Vogue magazine is a fashion magazine headquartered in the United States.
Lady Gaga was featured in a UK edition of the magazine. The interview took place on July 5, 2009 in the UK.
A self-styled "good Catholic girl" and "New York avant-garde fashion monster", Lady Gaga has stormed the charts and thrilled the tabloids. Hadley Freeman hangs out with pop's newest disco sensation, and talks fame, style - and Babybel cheese. Photographed by Josh Olins.
It is a summery Sunday night, and Lady Gaga, Dada (her ex-boyfriend and now her creative director, aka Matthew Williams), assorted entourage members and I are speeding across London to meet Madonna and see her perform. Gaga has just come off stage after supporting Take That at Wembley, and, after her fantastic, if also fantastically OTT, set at Glastonbury the week before — during which she appeared to shoot fire out of her breasts — it is hard to imagine anyone less likely to appeal to the mainstream Take That crowd than Gaga. “It was, like, all 35- to 40-year-old women, and I’m there, like, grabbing my vagina and they’re all, like, what?” she says. This is the sixth time she has said “vagina”, or a word for it, in 12 hours, which is fewer than I’d expected, but more perhaps than her PR would have liked.
But the future is looking good. Aside from the upcoming meeting with Madonna, and aside from Gaga’s recent successes (including “Poker Face”, which spent three weeks at number one in the UK single charts), Dada has just told Gaga that Karl Lagerfeld has asked to meet her. “Oh my God, Karl Lagerfeld! You’re serious?” she squeals, her husky New York monotone rising by several octaves. As chance would have it, Gaga is sporting a Chanel jacket, paired with fishnet tights, a leotard and Chanel ankle boots. (“It’s a very lady look,” she claims.) She leans back in her seat. “I can’t believe I have three hours free now,” she says. “Well, there are a lot of phone interviews I could ask you to do,” her PR interjects, only semi-joking. She mock scowls from beneath her heavy blonde fringe. “Don’t you dare,” she says, then, as if remembering who she is, quickly corrects herself: “0f course I’ll do them.” She leans sleepily against Dada’s arm. “I’ll do anything you want,” she trails off. It has been a long day.
Twelve hours earlier: “Oh my Gaaahhhd, that is so sick, that is fucked up, that is high fashion,” Gaga decrees when looking at herself in the mirror wearing some lacy Mickey Mouse-style ears by Maison Michel. (This is an expression of the highest approval.) It is about 10 am and she has had three hours’ sleep, “at most”, after a late-night gig at GAY. Predictably, though, she has more fizz and vim than anyone else at the Vogue shoot. She never walks, only scurries. “I looooove that,” she cries, dashing to another rail and pulling out a hot-pink tulle skirt, but then pauses. “Wait, I wore hot pink in my last [David] LaChapelle shoot, so we should probably do something different. Oh my God, that jacket is sick!”
At this point, Gaga is wearing the outfit she rolled out of bed into — a one-shoulder leotard, ribbed tights, Chanel boots and a pink and grey poncho-like garment, which may, or may not, be by Giles. “Yoo-hoo, where do you come from?” she halloos to the poncho, after I ask its provenance, and she whips it right off to find out. The poncho does not have a tag— nor does it reply. She is also, of course, in full make-up, replete with blonde wig (soon to be replaced by a softer; wavier version by Sam McKnight — a look she adopts after the shoot), and lashes so thick they act as mini visors. Gaga describes her look as “New York avant-garde fashion monster”, and, when asked who her style icons are, she replies in a snap, “Grace Jones and Jesus — I love loincloths.” She pauses for breath, then announces, to no one in particular, “I want some Babybel cheese!”
In a music year dominated by strong female debuts, Lady Gaga’s has been the most successful, by some distance. Her debut self-penned album, The Fame, bas sold more than 2.3 million copies and it kicked Ronan Keating off the number one spot in the UK album
charts — which is reason enough to love her. She has already been profiled in the New Yorker magazine, which credited her with bringing disco back after the long dominance of R’n’B. The Haus of Gaga — a collective comprising the singer and her artistic friends
— has been, somewhat dubiously, compared to Andy Warhol’s Factor while Gaga bas been compared to Madonna. And the way she has used, shah we say, an eccentric fashion style to carve out an identity has put her in the aesthetic tradition of Gwen Stefani, Björk and, yes, Grace Jones. Gaga, however, describes herself as “just a good little Catholic girl”, and then looks down at her feet, shod in Louboutin ankle boots. “I could really fuck these shoes.”
Joanne Stefani Germanotta, as she was until four years ago, was born in New York in 1986. Although she makes repeated references to her current life in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, she attended the Catholic girls’ school Convent of the Sacred Heart, which was also the alma mater of the Hilton sisters. Gaga was a talented musician and a smart student. “I dressed in this super-sexualised way — miniskirts, hooker boots. But because I got straight As, the teachers couldn’t do anything,” she smirks.
After a year at Tisch School of the Arts, she dropped out to write music and work as a go-go dancer. Her parents, she admits, were not thrilled. She also changed her name to Lady Gaga, in homage to Queen’s “Radio Ga Ga”. It may be opportune to mention at this point that she was taking “a lot” of drugs (“mainly cocaine, some other stuff—yeah, it was pretty bad”), before quitting for “my health and my father”. By now, she was signed as a songwriter to Interscope Records and writing songs for the Pussycat Dolls and Britney Spears, until her own performing potential was spotted. The Fame, her catchy disco paeon to the world of celebrity, came out last year.
Gaga causes a bit of a fuss whenever she comes to London. Last Januar3 the tabloids were delighted when she was photographed making a late-night visit to a fish-and-chip shop wearing a green leotard. In April, she cowed Jonathan Ross with her unflappable self-confidence and willingness to explain the meaning of her lyric, “bluffin’ with my muffin”, when she appeared on bis talk show. “I suddenly feel really old,” bleated Ross.
“Gaga has been relentless in selling herself,” says music critic Alexis Petridis. “If you walk around London in the middle of winter in your panties, it’s indicative of a certain insane drive, which seems to be on a different level to anyone else’s. But it’s not going to work if the songs aren’t there, and she writes really strong pop songs with big, hook-y choruses.”
She also has a 23-year-old’s tendency towards self-contradiction. Despite her often mentioned pride in her education, whenever someone says a vaguely sophisticated word, such as, say, “trajectory”, she and Dada collapse into giggles. “Trajectory!” she hoots. When asked about the comparisons between the Haus of Gaga and Warhol’s Factory, she flinches in irritation: “I wasn’t around then, so I don’t know. I’m just trying to be a real artist, and have real experiences, so I can tell real stories. “Yet she invites such comparisons, not least via the short film she shows before her Wembley gig called Who Shot C’1andy Warhol?, in which she stars as Warhol.
She is also an extremely good model, one who knows how to create a strong image, which comes from a real awareness of how she looks, coupled with a genuine love of fashion. Her features are of the oversized variety that photographs well, and her body is soft and small. Despite her lack of sleep, her big eyes are bright. “Oh, hello, old friend!” she coos, stepping into an Alexander McQueen gown. On the shoot, she poses with the practised art of someone who has gazed at fashion magazines for years. Nicola Formichetti, fashion director of Vogue Hommes Japan, often works with Gaga, and says, "Gaga is not like any other celebrity I've worked with," says Nicola Formichetti of Vogue Hommes Japans. "She would die for fashion."
"At school I dressed in this super-sexualised way - miniskirts, hooker boots," says Gaga. "But because I got straight A’s, the teachers couldn't do anything."
Editorial by Judith Benhamou-Huet, photography by Ben Duggan
The Arts Issue (December, 2009)
Lady Gaga was in a Hansel and Gretel themed shoot and interviewed.
"I've always been an outspoken and extreme dresser," pronounces Lady Gaga, her embodying a Marc Jacobs-clad witch for Annie Leibovitz's Hansel and Gretel portfolio (inspired by Richard Jones's production of the 1893 Engelbert Humperdinck opera, opening this month at the Metropolitan Opera). To prove her point, Lady Gaga arrived at Vogue to discuss the shoot wearing a trailing white chiffon Galliano goddess gown with Philip Treacy headdress that spelled VOGUE in clipped white feathers. The following day, she came to see Creative Director Grace Coddington in a little black dress with a flaming-red wig, and later appeared on location, as Coddington recalls, "stark naked except for her rubber raincoat and some very, very high heels!" She then promptly threw herself in the mud at Leibowitz's feet. "gaga was so bubbly and chatty and enthusiastic and excited to be alive," says Coddington. "She was up for anything."
Gaga acknowledges that her art director, Matthew williams--"my Jean Paul Goude"--was "the inspiration that made the connection for me between the art world and the fashion world. He used to say things like 'If you want to make a shoulder pad, don't research jackets--research sculpture, mineral rocks, paintings.' he thinks in a different way; he is the designer of the future."
Fashion and art collide in Gaga's work, too. "We'd been thinking of innovative ways to premiere the music," she says about her decision to debut "Bad Romance" at Alexander McQueen's Plato's Atlantis show, which she found "not of this world." "When Magdalena was stomping her pretty little hooves down the runway." she says, "it was dreamlike." Meanwhile her ballad "Speechless" ("about my love for my father") was first performed in November in Los Angeles at MOCA's thirtieth-anniversary gala, as part of an installation by Francesco Vezzoli. For this she became, in her words, "a child of the Warhol of my time, among the most famous Pop Artists of our time--Damien Hirst made the piano!"
Lady Gaga's unique and winning blend of art, fashion, and music take to the road with her Monster Ball tour, kicking off November 27.
AS COCHAIR OF THE COSTUME INSTITUTE'S BALL CELEBRATING ITS BLOCKBUSTER NEW EXHIBITION, "AMERICAN WOMAN," OPRAH GETS TO KNOW LADY GAGA AND HAS THE TIME OF HER LIFE.
THE DAY BEFORE
Like a proud but concerned mother, Oprah Winfrey is staring intently into Lady Gaga's powdery, pale, if not poker face. With one hand on Gaga's upper arm to steady her, Oprah, gorgeous in a midnight-blue Oscar de la Renta ball dress, carefully brushes several platinum-blonde wig hairs out of Lady Gaga's zombie eyes.
