like that, guys that listen to AC/DC and drink beers and buy me drinks just to show me off at the bar by the jukebox with their friends. That's kind of like an old hot groupie chick." Very few women sing about boys and cars in that way, I say. "I don't think a lot of female pop stars embrace womanhood in that domestic, American way," she notes. "And me singing about gasoline and car and beers and bars is very American." It's very Springsteen American. "I lurrrrrve Springsteen," she purrs. "Grew up listening to Springsteen. And it's like that sort of by-the-boardwalk mentality. Girls either don't know about it or they think no one can relate to it or they think it's cooler to act like men and cheat on their boyfriends and yunno." She flaps her hands. "They're 'I don't want plastic surgery! Fuck plastic surgery! And fuck cooking you dinner! I'm gonna fucking order in!' And I'm not like that - I used to make my boyfriend dinner in my stilettos, with my underwear on. And he used to be like, 'Baby, you're so sexy!' And I'd be like. 'Have some meatballs.'"
Since GaGa arrived in the UK, barely a day has passed without an appearance in the tabloids. She is snapped buying fish and chips in a fluorescent leotard, leaving her hotel in diamante knickers and bare legs. Hers seems a very modern breed of courted notoriety, one borne of an era characterised by gossip mags and crowds of paparazzi poised to shove cameras up one's skirt, in which baring flesh and singing about sex seems a failsafe way to attract a following. It was therefore not surprising that she should choose to call her album Fame. "I think there's different kinds of fame," she says. "I think there's 'fame', which is plastic and you can buy it on the street, and paparazzi and money and being rich, and then there's 'the fame', which is when no one knows who you are but everybody wants to know who you are. That's what this whole record's about, this record beckons for everybody on the planet to stop being either jealous or obsessive about what they don't have and start acting like they do."
And how does one act like you do? "It's carrying yourself down the street like, 'I'm beautiful and dirty rich but I've got no money,'" she says. "Fame is not pretending to be rich, it's carrying yourself in a way that exudes confidence and passion for music or art or fishing or whatever the hell it is that you're passionate about, and projecting yourself in a way that people say, 'Who the fuck is that?' It has nothing to do with money. I can wear a $2 pair of pants and a T-shirt and a pair of sunglasses for two bucks on the street, but I can make it look like I'm Paris Hilton. You gotta have the fame, you gotta exude that thing. You gotta make people care, you gotta know and believe how important you are. You gotta have conviction in your ideas."
And does she have days when she doesn't want people to see her? She pauses for a long time. "That's a very dangerous question," she says eventually. She shakes her head. "I'm very grateful. I appreciate any attention to the music. And as long as it's on the music, and not who I'm fucking, I'll be OK." But if she does achieve her goal of dominating the next 25 years of pop music the fame is unlikely to dwell only on the music. Is she prepared for that? "I don't think I could ever be prepared for fame," she says. "I don't think that you can prepare for it or get used to it. I've felt famous my whole life, but this is a whole other level of famous".
My father is from New Jersey and he was a huge Springsteen fan. So I'm a big fan, too. Thunder Road is our song. I've always loved this record, it's like a little movie: "The screen door slams, and Mary's dress sways... "My father used to cry, dance with me, and then say, "When you get married and you drive off in a Cadillac, I'm going to run after you."
Finding my voice...
David Bowie – Aladdin Sane (1973)
I used to listen to Aladdin Sane on the record player in my apartment. I'd open the window so my neighbours could hear it up the fire escape, and I'd sit out on the ledge, have a cigarette and listen. I love Bowie's voice on songs like Watch That Man. I like to think I sing like a man. I want people to feel invaded when I sing. It's very confrontational.
Theme for my lost weekend...
The Cure – Never Enough (1990)
My cocaine soundtrack was always the Cure. I love all their music, but I listened to this one song on repeat while I did bags and bags of cocaine. "Whatever I do/ It's never enough." Isn't that funny? At the time I didn't think there was anything wrong with me until my friends came over and said: "Are you doing this alone?" Um, yes. Me and my mirror.
When I went glam...
The Heavy Metal Kids – Hey Little Girl (1976)
[New York DJ and artist] Lady Starlight introduced me to them; they're a glam-metal group who did this great song. Glam became a big influence, it's a sub-set of all these things I love: cabaret, burlesque, metal, rock. I love Cockney Rebel, T. Rex. Marc Bolan wore a full body scuba suit covered in mirrors: thats where my disco ball dress came from.
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When my life changed for ever...
