MOTHER MONSTER Lady Gaga takes the business of being famous to a new, otherworldly level.
- Interview by Sarah Casselman
I feel like this was a serendipitous meeting, because we were supposed to meet in March and you had just come back from the Mugler show, and you’re on tour, and your publicist said, “She’s got to stop the interviews because she is exhausted.” How are you feeling?
I’m feeling great. It was a very, very busy day.
I can just imagine your schedule is a whirlwind. How do you not get depleted with all your energy?
Well, that was such an exciting day for me, and if I could describe my artistic process, I would say that I make music for my fans, and for the Haus of Gaga, and I create work for my factory. Nick [Formichetti] was one of the most important people in my life, and his work at Mugler is so beautiful and so forward, and so natural, and so pop-whimsical, and it was so exciting for me to enjoy that moment with him, and for him to honor me in a way and bless me with the opportunity to walk the runway, and to represent his collection.
You had fun that day.
I had such a wonderful time! And in that way that is the most punk-rock thing about what we do in the Haus of Gaga, is that we make music and fashion and technology for the fans and for each other.
Were you nervous that day?
I admire and respect all of the supermodels of the past and the future, and I wanted to be one of them and to do it justice. So I was practicing my walk and I had 12-inch platforms.
I saw that. Amazing! You faired better than most of the models out there actually – most of them were teetering!
I said if I throw up please just tell them it was performance art!
How did you and Nicola come to be friends, and how did he come to be your stylist?
I met him on the set for a V Magazine photo shoot in Los Angeles, and we had racks and racks of couture, and Nicola and I just wanted me to wear harnesses and chains and tape and roll around in the sand, and I knew it was destiny. We always laugh about that because we have all this fashion in the room and at the end of the day we always end up making it ourselves. Except for today, I’m wearing Gareth Pugh.
You have such a clear sense of style and a way you want to present yourself to the public, so it is interesting to me that you would want to collaborate with a stylist.
Well, I have to. And Nicola is brilliant, Nicola is absolutely brilliant, and I absolutely have to. I would never take the full credit for anything I do or create. I believe so much in being the nexus and the fuse, and everyone in the Haus of Gaga is honoured for their creativity and enabled. It is like a giant tornado of creative force and vision. I need all of them. They need them and I need them, and it is all of us. That is the culture revolutionary quality of what we want to create. It is not about me, it is about the spirit of my fans, and we believe that we can embody the spirit of them, so we all work together to create things. “Stylist” is obviously a word that, in the fashion world, you perceive to be that Nicola chooses what I wear and puts it on me, but it’s not like that at all. Nicola and I make things together: we create things, we go on outings, we pull references. It is more like making a sculpture together, than it is like a styling experience.
People are so quick to judge, they want to put you in a box – this is what you’re wearing so it has to mean this. Do you find fashion fun and use it as a creative outlet?
Sometimes it is for fun and I just like the outfit, and sometimes it is based on a deeper performance art meaning. But I do like that there is a bit of ambiguity about when I am saying something artistically and when I am not. It makes it more interesting in my opinion. My creative output is not linear. For example, I wore the meat dress and I went out with the soldiers that were discharged for being gay in the military, and then I did a speech called the Prime Rib of America. And it was about equality being the prime rib of the constitution. So, if you do tons of research about me as an artist, and you put those two things together, the meat dress was a statement about equality.
You support a lot of young designers, and I think that is so amazing.
When you say I mostly wear young designers, or fans and fur or fan clothes. They don’t send them they throw them onto the stage. There are like jackets, dresses and shirts being thrown on the stage at the Monster Ball. I wear them. They’re amazing; they’re hand-made by the fans, studded with their hands. They have screen prints of my new album cover on the back, they’re studded, they run their cars over them, and it’s so beautiful. Why would I want to wear something that was just made commercially for everyone when I can wear something that was made in the spirit of my music, and in the spirit of our experience together? I love my fans. So much.
It is so clear. This is the first time I have ever been face to face with you, but it is so obvious, even just listening to your music, and being at a concert. How do you express yourself to them offstage?