The most-famous-at-this-very-moment pop star in the world, on the cover of Time as we speak, is beyond exhausted. "I am hallucinating," Gaga says as she sips coffee through a straw. She has been up for more than 20 hours straight, shooting her latest video in Los Angeles, after which she boarded a private plane and flew directly to New York City to be photographed with Oprah not to mention perform at the Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute gala the next evening for the party that kicks off and celebrates in splendid high style the institute's newest exhibition, "American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity" (through August 15).
These two very particular women one, the quintessential American Woman and cochair of the event; the other, a bizarre and brilliant and peculiarly American pastiche of seemingly every woman and a few men, most obviously Madonna, Cher, and Elton John are posing together for Mario Testino in a cocktail lounge at the Mark Hotel. It's the very same room where, in just 24 hours, Oprah will attend the decadent after-the-Met party, where she will be the one to carry on like a rock star till the wee hours while Gaga finally gets some sleep.
For now, the two are girlishly bonding despite being fussed over, with seven or eight hands in each of their faces. Oprah says to Gaga, "Didn't we have a time when you were on my show? That was a time. We had a moment." Gaga replies, "That was a really special day for me." Suddenly Testino, who has been hunched over a computer looking at the photos, shouts, "In-sane !" Gaga and Oprah scurry over to see...
How appropriate—how accurate!—her name is. It is more of a title, really, one she bestowed upon herself mere moments before she became so insanely famous. The Gaga half makes immediate, intuitive sense, an utterance that sounds like an infant’s first word but is, in fact, French and means, essentially, to be utterly enthralled by something—excited to the point of being touched by madness. (That it describes both the pop star and her uniquely obsessed fans makes it even more perfect.) But it is the Lady part of her name that has gone underexplored.
Put aside for a moment that she often appears in public with no pants on, or that she performs part of her show covered in blood, or that she screams like Sam Kinison onstage, or that she says the F-word with metronomic consistency. In person, she is unfailingly polite and surprisingly dignified. She speaks in the clipped, proper diction that is often mistaken for a Madonna-like pretension but is in fact born of twelve years of attending Convent of the Sacred Heart, the oldest private girls’ school in Manhattan, where Gloria Vanderbilt matriculated, an institution known for turning out self-possessed young ladies who speak perfect French and have the vocabularies of William F. Buckley, Jr. Indeed, what surprises me most during the time I spend embedded with the pop star—inside the giant plastic bubble, so to speak—while she is on tour in London and Paris at the end of December is how effortlessly she switches back and forth between “lady” and “gaga.”
It is a few hours before the start of the Monster Ball, the last of five sold-out shows at London’s O2 arena, and I am sitting in an empty lounge backstage, waiting for Gaga to arrive. The room—the contents of which travel with the tour (28 trucks and fourteen buses; 140 people) from city to city—is outfitted like a VIP area in a nightclub: low black leather sectionals, silver floor lamps, a stocked bar, a huge stereo system, and little black cocktail tables set with bowls of miniature candy bars. She is an hour late. Suddenly the curtains part and Lady Gaga makes her entrance, mincing into the room holding a porcelain teacup and saucer in one hand and a wineglass for me in the other. (Like fainting on command or dropping a glove, the long-lost art of making an entrance, which Gaga seems to have single-handedly revived, is a remarkably effective way to shift the conversation.) “I don’t like the idea of you having to drink wine out of a plastic cup,” she says as she makes her way toward me, one tiny step at a time. She proffers her powdered cheeks for a kiss-kiss as a bottle of Sancerre is opened, which she insists on serving to me herself. “Pouring your own wine is bad luck,” she says.
She is still in her day look: a slinky black-and-white striped dress—a gown, really—with a four-foot train and shoes that—do I even need mention?—make her feet look as if they are screwed on backward. The heels bring her nearly up to my height of six feet. (She is five feet one.) She has a Bride of Frankenstein updo, with a brooch perched on top. Gaga glances down at the bowl of candy on the coffee table in front of us, shoots me a look over the top of her granny glasses, and deadpans, “What, the Mars bars aren’t doing it for you?” I have eaten three of them, I tell her, and she apologizes profusely for making me wait. She then asks an assistant to bring us a proper spread, which arrives moments later and consists of enough filet mignon to feed twelve people.
Lady Gaga may be behaving as if she were a member of Marie Antoinette’s coterie—the powdered wig, the binding costume, the impeccable courtliness—but it’s a far cry from what I witnessed the night before. After catching her performance, I was ushered backstage to her dressing room and found a scene that seemed entirely unhinged. Gaga herself looked like a lunatic: Barefoot, still covered in fake blood, mascara running down her face, she was careening around the room in a robe made of red feathers like a cross between Alice Cooper and Big Bird. There were dancers running in and out, mixing and spilling drinks, and a peanut gallery of strangely bedazzled gay men sitting on the sofas singing “Adelaide’s Lament,” from Guys and Dolls, which Gaga joined in on when she wasn’t bouncing off the walls.
Gaga stumbled up to me to say hello and then introduced me to the guy she was hanging all over: a tall, boyishly cute heavy metal–looking dude with a mullet, wearing a sleeveless black leather vest. “This is Luc,” she said proudly. “He’s my boyfriend.” He looked down at her for a moment, and a knowing grin crossed his face. “OK, Bette Midler,” he said. Moments later I was ushered out of the room by Wendi Morris, Gaga’s road manager—in an effort, it seemed to me, to protect Gaga from herself. As I was walking through the curtains I looked back, and Gaga was in Luc’s lap. “Jonathan, wait,” she whined like a teenage girl in need of attention. “Don’t you want to stay and ask me some questions?” Obvious to everyone but herself: not the time for an interview.
What a difference a day makes. Back in the arena not 24 hours later, she is serene, sober, and sipping tea out of her fancy cup. What did you do today? I ask, and the answer is probably not what her millions of adoring fans would expect. “I stayed in bed all day,” she says. “I do this very strange thing with my foot when I am feeling lonely. I rub my left foot with the right foot. Is that weird?”
No, I tell her. It’s called self-soothing. A lot of people do it.
“OK, then. So I soothed all day.” She pauses for a moment. “In this hair. Because I actually wore this hairpiece out last night and then I fell asleep in it.”
And then you just got up and went about your day?
“Well, no,” she says, batting her eyelashes. “She had to be fluffed up first.”
Gaga can be forgiven for being wiped out. She has been on tour for three years without a real break, and on the road with the Monster Ball since February 2009. “Let’s call a spade a spade here,” she says. “I am really fucking tired. I am at that last mile of the marathon when your fingers and your toes are numb and you can’t feel your body, and I am just going on adrenaline. But in the overarching objective of my life, I am really only at mile two. I try to keep that in mind.”
If you have not seen Lady Gaga live, you do not know from Lady Gaga. In an arena, her music, which has often been dismissed as run-of-the-mill Euro-pop—somehow not edgy or deep enough—takes flight. It is as if each song were written for the express purpose of being belted—roared—in front of 20,000 people on an extravagant stage set with ten dancers taking up the rear. She manages to go from insane, over-the-top rock opera to syncopated dance routine to intimate, boozy piano ballad and then back again, through thirteen costume changes, without ever losing her total command of the stage. The fact that she has a huge voice, plays the piano and the stand-up bass, and wrote every lyric and melody herself adds to the sense that you are in the presence of a true artist who has only just begun to show what she’s made of.
Of course she’s comfortable onstage. She has been playing the piano since she was four and by eleven was performing in big recitals. As she puts it, “I was a strange, loud little kid who could sit at the piano and kill a Beethoven piece.” Still showing no false modesty, Lady Gaga says of herself now, “Speaking purely from a musical standpoint, I think I am a great performer. I am a talented entertainer. I consider myself to have one of the greatest voices in the industry. I consider myself to be one of the greatest songwriters. I wouldn’t say that I am one of the greatest dancers, but I am really quite good at what I do.” Big words from someone who’s only been around for three years. “I think it’s OK to be confident in yourself,” she says.
Her fans couldn’t agree more. They hang on her every word, scream when she screams, and dance throughout the entire two-hour-long extravaganza. At one show, I stood in the wings and watched as at least a dozen women were pulled out of the crush in front of the barricades and taken away on stretchers because they were overcome and near collapse.
It is no secret that Lady Gaga has an especially intense relationship with her fans, whom she refers to as her “little monsters.” She has said more than once, “I see myself in them.” Why is that? “I was this really bad, rebellious misfit of a person—I still am—sneaking out, going to clubs, drugs, alcohol, older men, younger men. You imagine it, I did it. I was just a bad kid. And I look at them, and every show there’s a little more eyeliner, a little more freedom, and a little more ‘I don’t give a fuck about the bullies at my school.’ For some reason, the fans didn’t become more Top 40. They become even more of this cult following. It’s very strange and exciting.”
Unlike the chilly, hyperchoreographed seduction of Madonna, say, or the manufactured pop of Britney or Janet, Lady Gaga’s performance style is raw and emotional. “I am quite literally chest open, exposed, open-heart surgery every night on that stage, bleeding for my fans and my music. It’s so funny when people say, ‘It’s amazing to see how hard you work.’ We’re supposed to work hard! I have the world at my fingertips. I am not going to saunter around the stage doing pelvic thrusts and lip-synching. That’s not at all why I am in this. I don’t feel spiritually connected to anyone in Hollywood makeup and a gown with diamond earrings on. I am just a different breed. I want to be your cool older sister who you feel really connected with, who you feel understands you and refuses to judge anything about you because she’s been there.”
Her relationship with her fans occasionally seems to verge on unhealthy, as if both sides were overly invested in something that in the end is impossible. I bring up a YouTube video that got a lot of attention in late November, in which Gaga is crying in an arena in Poland as she talks to the audience. “Sometimes, being onstage is like having sex with my fans,” she explains. “They’re the only people on the planet who in an instant can make me just lose it.”