Lady Gaga – Just Dance (2008)
That record saved my life. I was in such a dark space in New York. I was so depressed, always in a bar. I got on a plane to LA to do my music and was given one shot to write the song that would change my life and I did. I never went back. I left behind my boyfriend, my apartment. I still haven't been back. My mother went in and cleared it for me.
I really got into this when I was writing my record. It's the sense of melody in conjunction with very liberating, strange storytelling, and it's a complete body of work from beginning to end. You feel like theyve learned from each other: on Oh Darling you think it's John, but actually it's Paul doing John. They were masters of songwriting.
Lady Gaga's real name is Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta. She was born in 1986.
She learned piano at the age of four, and went to school with Paris Hilton.
Her stage name derives from her love of the Queen song, Radio Ga Ga.
She has a tattoo of a peace symbol on her left wrist, inspired by her hero John Lennon.
Her new single, LoveGame will be released on Interscope on 28 September.
Back in 2008, when Lady Gaga mania began, it often felt like you couldn't avoid her. There were the hit records, of course – Poker Face, Telephone and Bad Romance to name just three. But in the space of a few years there were also the meat dresses, the Grammy performances in giant eggs and an almost regular stream of controversy. You'd be forgiven for thinking that the popstar, born Stefani Germanotta, was constantly thrusting herself into the public eye – but the reality, she says, was quite different.
"I hid in my house," she explains matter-of-factly when I meet her before the opening night of the iTunes festival at the Roundhouse in north London. "I hid a lot ... to preserve my image as a superstar to my fans. I don't mean I am a superstar, I mean that they only ever see me at my best. And it really drove me crazy. So I've really had to make more of an effort to go out more. I mean, can you imagine what it's like not to feel real wind? Honestly, I hadn't felt real wind for years!"
Gaga prides herself on putting her fans first, and in this instance it seems she didn't want her fans to ever see her as a normal human being. "I would be indoors all day and then I'd get in a car in a garage and then drive to another garage and get out and rehearse and then do it again, from country to country, and never walk outside. I remember some of the longest walks I had were from the car to the aeroplane on the tarmac."
During this performance Gaga will perform the title track from her forthcoming album ARTPOP and utter a line that sums up everything her fans love about her and her critics detest: "My art-pop could mean anything," she coos over a lilting electronic throb. To her detractors – of which there seem to be a growing number – she's the perfect example of the dichotomy of the globe-straddling megastar spouting empty signifiers with the meaning crowbarred in afterwards. To her hardcore fans (or "Little Monsters"), she's not only the greatest pop star on the planet, but a sort of cult leader whose mantra of self-love, implemented on her last album Born This Way, acts as their Bible.
Perhaps aware of her Marmite appeal, today Gaga is immediately on the charm offensive, giving me a kiss on arrival and complementing me on my shoes (at one point she bends down to stroke the material). Her PR and manager, both lurking near the door, are instructed to sit down and "stay quiet". Shuffled back on an armchair so that her giant heels swing off the ground, she has the mannerisms of a well-behaved toddler. But there's also an ever-present strain of determination that underlines everything she says. You sense she's aware that while 2011's Born This Way album sold 6m copies worldwide, many saw it as a the end of her imperial phase, with the album's last single Marry the Night becoming her first to miss the US top 10. With only one single released so far – the 80s electropop of Applause – there's a palpable feeling that the ARTPOP campaign is already stalling, with the single yet to reach the top three in either America or the UK.
A few weeks ago, Gaga tweeted a Michael Jackson quote that read: "The bigger the star, the bigger the target". Does she feel persecuted? "Yeah, for sure I do," she replies without hesitation, her skintight jumpsuit parping with her every movement. "Yes! I certainly feel that at this time it's almost as if people are surprised they haven't already destroyed me."
She puts a straw to her mouth and takes a dramatic slurp. "It gives them a sense of pleasure when they believe that they've destroyed me or taken me down. It's almost entertainment for people to poke fun at Lady Gaga, but at the very same time they have no idea the album I've made. They have no idea what I put into this, they have no idea the work that I've put behind my performances and what I do. In fact, people have no idea what it really took for me to get here. So it doesn't bother me, it's just an interesting observation of where we are as a society."
Before being asked about it, she brings up the success or otherwise of Applause: "It's literally not even been two weeks since my first single came out and it's all, 'She's over', or because I'm not No 1 yet, 'She's finished'. People focus less on the music and focus more on how the music's doing; how it's faring from a numbers perspective, from a financial perspective. If you think I give a damn about money then you don't know me as an artist at all." She adds: "I think that once you've had a few No 1s in your career that you've kind of proven yourself and I don't feel the need to prove anything anymore."