When she talks about her fans, one hears shades of messianic zeal. “I want for people in the universe, my fans and otherwise, to essentially use me as an escape,” she says. “I am the jester to the kingdom. I am the route out. I am the excuse to explore your identity. To be exactly who you are and to feel unafraid. To not judge yourself, to not hate yourself. Because, as funny as it is that I am on the cover of Vogue—and no one is laughing harder than I am—I was the girl in school who was most likely to walk down the hallway and get called a slut or a bitch or ugly or big nose or nerd or dyke. ‘Why are you in the chorus?’ ” (She’s more Glee than Gary Glitter in some ways.)
For Gaga, the stakes are high. “Because as an artist and as a performer, the person that they look up to to create this space of freedom and escapism, I want to give my fans nothing less than the greatest album of the decade. I don’t want to give them something trendy. I want to give them the future.”
Not everyone gets Gaga, of course, and no one is more aware of that fact than the singer herself. As she puts it, “What I do for a living is not a cheese sandwich. It’s not like, either good or bad. It’s much more complicated than that.”
What no one can deny is her uncanny ability to mine decades of avant-garde and pop-culture history and twine them together in a way that feels like the future. She is a human synthesizer, a style aggregator, the perfect Wiki-Google-
YouTube–era pop star. Elton John calls her “the most adventurous and talented star of our age.”
Gaga herself is very open about her influences. “It’s not a secret that I have been inspired by tons of people,” she says, “David Bowie and Prince being the most paramount in terms of live performance.” She also seems to have made peace with the fact that she is compared to—or, less charitably, accused of ripping off—nearly every artist of the last 50 years. “I could go on and on about all of the people I have been compared to—from Madonna to Grace Jones to Debbie Harry to Elton John to Marilyn Manson to Yoko Ono—but at a certain point you have to realize that what they are saying is that I am cut from the cloth of performer, that I am like all of those people in spirit.” She takes a bite of filet mignon and says with her mouth full, “She was born this way.”
Lady Gaga’s new album, Born This Way, does not come out until May, but the first single, of the same name, is, by the time you are reading this, no doubt blaring from the radio. I first hear the song when Gaga, iPod in hand, gets up from the sectional where we have been sitting, walks over to the stereo, plugs it in, and then looks at me and says, “Are you ready? I don’t think you’re ready.” She turns it up to eleven. The song at first sounds suspiciously like a Madonna tune and then switches into something that feels a bit like a Bronski Beat hit and then finally transforms into its own thing: a Gaga original. Clearly an homage to the obscure underground disco record “I Was Born This Way”; it is an unbelievably great dance song, destined to be the anthem of every gay-pride event for the next 100 years.
She tells me that Elton John pronounced it the “gayest song” he had ever heard. “I wrote it in ten fucking minutes,” she says, “and it is a completely magical message song. And after I wrote it, the gates just opened, and the songs kept coming. It was like an immaculate conception.” She plays a few more songs and mentions a few others—with tantalizing titles like “Hair,” “Bad Kids,” and “Government Hooker.”
The second single to be released is called “Judas” and is, typically, a mash-up: The melody sounds like it was written for the Ronettes, but it is set to a sledgehammering dance beat and is about falling in love with backstabbing men of the biblical variety. Another song, “Americano,” which she describes as like “a big mariachi techno-house record, where I am singing about immigration law and gay marriage and all sorts of things that have to do with disenfranchised communities in America,” has a resounding Piafesque chorus. Turns out it was intentional. “It sounds like a pop record, but when I sing it, I see Edith Piaf in a spotlight with an old microphone.” (Piaf is an apt reference—they both evince a similar brand of heroic vulnerability.) But, she says, “there are some very rock-’n’-roll moments on the album, too: There’s a Bruce Springsteen vibe, there’s a Guns N’ Roses moment. It’s the anthemic nature of the melodies and the choruses.” She feels it’s different from—and better than—anything she’s done before. “It is much more vocally up to par with what I’ve always been capable of. It’s more electronic, but I have married a very theatrical vocal to it. It’s like a giant musical-opus theater piece.”
Troy Carter, Lady Gaga’s manager, tells me that she recorded the entire album—all seventeen songs—on the road over the last year and a half, “which is not the ideal situation for most artists,” he says. “But for her it was great because she was able to tap into the emotions inside of those arenas. We would have a conversation backstage about something, and the next day she’d play me a song relating to the conversation that we just had! Watching the creative process with her is incredible.”
Carter’s partner, Vincent Herbert, whom Gaga credits with discovering her in 2007 on Myspace, has worked as a producer with Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder. “She made songs that are going to touch people,” he says. “The song ‘Born This Way’ just takes your breath away. It’s like everybody from three to 103 can relate to that song. I think she made the Thriller of the twenty-first century.”
Gaga’s musical tastes are all over the map, which partly explains why she feels so comfortable in London. “Yes,” she says, “I have a very broad taste in music, and the English don’t differentiate the rock star from the pop star. It’s all the same thing.” But there is more to it. American music critics, for example, insist on defining her with dizzying numbers of pop-music references, but the fashion world sees something more precise: the influence of a very specific tribe of English eccentrics—Leigh Bowery, Isabella Blow, et al. “The fashion community in general got me much earlier than everyone else,” she says. “But actually, I felt truly embraced by this London cultural movement, that McQueen, Isabella, Daphne Guinness wing of the English crowd. I remember when I first started doing photo shoots, people would say, ‘My God, you look so much like Isabella Blow, it scares me.’ And McQueen used to say, ‘Oh, my God, your boobs!’ He actually grabbed both of them and said, ‘Even your boobs are like hers!’ ”
Like those style icons, Gaga demonstrates a commitment to outrageous self-presentation that makes every crazy costume worn by Elton or Cher or Madonna look like child’s play. (As Karl Lagerfeld once told me, “I hate average, and she is anything but average.”) But her determination to outdo them all, and herself, cuts both ways: She has been venerated and vilified for her fashion stunts. Some of her looks have been truly inspired (the red latex Elizabethan gown with sparkly red hearts covering her eyes to meet the queen), delightfully startling (the lace dress that crawled right across her face), downright silly (the Kermit cape), or simply mystifying (the meat dress). She clearly wants and expects a reaction. When she talks about her makeup for the “Born This Way” video, she says, “The whole world is going to hate it in the best kind of way.”
Picked up for a M.A.C. Cosmetics campaign early on in her career, Gaga has always worked both within and outside the fashion establishment, collaborating on the one hand with designers like Lagerfeld and Armani and Prada, and on the other with artists like Terence Koh and unknown up-and-comers. “I pay for a lot of fashion myself because I want to support young designers,” she says. All of her looks are filtered through the stylist Nicola Formichetti, who, along with the rest of her creative team, makes up the Haus of Gaga. Because Formichetti, who was recently appointed the creative director of Thierry Mugler, is in the midst of planning his first show for the house, I ask Gaga about it. “Our relationship does have some influence on the show, but I don’t want to take any credit for it. Nicola is fashion. He’s the most remarkable man.”
At the end of the day, the way she dresses is part of the entire performance-art aspect of her life. “It’s not about a choice,” she says. “It’s about a lifestyle that I live and breathe.” Does she sometimes feel misunderstood? At first she says no but then retracts it. “Well, yes, actually,” she says. “There is this assumption that women in music and pop culture are supposed to act a certain way, and because I’m just sort of middle fingers up, a-blazing, doing what my artistic vision tells me to do, that is what is misunderstood. People are like, ‘She dresses this way for attention.’ Or like, ‘Ugh, the meat dress.’ ” She rolls her eyes. “People just want to figure it out or explain it. The truth is, the mystery and the magic is my art. That is what I am good at. You are fascinated with precisely the thing that you are trying to analyze and undo.”
I am sitting in a vast suite in a very swank hotel in Place Vendôme in Paris, once again waiting for Gaga to make an entrance. Her road manager, Wendi Morris, is pacing around talking on her cell phone to Troy Carter. “I am not going to ask her that,” she says. “Not now.” Pause. “If you pay to have my head reattached to my body, I will ask her.” She laughs. It should not come as a surprise to anyone that Gaga is not always delightful. She is at the center of a complex multimillion-dollar enterprise that does not run smoothly at all times. Indeed, as an epic snowstorm was shutting down half of Europe, Gaga and her trucks and buses were trying to make their way to Paris. When the caravan got through the Channel Tunnel, the drivers were told that they would have to idle at a way station until the roads were passable. A couple of them decided to shove right on through anyway and were promptly pulled over, the drivers arrested. The quest to free the drivers—and, more important, the Monster Ball equipment they were ferrying—in time for the show to go on on Sunday night went all the way up to President Sarkozy. The answer came back: No. The Monster Ball would have to be canceled. Gaga, Morris tells me, was livid.
The door to the suite opens, and Gaga appears in a long-sleeved, high-neck nude-verging-on-lavender dress with a train, and a décolletage encrusted with what she describes as “pinky-pearly scales.” There is a diamond-shaped cutout at the cleavage, and her breasts—nipples covered with strips of white tape—occasionally make a surprise appearance. “You don’t even want to know what happened yesterday,” she says. “The wrath. It wasn’t cute. It’s not something I would want anyone to see.”
She seems a little on edge still, a bit cranky. “This is boring,” she says. “Let’s go get something to eat.” The security team is activated; the car is brought around. “I want to go out the front door,” she says to her security guys. “Say hello to the fans.” Are you sure? one of them asks. “Yeah, because they have been waiting. I think it’s good for them to know that I care.” She holds out her hand, which is nearly covered by a serpentine diamond ring. “I am going through an Elizabeth Taylor moment. Don’t judge me. They are all certified non-conflict diamonds.”
We head through the lobby, and I can see a barely contained mob of fans through the windows. “Awwww, see?” she says, as she approaches the entrance. “How could you go out the back when you have that waiting out front?” The doors swing open, and Gaga, surrounded by security, plunges in. “Gaga! Gaga! Gaga!” A teenage boy pushes to the front. “I am from Milano! Please! Please! Please!” They are all holding out a scrap of something to be signed or angling to get a picture. The crowd surges forward. A security guy yells, “One at a time! Take it easy!” There are girls with tears streaming down their faces. I almost get knocked over. Morris pulls me out of the maw and shoves me into the van, and the doors close behind us. But the fans do not give up. They are banging on the windows, pressing their faces against the glass. “They are so sweet,” Gaga says. Not exactly the word I would have chosen.
We pull away from the mob and head down the street, about a dozen paparazzi on motorcycles trailing close behind. “I don’t know if you knew this,” she says, “but the other night, in London, I had food poisoning. I was vomiting backstage during the changes.” I had no idea, I say. “Nobody knew,” she says. “I just Jedi mind-tricked my body. You will not vomit onstage. Because I was also thinking, If I do, they are going to think I’m drunk. And I don’t want them to think I am human, let alone drunk. I certainly wouldn’t want them to think I had something so ordinary as food poisoning.” She laughs.
We make our way to Chez André, and Gaga orders, in perfect French, escargot, steak tartare, and chicken. She likes her protein, this pop star. Moments earlier, when we walked into the restaurant, every person in the room stopped talking and stared, forks suspended in midair. Now, seated in a corner by the window, with a curtain that comes up right to the top of her beehive, I can see people outside on the street jumping up and down, trying to catch a glimpse. Let’s not forget that her first album is titled The Fame and the second The Fame Monster. “There is the fame monster, as you can see,” she says, gesturing outside, “but it also comes from within. It will only change you and affect you if you allow it to. You have to reject all the evils of it and try to turn all the positive things that you can use about fame into great things. Like Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Gaga used her visibility, her unusual connection with her fans, and her social-media prowess to agitate for the repeal of the law, tweeting senators, making protest videos, and speaking at rallies. “That’s me turning my fame into something that is positive and makes me feel good about my life.”
I wonder out loud how her parents, Joe and Cynthia Germanotta, have handled all of this. “It was hard in the beginning, but we have wrestled fame to the ground together,” she says. Gaga’s father, who was very involved in her career early on, had heart surgery a few years ago. “I obsess about his health,” she says. “I’m very Italian. I call him every day. I ask my mother if he’s been smoking. They are in their 50s, and they still live in the same apartment on the Upper West Side. Nothing has changed since I have become a star. I am a real family girl. When it comes to love and loyalty, I am very old-fashioned. And I am quite down-to-earth for such an eccentric person.”
One of the most peculiar things about Gaga is that for all the ways she’s transformed the pop landscape, she herself romanticizes her early days as aspiring musician Stefani Germanotta: “It was grassroots, downtown New York, blood, sweat, and tears, dancing, music, whiskey, pummeling the streets, playing every venue I could get my hands on. It was the hustle and the grind and the traffic of New York that propelled me to where I am today. I don’t in any way associate my past with anything other than the hunger and the starvation for success that I still feel. It was the most beautiful time in my life. And funnily enough, I still live in the same apartment, hang out with the same friends, drink at the same bars, and I dance in the same studios with the same dancers. Really, nothing has changed.” (Is it a coincidence that astronomically successful 20-somethings Gaga and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg have rejected much of the flash and bling of the boom years, live in relatively modest accommodations, and are very close to their families—or is there a new paradigm for dominators of the Zeitgeist?)
There are an awful lot of people trying to get in on Gaga’s creation myth. A mean-spirited book came out in September; an ex-lover and songwriting partner filed a $30 million lawsuit against her (later dismissed); and every bartender she ever kissed on the Lower East Side has a story. When I ask her about her life before she was discovered and signed to Interscope Records, she says, “My ride through the industry was an interesting one because people loved me but there was a very big raised eyebrow about me. I mean, a big one. So people were kind of like, well, I’m involved but not really. And as soon as I took off, it was like, I invented her, I made her, I wrote the music. When, in reality, I am completely self-invented.”
We finish lunch and head back through the scrum of paparazzi and into the car for the drive to the arena. She has a show tonight and another tomorrow, the makeup show for the cancellation the night before. Despite the fact that it is just two nights before Christmas Eve, she cannot bear to leave Paris without giving her fans what they have waited so long for. Her cell phone rings. “Hi, Mom! . . . Well, I’m, you know, I’m tired, Mommy. . . . Luc’s just kind of being a baby. . . . Were you able to find his earring? . . . OK, thanks, Mommy. . . . No, I’m OK. . . . I love you. . . . All right. . . . I love you.” She hangs up and falls silent. I check my BlackBerry, and when I look up, she is sound asleep. A few miles later, her eyes open, and I tease her. “My friends tell me that I recharge like a robot,” she says. “Jimmy Iovine, the chairman of Interscope, actually laughs at me: Whenever I have ridden on a plane with him I have fallen asleep, and apparently I don’t move. I sit in my clothes, perfectly still, head straight up, and I just sleep. And then I open my eyes and he’s like, ‘You scare me the way you sleep.’ ”
It’s so perfect, I say, for someone who likes to be. . . .
“Poised? As much as possible?”
Back in New York a week later, I call Iovine, and when he gets on the phone he just starts laughing. “Isn’t she amazing?” he says. “Did she take you for a ride? Isn’t that a great train to be on, being on tour with her?” And then he says this: “Artists like her are very rare. Artists that have that many facets of their career in line and can do that many things. She can write like Carole King, produce, sing like that, work-work-work like that. She gets her point of view across; she has the fashion, the performance—the entire vision. It’s very, very rare.” What does the future hold for Lady Gaga? “Only she can imagine it,” he says. “I don’t have that good of an imagination like she does. But she’s the real thing. She will go as long as she wants to or physically can. Her talent will take her as far as she wants to take it. Most artists of this caliber, if they can stay healthy, there’s no limitation. None.”
Whether touring the globe with a ground breaking extravaganza or launching on out-of-this-world fragrance, Lady Gaga is meeting the future on her own wildly inventive terms.
It's well past midnight at the Park Hyatt in Tokyo, the sleek skyscraper hotel made famous by the film Lost in Translation, and at this hour, it seems there are more staff than guests. I'm just coming back from a night out when suddenly there's a commotion in the formal, hush-hush lobby. A young, handsome guy appears and begins signaling to someone around the corner whom I cannot see. Then he says, in a loud whisper, "The coast is clear!" At that, a woman pushing a wheelchair comes around the corner and scurries across the lobby to the elevator. The person in the wheelchair is listing to the side, as if drunk, and is covered by a shroud, or what appears to be an oversize Hermes scarf (Could be Versace. Hard to say. They are moving very quickly.) And then—whoosh—just like that, all three sweep into an open elevator and are whisked up, up, and away.
Had to be Gaga. She's staying here for a three-night stand with the Born This Way Ball at the Saitama Super Arena. When I finally meet up with her in a suite at the hotel a few days later, it's the first thing I bring up. Gaga is in exaggerated-tacky mode, wearing a plasticky shift that she bought in Harajuku earlier today. It is the color of a trash bag and is quilted, with a big Chanel logo across the chest; but it is so obviously fake that it asks you to laugh and not worry about its provenance. She is also wearing so much "gold" jewelry—bangles and necklaces and giant hoop earrings—that even the tiniest of movements creates a symphony of jingle-jangle. Her hair (or wig) is dyed two shades-blonde and a coppery color she calls "fox"-and has been swept up into a high ponytail on the right side of her head. ("I love my side pony," she says. "It instantly makes me feel like I am four and three-quarters.") When I get to the part about the seemingly incapacitated woman covered by a giant, chic scarf being wheeled through the lobby, she narrows her eyes and says, breathlessly, "Fabulous."Then she abruptly shakes her head: Nope. Sorry to disappoint. Wasn't me.
It so could have been you, I argue.
"Yes, it could have... " she says as she sits up straight, perhaps recognizing an opportunity to sow a bit of mischief. "I should just say, 'Yes, it was me.' "
That I just assumed it was Gaga says an awful lot about how deeply her brand of high jinks has seeped into our subconscious. The fashiony shroud . . . the tragicomic wheelchair .. . the public "drunkenness"- all plays from the Lady's handbook. And the fact that I still don't know whether it was Gaga or not is exactly the point. She doesn't care whether it's "true" or "false," as there is more frisson- more zest, more fun- in the wondering.
Gaga has always had a peculiar relationship with the truth. She has said many times onstage, "I hate the truth so much that I would prefer a giant dose of bullshit any day." (Even the veracity of that statement is in question.) This playful slipperiness is one of the many reasons the people of Japan have taken such a shine to her. When she performs here, many of her exceptionally devoted Japanese fans rise to the occasion by wearing magnificent contraptions of their own. Over the next week, some of them will camp outside the hotel for hours, days, sometimes in the pouring rain, waiting to see Mother Monster's mini-motorcade come and go. Occasionally, she will ask her driver to stop, the van's door will slide open, and the eerily ruly mob will gently surge forward, reach for her, sob, but otherwise remain almost entirely silent. As Lady Gaga herself puts it, "I think some of it has to do with the obsession with fantasy. The blurring of fantasy and reality is something that the Japanese herald in their life, in their day-today commercialism. In a way, I think I sort of just fit right in over here."
Come to think of it, there is something Japanese about the DNA of the entire Gaga enterprise. The obsession with monsters; the one-part scary, one-part cute aspect to the Lady herself (think Godzilla, think Mothra); the powdered-geisha vibe; the Murakami-like magical realism. She is even the subject of a Nobuyoshi Araki exhibit large-format black and-white photos of her tied up and naked- that is being mounted in a pop-up gallery in a giant shopping mall not far from our hotel: She is the only non-Japanese woman he has photographed for his scandalous bondage series. As one Japanese record executive tells me, "Everyone loves her here, even grandmothers who have never heard her music." Gaga was one of the first to donate more than $1 million for relief after the earthquake and tsunami, and she has been to the country many times, before and since that terrible tragedy. In some ways, she is like an adopted national hero, the ultimate Japanese mascot- a cartoonish human plush toy.
There's also the fact that the spirit of the Club Kid, that early-nineties New York City invention (a moment that clearly left a mark on LG), has never died in Tokyo. Young people in this city routinely dress as if they are heading to a costume ball--or as if they are five years old. In fact, six such women --Miki, Mio, Lisa, Junko, Meg, and Kaoru--come backstage to say hello after Gaga's show one night, which happens to fall on Mother's Day. She is dressed in a hooded, full-length, loose-fitting silky robe covered in a Gothy pattern of roses and tiny skeletons, which was designed by Donatella Versace (as were many of the costumes for the tour).