For some, Applause's failure to connect in the way her previous singles have done is down to the fact that it appears to be solely about Gaga and for Gaga. Written after she had to cancel her Born This Way Ball Tour at the beginning of the year, the result of a severe hip injury that required an operation and left her in a wheelchair, the song is about the need she has as a pop star to experience adulation from a crowd.
Gaga says she would have tried to keep the hip operation a secret – to shield her fans once more – if she had managed to make it to the end of her tour, but it wasn't possible. "I was wheelchair-bound two weeks before that even happened," she says. "That I did hide from them because I didn't want to stop the show. I know everyone was thinking I was trying to be a bit silly with my gold wheelchair but I was really trying to keep a bit of strength for my fans because it really upset them and scared them."
Gaga disputes the idea that Applause is a song for herself. Rather, she says, it is as universal as any love song. "It's so interesting for people to say that the lyrics are all about me the performer," she says, somewhat disingenuously. "I want you to feel that way about yourself, that's why I wrote the song. I want you to wake up in the morning and say: 'I live for your applause, look at me today, I'm having a great day, I'm going to work and I'm going to have a fantastic lunch with my friends.' But it's not to be taken quite as seriously and as literally as people make it to be, which is why in the verses I'm sort of making fun of what people think about fame."
It is this sense of humour that Gaga's critics tend to forget, or have been more likely to forget since Born This Way's heavy-handed "we are all equal" didacticism. Like Michael Jackson before her, it often felt like the Biggest Pop Star on Earth was creating music not for the everyday pop fan who might buy an album, but for the first 20 rows of dressed up, banner-waving, camped-out-since-4am apostles. When you talk about your fans, who do you mean? "I mean everybody. I mean anyone that's watching."
Gaga concedes that it can be "uncomfortable" to fall in love with a pop star that has more to her under the surface than was bargained for. "Suddenly the pop star takes off her sheep's clothing and you see the kind of dingy, underground, metal-loving girl from New York who wants to talk about equal rights and go on and on and on about loving yourself. I made a choice to show people that," she says. "I made a choice to do that because I wanted them to know that for the rest of my career, underneath every outfit that I have on, that girl is always underneath. With ARTPOP I'm veering in a new direction in terms of my messaging, but Born This Way was all about that particular message."
Did you anticipate that this would lose you fans? "I was comfortable with just speaking to the ones that really needed to hear the message and confident that I had enough great songs on the album that the general public would latch on to," she says. "People can say whatever they want about whether or not I enforced change [in her fans' lives] or if it's all fake, but the truth of it is I travelled the entire length of the world with the tour."
At this point she rattles off audience attendance figures at various venues, checking facts with her manager, before, seemingly apropos of nothing, adding: "I know people said I wasn't selling out in America but that was entirely untrue, we sold out all over the world and every night I looked out into the fans and those front rows that you're talking about, the tears, the honesty, the inability to not be completely overjoyed because they felt accepted. That's sometimes more powerful than making a pop song and it just was at that time."
We talk briefly about the recent MTV VMA awards, which she opened with a dazzling, Botticelli-influenced performance of Applause. Even that, however, was overshadowed by Miley Cyrus and her semi-naked grinding of Robin Thicke's groin area. "For me, my performance was not about taking clothes off, if that makes sense. I wanted it to be strong and beautiful and powerful and full of confidence. It doesn't bother me, though, that there was a lot of attention paid to any other performances, it's not a competition. I do what I do and they do what they do. Isn't it nice that it all happened and that it's all been recorded and we can watch it all – it's not like the good things stay and everything else gets erased."
It's rare for a pop star of Lady Gaga's stature to acknowledge failure and she seems, on the surface at least, happy to concede that some of the novelty of what she does has worn off slightly. In fact, she is open about the fact that things needed to change following Born This Way.
"I had really tried to hide a lot of my pain from my past in the last few years," she says towards the end of the interview, whereas at the Roundhouse a new song, Swine, is introduced with, "My heart, my skin and my pussy felt like trash." It seems to hint at domestic abuse. Does this hint at Gaga's future direction? That she's ready to come out of hiding, to reveal herself?
"For ARTPOP, I, in the most metaphorical explanation, stood in front of a mirror and I took off the wig and I took off the makeup and I unzipped the outfit and I put a black cap on my head and I covered my body in a black catsuit and I looked in the mirror and I said: 'OK, now you need to show them you can be brilliant without that.' And that's what ARTPOP is all about. Because I knew that if I wanted to grow, if I really wanted to innovate from the inside, I had to do something that was almost impossible for me."