"I miiiiisssss yoooooou," says Gaga in that sleepy whine of hers. A girly hugfest ensues. Calling them by their first names, Gaga asks about their lives. They tell her that they all traveled to New York City together and went to her parent's restaurant, Joanne. "Did you meet my mom?" she says.. Someone whips out a cell phone and hands it to Gaga. She turns to show me the picture: "Look how cute they are. They all have Little Monster jackets on" It is hard to imagine any other star of this magnitude being so intimate with her fans. Later Gaga will tell me, "I love them. I've seen them every single year when I come to Tokyo and they travel all around the world to come see me. They are just so special and wonderful and sweet!"
Hovering nearby filming all of this is the photographer Terry Richardson, who followed Gaga during the Monster Ball for last fall's photo book Lady Gaga x Terry Richardson and is now back, capturing her every move for what may become a documentary or, one hopes, something weirder. As Richardson's camera is rolling, the girls announce that they have rehearsed a little show. What follows is simply beyond description, but suffice it to say that with its stilted dialogue peppered with self-consciously naughty language, it is one of the most awkwardly poignant moments I have ever witnessed. As the skit comes to an end, Miki announces that they have an "award" for Lady Gaga. She rolls out a five-foot-long piece of red fabric on the floor as one of the other girls sets an elaborate box at one end. "Is this the red carpet?" asks Gaga beginning to laugh. "Yes!" they say, in unison. She takes two tiny steps on it, gets down on her knees, and opens the box - Encased in glass is a replica of the now-familiar Lady Gaga "paw"-- a clawed hand that looks like it is trying to dig its way out of a shallow grave, but covered in jewels. Gaga sucks in a breath. "I love it!" she says. "Did you have this made?"
"We made it."
"You made this?" she says. "I'm going to take care of it forever." She seems almost embarrassed by the extravagance of the gesture. "You know girls." she says a moment later. "You don't have to bring me any presents. I am always just happy yo see you. Take care of each other, OK?" (Later, I exchanged mails with Miki: "We work so hard n save money to go the show n to meet her b/c she made our life sparkling!')
Lady Gaga is best experienced live. Her music, her voice, her shtick, her costumes; all better live. As Marla Weinhoff, who art-directed the sets for Gaga's new show, says to me, "I mean, it's a Judy or a Barbra. I've never seen her miss her mark. I've never seen her sing a bad note. I have seen the technology fail her, but she has never let us down." But it's not just her showmanship, it's the presentation of her ideas on the stage -- clever, often brilliant, occasionally sublime- that puts Gaga in a category of her own.
At the end of 2010, I watched Lady Gaga perform four sold-out arena shows in Europe for a piece for this magazine and while Gaga herself was mesmerizing, the staging was a little hokey- the too-literal monster dominating the set, fine allusions to The Wizard of Oz. That tour had started out in relatively small venues, but in the middle of it, she gained millions of new fans, and the Monster Ball had to be on the fly. In other words, she was not entirely in control.
The Born This Way Ball, however, is her dream tour, conceived by her from start to finish as a preposterously extravagant spectacle designed for massive arenas all over the world. (After wending its way through Asia and Australia, the tour will head to Europe, arriving in the States early next year.) When I tell her that the show has a kind of spooky feeling to it, that it feels more grown-up, she lets out a yelp. "Yes, it was intentional for this show to be more sophisticated and more elegant--a little cleaner. Sometimes I think that there's a fine line between impressionistic and messy. So we tried to make this more French Impressionistic and less like a child's finger painting." She laughs. "I really wanted to break the mold of what modem touring is right now. The most important thing to me was that there be no video screens. What if we just really simplified all of that so that you just have to watch me and the dancers the whole time?
The set itself is what she calls a "fortress, or a kingdom," and when Gaga suddenly appears at the top of it, in a turret, dancing 50 feet above the audience, the proceedings take on an air of dread and danger: Tosca on steroids. (The fact that she suffered a concussion a few weeks later only points out how real that danger is.) "No matter how much you rehearse on that stage, once you add 30,000 screaming people with flashing cameras into the equation, it's pretty intense."
I attended their eighth performance—and Gaga had stayed up the whole night prior rethinking several elements. "I get these cyclical rushes of creativity that are really exciting," she says. "The day you saw the show, I'd actually changed a lot of things. We had to create new outfits; the Haus of Gaga was sewing all day long—just taking something that's already great and making it really great."
There are some truly disturbing and thrilling moments--like when Gaga floats across the stage in a long white dress wearing a helmet that makes her look like a fabulous alien bug; or when Gaga rolls out into the arena as a human motorcycle, her arms and head draped across the handlebars; or when she and her troupe of dancers do a lengthy homage to Janet Jackson's "Rhythm Nation" to the Gaga song "Scheiße,"which opens with the line "I don't speak German, but I can if you like." (Scheiße means "bullshit" in German.) But oddly enough, the set piece in the show that startled and moved me the most was based on the meat dress. When the number first began, I recoiled: Why bring it back? But Gaga took the meat-dress concept, expanded on it, set the whole idea to her Edith Piaf-esque song about immigration, "Americano," and something amazing happened.
Nothing on the stage is made of actual meat, mind you, but it all looks as if it is from afar. And her strapless little bell-skirt meat dress, it must be said, is adorable. When I tell her how cute she looked in it, she nearly jumps out of her seat. "That was precisely the conversation we had when we made it: Let's take the grotesqueness out of it and make it tailored and sweet." But there is much more going on: Gaga entering stage right, hanging from a meat hook next to huge slabs of beef; male dancers dressed as border agents; female dancers in meat bikinis; a giant meat grinder, quilted and with gold accents, as if it were made by Chanel, that Gaga gets fed into at the end.
"We were talking about putting the show together," she tells me, And I said, OK, what if I was someone's grandma and I was going to a concert tonight. How would I know that it was a Gaga show? And we all just sort of looked at each other and said, 'The meat dress. ' We talked a lot about the original intention, which was to create an outfit that is indicative of the fact that underneath all of our different skin colors and religions and beliefs, we are all made of flesh and bone. And then this instant image came to my mind, which was from the late seventies, of the woman being put into a meat grinder on the cover of Hustler magazine, which really terrified me when I was a child. So I tried to spin all that into a space of humor and politics and sexuality onstage...
Trust me: It works. A famous folksinger once toLd me, "Rock 'n' roll is a lot of things, but it's rarely ever funny. It takes itself very seriously." If that is the case, then Lady Gaga is performing one of the great magic tricks of the twenty-first century): She's making rock 'n' roll hilarious. And it's not B-52s funny. It's Marina Abramovic funny. You are laughing while you are being awed. When I tell her this, she says, "What's wonderful is that when the show's over and I meet fourteenyear-olds backstage and I say, 'What was your favorite part?' they go, "The meat dreeeesssss!!!!'" She giggles. "So it serves two purposes: You had a transcendent moment, and my fourteen-year-old fans just really like the meat dress."
After a show one night, I watch as Gaga spontaneously joins the jazz-pop trio performing at the New York Bar at the top of the Park Hyatt. Wearing a black, shiny custom Atelier Versace dress, thigh-high custom Giorgio Armani boots, and fingerless black leather gloves, she perches on a stool between the piano and the bass and growls and scats her way through a rollicking version of the 1950s standard "Orange Colored Sky." In the middle of the song, a tipsy American tourist in the audience says, way too loudly, "I love her now! I never really liked her before now!"
Gaga's musical abilities are fairly well documented at this point, but there are still great swaths of people who can•see past the freaky costumes, dismissing her as a lightweight or a carnival sideshow~somehow not the genuine article.. When I bring up this gentleman's revelation (it was captured on YouTube), Lady Gaga surprises me with her equanimity. "Well, in his defense ..." she laughs. "My records don't always lend themselves to me enchanting you with my vocals stylings or my jazz chops. So you can't be upset about people not knowing about things that you don't make available to them." Gaga's songs sound, for the most part, like party music designed for the dance floor. "I don't really make records for people to listen and go, 'Wow, she's a genius.' I'd really like for you to order another drink, maybe kiss the person who yon came with that evening, or rediscover something about your past that makes you feel more brave."
"Born This Way," the single, was the fastest -selling single in iTunes history, but Born This Way, the album, despite getting enthusiastically mixed reviews, was considered something of a disappointment. When I ask Gaga if she was pleased with its reception, she says, with a somewhat forced blase air, "Sure. I really couldn't ask for anything more. The tour is sold out. We sold eight million records." And then she says, "Everything is great," which makes me think that there must have been some days when everything was not so great.
Some of the letdown probably had to do with the fact that Born This Way happened to come out the same season as Adele's juggernaut, 21, which shot to number one, won every award on planet Earth, and refuses to cede its spot at the top of the charts. The freak-of-nature success of that album has led to all manner of comparison: Adele, not Gaga, is the voice of their generation; acoustic music, soul music, real music-not Gaga's wall of electronic sound-is what people yearn to hear.
Despite the fact that electronic music has, at long last, ascended into the mainstream, it's still not always taken seriously. When I bring this up, Gaga says, "Well, I think we both know that acoustic music isn't better than electronic music. Electronic music requires a tremendous amount of technical expertise- really knowing the mathematics and beauty of music. At the risk of sounding like a snob, if you don't really understand how to make electronic music, it might be much easier for you to write it off as low-brow."
But Lady Gaga gets to have it both ways. Adele appeals to multiple generations, partly because she admires the sound of an earlier era, music that tugs at the heartstrings of people who still buy CDs. Gaga, on the other hand, courts controversy, not easy listeners. She's like a one-woman generation gap, an iconoclast who agitates for social and political change (witness her Born This Way Foundation). At the same time, she is a nimble-enough musician that she can re-orchestrate her songs and sing them live in every style imaginable, as she did last year when she rewrote her song "You and I" for Bill and Hillary at the president's sixty-fifth-birthday celebration at the Hollywood Bowl.
She is also nimble enough, technologically speaking, to pivot from being one of the most "liked" people on Facebook- and the undisputed Queen of Twitter (with more than 27 million followers}-to being the first celebrity to create her very own social network, littlemonsters.com, which debuted in mid-July. (Why should Zuckerberg get all the traffic?) Short of asking fans to perform in her stead, it's the next logical step for an artist who claims she "will continue to become whatever it is they would like for me to be."
"I'm not the beginning anymore." she says. "I don't really see myself anymore as the center. They're the center. I'm the atmosphere around it." She is also careful not to view her fans around the world as one undifferentiated mass. "I try to find ways to get to know the fan bases individually and then bring them together through the music. That's the challenge."
Indeed, her biggest worry while we are in Tokyo is her upcoming performance in Indonesia. She had scheduled her show there to take place in the 52,000-seat Bung Karno Stadium, the biggest venue in Jakarta (which was one of the fastest-selling dates on the tour). "Everyone's telling me we may not be able to go, and that's making me very upset. Because for me, that's precisely why we need to go: because there are extremist groups there that are violent, and that's where the message of Born This Way is most needed. It has nothing to do with the way that I dress or how I sound; it has everything to do with the power of the message and the mobilization of youth." You have them worried, I say. "Yes, as if I'm coming in with my homosexual laser-beam gun and making everybody gay." (The show was ultimately canceled after threats of violence.)
When it comes to criticism and controversy, you seem tougher than most chicks, I say.
"I am tougher than most chicks. I would say that I am tougher than most people. I am rarely truly shaken to my core in an ego-driven way. Of course things can catch me off guard, but for the most part I'm pretty focused on the work, and that sort of saves me from all the noise." She looks down for a moment and fiddles with her bracelets. "It's easy when you become successful to feel that shallow pool of water pulling you closer and closer. So you just have to remind yourself: That's not me, remember? And it only takes a second."
Most people who spend time in Gaga's orbit come away from the experience in a state of stunned amazement. As Terry Richardson puts it, "The girl just knows how things go together, what works. Everybody invited into that energy feels it-just bubbles, it moves." This is exactly what I felt when I followed her for a week in 2010. But I also came away feeling something else: concern. She was manic at times, occasionally verging on unhinged, and she seemed exhausted, to the point where she fell asleep in the middle of one of our talks. How is she going to keep this up? How can an artist reinvent herself so elaborately every day and not get lost?
But now, in Tokyo, Gaga seems not only calmer and more focused but also more mature. Perhaps she's fully embraced the fact that she's in control of an enterprise with a lot of moving parts, including more than 100 people and a multimillion-dollar stage set that travels the world in three 747s. One night backstage I see her get into a heated conversation with her choreographer, Richy Jackson, about moving the band to the top of the castle. Richy disagrees with her. "It's just hard for the band," he says. "But I will dance around them up there," says Gaga. "I am only up there twice." Long pause. "Richy, just trust me." He lets out a big sigh and says, "Ohhhhh-kay. We'll move them." As Jackson walks away, Gaga says, "Love you!"
With the Haus of Gaga, she's surrounded herself with people she loves and admires. "The Haus has become this intensely wonderful group of friends of mine who are just so gifted," she says. "And when you watch your friends become even greater at what they do, you just feel proud. Because, look, I'm not the only thing they're ever going to work on. I'm just sort of the vehicle right now for all of their creativity."
Marla Weinhoff, who worked with Richard Avedon for many years and first met Gaga when she was hired to do the production design for the "Born This Way" video, is now the art director of the Haus of Gaga. "My cynical friends in fashion don't believe me when I tell them that all of the ideas come from her, but it's true. It all comes from her head, her dreams. Avedon was the first photographer I ever worked with, and I felt so inspired creating these images that I knew would last forever. The process was unbelievable. And I feel like I really have that with her and her team." But, she adds, "You can't come with a huge ego. If you can somehow feel her world and feel what she's trying to say and do, then it's amazing."
This, not surprisingly, is exactly what happened with the folks at Coty, the perfume company that partnered with Gaga to develop Fame, her first fragrance; after some resistance, they fell under Gaga's spell. "She only wants to have a very high-end creative collaboration with people she trusts," says Yael Tuil, the vice president of global marketing at Coty, "so we have been working with Nick Knight, who designed the bottle, and Steven Klein on the campaign."
At the very first meeting, Gaga told the Coty executives that she had an idea. She wanted the fragrance in the bottle to be black but, when sprayed, to become clear. "I was pregnant at that time," says Tuil, who speaks in a thick French accent. "I started to sweat on my forehead. I said, 'My God! That's impossible! How can we do that?' "But Gaga insisted: She would not sign a contract unless they could figure it out. So Coty set the R&D scientists to work, and they eventually came out of the lab with a liquid that did exactly that. Voila! Now Coty has a patent pending for this opaque-to-clear technology. "She was really behind the most important innovation in the fragrance industry in the last 20 years," says Tuil. "She is really pushing boundaries."
In Tokyo, I tell Lady Gaga that I was skeptical at first of her having a celebrity fragrance. But after seeing the eggshaped bottle (inspired by the sculptor Constantin Brancusi) with the black "juice" sloshing around inside of it, the outrageous ad campaign, I came around. When I almost apologize to Gaga for doubting her, she says, "No! I think it's good that you doubted me. It's a fragrance! You have to raise an eyebrow. I appreciate that. I raised an eyebrow. I didn't really want to do it at first. But I wanted to create a fragrance that somebody who makes fragrances says, 'Well, how did they do that?' And of course, once it smelled so good everyone said, 'Can't we just make it clear so we don't have to explain to people that it won't get on your clothes?' And I said, no. The fragrance is called Fame; it must be black. It must smell enticing. You must want to lick and touch and feel it, but the look of it must terrify you."
Gaga eventually came to view the entire project, but especially the ad campaign, as a kind of punk-rock experiment: "We thought, Let's just make the most epic fragrance campaign of all time and let's not care at all about whether they can even print it or show it on TV Let's just do everything we ever dreamed of. We basically did this purely for the pleasure of working together. We were just sort of sitting in the comer going, 'I can't believe they are letting us do this!'"
One evening, we pile into a couple of vans and drive in the pouring rain for nearly an hour to Sumida, an industrial neighborhood at the watery edges of Tokyo, to attend a sort of ceremonial opening of the Tokyo Skytree, a broadcast tower with a restaurant and observation deck at the top-the tallest tower in the world. Before leaving the hotel, Gaga is tom about what to wear. "Should I change?" she says to no one in particular, and I can feel her team holding their breath. (Gaga changing outfits, as one can imagine, is akin to launching the space shuttle.) Yes, it is decided. She will change. She slips into her hotel suite and, a very long while later, reappears wearing a plastic star in her hair and the craziest little dress in Japan. It is made out of hundreds of tiny plastic mirrors that have been sewn together into origami-like boxes. "It was just lying in front of my door one morning," she tells me, "with no note, no name. I have no idea where it came from." She has decided to take it for a spin, knowing that it will be photographed by every news outlet in the country, in the hope that the designer will come forward.
As we pull out of the underground garage, we stop to say hello to the couple dozen soaking-wet Japanese kids who are waiting, as always, to catch a glimpse of her. I wonder out loud about the reality of living with so much fame.• "It's definitely much more difficult for me to go take a walk," she says. "I can't really do those sorts of things anymore. Yesterday, I went out in Harajuku and bought some $10 bustiers and had an ice-cream cone. So I got to do normal New York- girl stuff for a moment in Tokyo." Did you go unbothered? "No," she says, "There were a thousand people following me down the street. But I love all those people, so it's OK."
Can she ever enjoy a private moment outside? "I'm a complete free spirit, so, even though you don't see it, I still find time to have sex at night on the beach when no one's around. Or roll into a bar and get fucked up and dance with my top off. It's just that no one ever sees that, because I have great, real friends who never let me do it when I would get caught. Or, I shouldn't say that. I don't worry about people seeing any of those things; it's just that I'm less inclined to do them if there's tons of people around. I like to have private moments, but in public! "Where I can feel a little irresponsible and act like I am nineteen."
This seems like a fine time to inquire about her love life Lady Gaga has finally moved on from her on-again, off-again relationship with Luc Carl. Lately, she has been photographed looking smitten with the hunky Vampire Diaries actor Taylor Kinney. "I'm just having a really good time performing. Making music, flying around the world to see so-and-so ..." She shoots me a sly, knowing smile. "Look, I'm 26, and I want to make records and party and screw around and wear fake Chanel and do what every other 26-year-old girl wants to do. I don't want to settle down and live in a house yet or anything I just want to keep riding this rainbow."
When we finally arrive at the Skytree, there is, as promised, a huge press serum, and seemingly hundreds of Japanese officials all dressed exactly alike, who follow us as we traipse around the upper floors searching for a view in vain; we can see nothing but a thick, gray soup. But fortunately Lady Gaga is here, ready to be photographed. She steps up to a microphone and says a few words about "this beautiful country." When she finishes, we head to another floor, where she is presented with some sort of plaque and a big bag of gifts. She reaches into the bag and pulls out a little plush toy: it is Sorakarachan, the Skytree mascot, a cute little cartoony character whose hair is shaped like a star. "It's you," I say. "She has a star for a head." "I know!" she says, and walks away laughing.
"Just the other day," Lady Gaga tells me later, "someone asked a very good friend of mine what I'm like. And I said, 'Well, what did you say?' And he said, 'I want you to imagine every creative idea you've ever had in your brain. Then I would like you to imagine that those ideas never stop-they come all the time. And then I would like you to imagine that you create every single one of them. That's how I would describe her. It's like there's no little star that doesn't get through her galaxy. She catches every single one and puts it in the sky, and she the most important star that ever existed."
Lady Gaga’s house in Malibu is on a relatively nondescript road just off the Pacific Coast Highway, situated in what feels (for Malibu) like a normal suburban neighborhood. When the gates to her compound swing open, you head down a long gravel driveway that threads through the multi-acre property, past the fenced-in ring where she rides her horse, Arabella, past the barns and the stables and the giant barking dogs, Grandpa and Ronnie—and pull up to a house made of fieldstone that looks, at first glance, as if it belongs in the South of France. A cheerful young fellow greets you at your car, explains that he is the head of security, and asks you to sign an NDA. There are at least a dozen other cars parked around, most of them belonging to people who are doing some kind of work here—taking care of the property or the lady in residence in one capacity or another. The whole setup is both grand and yet, somehow, unassuming (for a rock star’s house in Malibu).
When Gaga comes down the stairs and makes her entrance on this hot, do-nothing August afternoon, she is wearing a diaphanous periwinkle robe with ruffled edges that sweeps the floor, nothing underneath but a matching bra and thong—along with nude kitten heels and Liz Taylor–worthy diamond jewelry. Having just returned yesterday from a long, restful vacation on some remote tropical island with her boyfriend, she is uncharacteristically tan, and as she leads me out through the French doors into the garden, I can see nearly every one of her tattoos—and her shapely behind—through the robe. There are roses trembling in the breeze, and a long, sloping, grassy lawn that leads down to a pool and the Pacific Ocean beyond, flickering in the high afternoon sun. “This is my sanctuary,” she says. “My oasis of peace. I call it my ‘gypsy palace.’ ”
She bought this palace about four years ago, when she was going through a rough patch—both physically and mentally—and has been spending more and more time here lately. “I just got rid of my place in New York—it was too hectic every day outside on the street,” she says. As we stand there looking out at the ocean, I ask if she’s happy. “Yes—I’m focusing on the things that I believe in. I’m challenging myself. I’m embarking on new territory—with some nerves and some overjoyment.” (Gaga has a funny habit of making up words that always make perfect sense.) “It’s an interesting time in my life. It’s a transition, for sure. It’s been a decade.”
In April, Gaga noted on her Instagram that it was the tenth anniversary of her first single, “Just Dance.” It was the song of the summer of 2008—the final hours of the golden years, just before the economy imploded and the Great Recession took hold—and almost immediately, she became the biggest pop star in the world, haunting our dreams—and nightmares—with monsters, meat dresses, and some of the stickiest melodies ever written (GAAAA-GA OOOH-LA-LA!). When I ask her what has changed for her over these last ten years, Gaga, who’s 32, says, “A galaxy,” and laughs. “There has been a galaxy of change.” She pauses for a moment. “I would just say that it’s been a nonstop whirlwind. And when I am in an imaginative or creative mode, it sort of grabs me like a sleigh with a thousand horses and pulls me away and I just don’t stop working.” Another pause. “You . . . make friends, you lose friends, you build tighter bonds with people you’ve known for your whole life. But there’s a lot of emotional pain, and you can’t really understand what it all means until ten years has gone by.”
On October 5, Warner Bros. Pictures will release the fourth iteration of the tragi-musical love story A Star Is Born, starring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga. The first version came out in 1937, starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March, followed by Judy Garland and James Mason in 1954 and Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson in 1976. Gaga thinks of it less as a remake than as a “traveling legacy.” Directed by Cooper, in his debut, the film is remarkably assured, deeply engaging, and works on several levels: as a romance, a drama, a musical, and something else entirely, almost as if you’re watching something live, or documentary footage of a good old-fashioned rock-’n’-roll concert movie. “I wanted to tell a love story,” says Cooper, “and to me there’s no better way than through music. With music, it’s impossible to hide. Every fiber of your body becomes alive when you sing.” As Sean Penn said, after seeing the film more than once, “It’s the best, most important commercial film I’ve seen in so many years,” and he described the stars as “miracles.” Cooper and Gaga, and the film itself, are likely to be nominated for all manner of awards.
Cooper is a revelation, having utterly transformed himself into a booze-and-pills-besotted rock star: He learned how to play guitar, worked with a vocal coach and a piano teacher for a year and a half, and wrote three of the songs. “All because of Gaga,” he says. “She really gave me the confidence.” His singing is astonishingly good. Gaga, whose only acting experience is in some of her early videos (Google the long-form versions of “Telephone” and “Marry the Night” if you want to see the early promise), various episodes of American Horror Story, and a couple of cameos in Robert Rodriguez films, not only holds her own with Cooper but somehow manages to make you completely forget that she is Lady Gaga—no small feat. But what really makes this film sing, as it were, is the impeccable chemistry between the two stars, particularly their early scenes of meeting cute and falling in love, which are some of the most touchingly real and tender moments between two actors I’ve ever seen.
Gaga and I have moved inside and taken up spots on the boho-chic sofas in the sitting room off her kitchen. She opens a bottle of rosé. There are candles flickering, cut flowers on the table. Gaga first met Cooper at Saturday Night Live about five years ago, but only briefly, and then one day in 2016—having signed on to make A Star Is Born and in the early stages of figuring out who could play Ally to his Jackson Maine—he went to a cancer benefit in Sean Parker’s backyard in L.A. “She had her hair slicked back,” says Cooper, “and she sang ‘La Vie en Rose,’ and I was just . . . levitating. It shot like a diamond through my brain. I loved the way she moved, the sound of her voice.” He called her agent and, the next day, drove to Malibu. “The second that I saw him,” says Gaga, “I was like, Have I known you my whole life? It was an instant connection, instant understanding of one another.” Cooper: “She came down the stairs and we went out to her patio and I saw her eyes, and honestly, it clicked and I went, Wow.” He pretty much offered her the part on the spot. “She said, ‘Are you hungry?’ and I said, ‘I’m starving,’ and we went into her kitchen for spaghetti and meatballs.”
Gaga: “Before I knew it, I was making him lunch and we were talking. And then he said, ‘I want to see if we can sing this song together.’ ” Cooper: “She was kind of laughing at me that I would be suggesting this, but I said, ‘The truth is, it’s only going to work if we can sing together.’ And she said, ‘Well, what song?’ And I said, ‘ “Midnight Special,” ’ this old folk song.” Gaga: “I printed out the sheet music, and he had the lyrics on his phone, and I sat down at the piano and started to play, and then Bradley started to sing and I stopped: ‘Oh, my God, Bradley, you have a tremendous voice.’ ” Cooper: “She said, ‘Has anyone ever heard you sing before?’ and I said no.” Gaga: “He sings from his gut, from the nectar! I knew instantly: This guy could play a rock star. And I don’t think there are a lot of people in Hollywood who can. That was the moment I knew this film could be something truly special.”
Cooper: “And she said, ‘We should film this.’ So I turned on my phone and we did the song. It was crazy. It kind of just worked. And that video is one of the things I showed to Warner Bros. to get the movie green-lit.”
Weirdly enough, the film was originally to be directed by Clint Eastwood—at one point, starring Beyoncé—and Eastwood offered Cooper the part of Jackson. “I was 38 then, and I just knew I couldn’t do it,” says Cooper, now 43. “But then I did American Sniper with Clint and The Elephant Man for a year on Broadway and I thought, I’m old enough now.” Pop stardom seems to befall mostly the very young these days, but this is a story about grown-ups. “I would often say to Lady Gaga, ‘This is a movie about what would have happened if you didn’t make it until you were 31 instead of 21. We talked a lot about where she started on the Lower East Side, and she told me about this drag bar where she used to hang, and I thought, Oh, this is just ripe for the story.”
Indeed, one of the best scenes in the film comes right at the beginning, when Jack, desperate for a drink, stumbles into a gay bar on drag night. Ally is the only woman the queens let perform on their stage, and as she sings “La Vie en Rose,” Jack falls hard. Gaga says that the chemistry between her and Cooper is so good on film because it’s real. But she also thinks that Cooper “nailed” the complicated voodoo that happens when love and fame get intertwined. “They’re both very complex, layered things, with a lot of emotional depth, and he captured that. This is what I think makes the film so successful: that it was so real. And I’ve lived it, so I can testify to that.” (Another thing that gives the film its authenticity: Cooper cast a few drag queens he knew from Philly, as well as Gaga’s actual dancers, choreographer, and hair and makeup artists, who appear in a few scenes.)
Last December, I went to Cooper’s house in Los Angeles to watch some early footage, and as we sat in the screening room he built in his garage, surrounded by guitars and an old piano, his editor cued up scenes. What struck me immediately was how intensely visceral the musical sequences are. Cooper explained that at Gaga’s insistence, they were all shot live. “All the music is as real as you can get it,” he said to me that day. They shot some of the concert scenes at the Stagecoach country-music festival in Indio, California, and more at the Glastonbury Festival in England. “At Stagecoach, four minutes before Willie Nelson went on, we hopped onstage,” says Cooper. “That was real. At Glastonbury, I got onstage in front of 80,000 people. It was nuts. But Lady Gaga is so good that if the world I’d created wasn’t authentic, it would stand out in a second. Everything had to be raised to her level.”
One bit of history that’s gotten lost in the Gaga saga is that while she started playing piano at four and writing songs by eleven, she wanted to be an actress before she wanted to be a singer. When she was twelve, she began taking Method-acting classes at the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute and later at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. “I loved it so much,” she says, “but I was terrible at auditioning—I would get too nervous and just couldn’t be myself.” So she decided to make a go of it as a musician—and had a record deal within a year. Was she nervous making a movie? “Of course—but I knew I had it in me, in my heart, to give an authentic performance.”
The biggest challenge for Lady Gaga was creating a musical character that was not like . . . Lady Gaga. “I wanted the audience to be immersed in something completely different,” she says. “And it’s almost hard to speak about, because I just sort of became Ally.” For as good as the Garland and Streisand versions are, you do sometimes sort of feel like you’re watching movies about . . . Garland and Streisand. That being said, there may be no more perfect person to take up this franchise than Gaga. “It’s so humbling,” she says. “Judy Garland is by far my favorite actress of all time. I used to watch her in A Star Is Born, and it’s devastating. She’s so real, so right there. Her eyes would get glassy, and you could just see the passion and the emotion and hear the grit in her voice.” Streisand came to the set one day. “It was a magical moment. She really made me feel like she passed the torch.” When I mention Streisand’s voice, she says, “The singing is beyond, but what is even more beyond is how involved she was in everything she did. She was a part of creating that film. That made me feel good, too, that we approached making this film the right way.”
The soundtrack will be released the same day as the movie, and because this is a Lady Gaga production, she has had a big hand in it. There were many writers and producers who worked on different songs, but the brain trust was Gaga and Cooper, working closely with the blues-oriented producer and songwriter Ben Rice and Lukas Nelson, who’s Willie’s son. “She’s a fan of my dad’s, but she’s got a tattoo of David Bowie, and Bowie was my hero as well,” says Nelson. “I tend to gravitate toward rockers who were kind and stood for change and the right to be who you are—to be a freak and be proud of it. And I think a lot of people have turned to Gaga in that realm—as a sort of beacon of hope: I can do whatever I want. She invented herself.”
It was Gaga’s idea to thread bits of dialogue throughout the record, and there are a few songs that are not in the movie—“treats,” as she calls them. She asks if I want to hear some music, and we head into a tiny vestibule off the kitchen, a kind of office with a desk, computer, and two very loud speakers. She plugs in her phone and cues up a jaunty, mid-tempo piano banger called “Look What I Found,” and as it begins to play, Gaga dances and sings along, at full volume, about two feet from my face. Suddenly I feel a bit like James Corden in a new segment: Kitchen Karaoke. I cannot resist, and start dancing too. “Our own little discotheque,” says Gaga.
She cues up another song—a huge, soaring, sad ballad called “Before I Cry,” with a full orchestra. It is the first song for which Gaga composed the string arrangements—and conducted the orchestra in the studio—and it was inspired by a harrowing scene in the film when Jack has fallen off the wagon and picks a fight with Ally while she’s taking a bath. On the soundtrack, it begins with this bit of dialogue:
Ally: “Why don’t you have another drink and we can just get fucking drunk until we just fucking disappear? Hey! Do you got those pills in your pocket?”
Jack: “You’re just fuckin’ ugly, that’s all.”
Ally: “I’m what?”
Jack: “You’re just fuckin’ ugly.”
As the song plays, we stand facing each other in the little cubicle, and before it’s halfway through, we both have tears in our eyes. She hugs me and, as we head into the kitchen for more wine, says, almost to herself, “I love that we’re dancing and crying. Like, real Italian style.” That’s my natural state, I say: dancing and crying. “Me, too,” she says.
One of the many things about Lady Gaga that go underappreciated is that she doesn’t tell us everything. For example, we know very little about her new boyfriend, Christian Carino—other than that he’s a 48-year-old CAA agent—because she doesn’t talk about him. She doesn’t want to talk at all about the new music she’s working on for a future album, or the scripts that are suddenly rolling in. She understands more than most that a little bit of mystery and magic go a long way in this world of too much. She has sort of inverse boundaries: She won’t tell you, for example, where she just went on vacation, but she’s totally open about having been sexually assaulted when she was a teenager.
Her 2015 song “ Til it Happens to You,” which she wrote with Diane Warren for the sexual-assault documentary The Hunting Ground, was nominated for an Academy Award. When she performed it at the Oscars in 2016 on a stage full of 50 other assault victims, it eerily presaged the #MeToo movement that unfolded a year later, much to Gaga’s surprise. “I feel like I’ve been an advocate but also a shocked audience member, watching #MeToo happen,” she says. “I’m still in disbelief. And I’ve never come forward and said who molested me, but I think every person has their own relationship with that kind of trauma.”
She was still Stefani Germanotta when she was raped at nineteen by a music producer. She told no one. “It took years,” she says. “No one else knew. It was almost like I tried to erase it from my brain. And when it finally came out, it was like a big, ugly monster. And you have to face the monster to heal.” In late 2016, Gaga revealed in a Today interview that she suffers from PTSD because of the assault. “For me, with my mental-health issues, half of the battle in the beginning was, I felt like I was lying to the world because I was feeling so much pain but nobody knew. So that’s why I came out and said that I have PTSD, because I don’t want to hide—any more than I already have to.” When I ask her to describe how she experiences the symptoms, she says, “I feel stunned. Or stunted. You know that feeling when you’re on a roller coaster and you’re just about to go down the really steep slope? That fear and the drop in your stomach? My diaphragm seizes up. Then I have a hard time breathing, and my whole body goes into a spasm. And I begin to cry. That’s what it feels like for trauma victims every day, and it’s... miserable. I always say that trauma has a brain. And it works its way into everything that you do.”
In September 2017, Gaga announced on Twitter that she suffers from extreme nerve pain caused by fibromyalgia, a complex and still-misunderstood syndrome she believes was brought on by the sexual assault and that then became worse over time, exacerbated by the rigors of touring and the weight of her fame. (Earlier this year, she had to cut her European tour short by ten shows because of it.) In the Netflix documentary Gaga: Five Foot Two, which aired that same month, Gaga allowed cameras to document her suffering to shed light on the syndrome. “I get so irritated with people who don’t believe fibromyalgia is real. For me, and I think for many others, it’s really a cyclone of anxiety, depression, PTSD, trauma, and panic disorder, all of which sends the nervous system into overdrive, and then you have nerve pain as a result. People need to be more compassionate. Chronic pain is no joke. And it’s every day waking up not knowing how you’re going to feel.”
Today, Lady Gaga is the picture of health: bright-eyed, sun-kissed, fit as a fiddle. “It’s getting better every day,” she says, “because now I have fantastic doctors who take care of me and are getting me show-ready.” Speaking of shows, she recently signed a $100 million contract with MGM Resorts International to do a Las Vegas residency at a 5,300-seat theater. It will be called Lady Gaga Enigma, and beginning on December 28 she will perform 74 shows spread out over two years—a reasonable pace that will allow her to take better care of herself and make more movies. “I’ve always hated the stigma around Las Vegas—that it’s where you go when you’re on the last leg of your career,” she says. “Being a Las Vegas girl is an absolute dream for me. It’s really what I’ve always wanted to do.”
As she sits before me on our respective couches—in her periwinkle chiffon, dripping in diamonds—Gaga and Vegas make perfect sense. She has always been a master at swirling together the nostalgic with the startlingly modern and coming up with something that feels entirely new. Creating the shows for Lady Gaga Enigma, of course, has brought back together the Haus of Gaga—her team of stylists and monster-conjurers, including Nicola Formichetti. “We’re plowing away, making something brand-new, but still with the iconography that we’ve already created—and making sure fans leave with the feeling that they went home for a bit with their community.”
Speaking of Gaga iconography! I have somehow failed to notice that for the past couple of hours I’ve been sitting next to a half-mannequin with a heavy metal harness wrapped around it that resembles a sort of human/reptilian rib cage and spinal column. It was made by Shaun Leane, a jewelry designer who worked regularly with Alexander McQueen. Gaga picks up another piece, a kind of metal orbiting fascinator, also designed by Leane, that was part of the “Savage Beauty” exhibition at the Met, and gently sets it on her head. “I bought it at an auction,” she says, batting her eyelashes. And now she wants to show me something else, and goes in search of a key. She finds it in the kitchen, and then along the way to wherever we’re going I get a quick tour. In her ballroom-size living room there is a grand piano and a giant modern pink blob sofa, and an even bigger pink rug. “I like pink,” she says. “It’s a relaxing color.” There’s her Golden Globe (for American Horror Story, in 2016) and a framed photograph of Patti Smith, along with pictures of Elton John and David Furnish’s boys, Zachary and Elijah, Gaga’s godchildren. Resting on the mantel is a framed letter from David Bowie (“Dear Lady, Unfortunately I will not be in NYC for a few months but many thanks for the cake”). On one wall is an enormous George Condo painting of a woman in a ball gown, her face obscured by smears and smudges. “Reminds me of myself,” she says with a wink. “Beautiful but a little bit messy.”
Finally we arrive at the locked door. She turns the key and opens it to reveal . . . a room filled with fashion! Two rooms! “This is mostly Saint Laurent from Hedi Slimane’s work there,” she says. “I’m excited to see what he’ll be doing at Céline. Here’s a McQueen cape that was custom-made for me for the ‘Alejandro’ video. And then in here” —we move into yet another chamber, deeper into her fashion closet, racks upon racks of leather and feathers and sequins and a lot of black— “this is all Gianni Versace from the nineties. I wear some of it, but I mostly collect it to keep and preserve to give to a museum one day. Because I just love these designers.” Pause. “There’s my Joanne hat!” That is the pink fedora she wore in nearly every video and every performance from her Joanne album and tour, when she began presenting herself as... herself, mostly.
When did all of the crazy-brilliant obfuscating costumes fall away? “For me, fashion and art and music have always been a form of armor. I just kept creating more and more fantasies to escape into, new skins to shed. And every time I shed a skin, it was like taking a shower when you’re dirty: getting rid of, washing off, shedding all of the bad, and becoming something new.” I wonder aloud where all that began. “I just remember feeling so irritated at the thought that I had to conform to being ‘normal,’ or less of whatever I was already born as. And so I took such radical enjoyment in expressing who I am in the most grandiose of ways.” She laughs. “It was sort of like a very polite ‘Fuck off.’ It was never about looking perfect—it was always about just being myself. And I think that’s what it’s always been about for my fans, too. It was a form of protection, and a secret—like a wink from afar. I’m a monster, and you’re a monster too.”
She locks the door, and as we head back out to the living room to say goodbye, she picks up a glass vase filled with fresh-cut roses from her garden and hands it to me: “Just a little something,” she says. For all of Lady Gaga’s histrionics and grandiosity and obfuscation and mucking around with monsters—and despite the fact that she claims to have “concrete in her veins”—most people seem to get that she’s all heart. “I am not a brand,” she says. “I have my unique existence, just as everyone else does, and at the end of the day, it’s our humanity that connects us—our bodies and our biology. That’s what breeds compassion and empathy, and those are the things that I care the most about. Kindness!” She lets out a mordant chuckle. “It can drive you mad. Someone very important in my life says to me often, ‘You cannot stare at the carnage all day.’ And I think... you have to stare at the carnage to an extent because if not, you’re being ignorant and complacent—to not view injustice and want to be a part of advocating for others. But...” She pauses for a long time. “Once we just look each other in the eyes, if we can keep that contact, that contract, I think the world will be a better place.”
Suddenly we both notice the sound of music wafting in from somewhere, as if someone opened a little girl’s jewelry box. It’s a Mister Softee truck.
“It’s down by the beach,” she says, “but can you believe that? The sound travels all the way up here.”
The sound is a little creepy, I say.
“Or,” she says, “it just sounds like kids having ice cream at the beach.” We both laugh. It reminds me of something we talked about earlier: that while Gaga’s music is often funny —with a wink or a bit of camp— she herself is a serious person. This has been a very serious conversation, I say. “Yes, it has,” she says. “Isn’t that funny?”.