I read all of their fan letters, I keep my cell phone with me for my Twitter, and I really read as many as I can, I scroll through them and look, and I spend a lot of time with fans that have reached out to me, who have needs, who have family situations, or bullying situations in school, I really care about them, and that is what I wasn’t prepared for. People always say to me, “What weren’t you prepared for about fame?” And what I wasn’t prepared for was how much I was going to love my fans. And how much they would reciprocate that genuine-ness. There’s such an authenticity that exists at this show, and that is the most important thing for me to preserve, and that was something that was very important to me in making this album. I knew they would want to see my evolution. I knew that they would need to see me grow as a woman, as an artist, as a individual whose identity is halfway between magic and reality, reality and fantasy at all times. Just because you love fashion doesn’t mean you’re fake. Just because you love art, doesn’t mean you are painting over your flaws. It’s self-expression and it is beautiful.
So it is interesting that you have mentioned growing as a woman and as an artist. Do you feel that going from the time when you were a breakout star, to this massive moment at the top of your fame, that women in this pop world still feel the pressure to be a sex symbol, or show skin, or be considered provocative or sexy? Does that even register to you?
It is funnier to me because I was never ever considered early on in my career to be sexy. I was always considered to be an outsider, in that way that I would be weird, and not as pretty, not as sexy, and now suddenly, the media begins to sexualize your personality. Being sexy is never the first thing that I am going for when I get dressed in the morning. I always think of what I am trying to say on that particular day in terms of my identity and my psychology as an artist.
Has your beauty ideal changed along the way as well? The way that you perceive yourself in terms of when you’re looking in the mirror and seeing your own constitution?
I see someone that has a heartfelt and compassionate obligation to do the right thing for her fans. That is, stay true to your fucking self, no matter what. Show no sign of pain, no sign of weakness; show no sign of backtracking or apology for who you are. Be yourself. This is who I am!
And it doesn’t really matter if you are on duty or off duty, you are who you are. It’s not like you have a persona.
There is no off duty. But that is exactly what I’m trying to be a martyr for: you can throw as many arrows at me as you like, but at the end of the day, my heart, my fantasy and my reality heart is still beating.
I read somewhere along the lines that you had anxiety at one point. Do you still get it?
Oh yeah. I just put my blood, sweat, bones, and tears into the greatest piece of music I have ever created and I am about to share it with the world. So of course I’m nervous, but I am very excited. It is more of a nervous-excitement.
Do you really care what critics are saying or is it more your fans? You want to share that with them. It’s not like you’re reading all that stuff.
I only care of the opinion of those I respect. And I respect my fans.
With the whole fame game you have sort of wrestled it into the ground in the way. You have been able to tame it. Where do you go from here? Where do you keep going if you can’t go much higher? How do you expand? How do you grow?
I don’t know. I don’t view my career in terms of how much more famous I can become. I care not about any of those things. I don’t care about money. I don’t care about the next purchase I’m going to make, or diamonds that I am going to buy. Those things mean nothing to me. Wealth is in love. Wealth is in my ability to affect change and culture. I was just doing another phoner earlier and I told somebody. They were asking me about the importance of religion on the album in terms of “Judas” and I said Judas is a metaphor, but it is less a metaphor in reference to institutionalized religion and more of a metaphor in relation to how pop culture is the new religion, and how you can find hope and find faith in culture, in togetherness, in equality, in each other.
Do you go to some sort of a place of worship? What’s your own faith?
The Monster Ball.
The monster ball is your faith?
Little monsters are my religion. Pop culture is my religion. The album is very inspired by this sort of idea of Vatican, or Gregorian pop music. Choral monk church inspired sounds that are morphed into a pop cultural party experience. The religion of the Monster Ball is removed from needing to conform to a particular idea or belief in order to fit in. You can believe whatever you like. All hope and all faith is welcome. And it’s not about god necessarily. It is just about believing in yourself. Having hope in you. That is the religion of this album.
Have you always been good at taking the lead and being able to get people’s attention? And maybe not through shock value, maybe just from what you’re saying too. Is it skill? Is it something you have within yourself?
I feel there have been leaders in the past. People like David Bowie, people like Madonna, people like Michael Jackson, people like Janis Joplin who were leaders in the way that they were unafraid to be brave, unafraid, audacious. Unafraid to push the boundaries, so that art and modernity could move forward. You have to be brave.
Do you ever stop and think why me? And that is such a good Segway because you have been so brave, and you’re moving forward and everyone wants to see what is going to happen next. Do you ever stop and just think, “How have I been this chosen person to lead this journey?”
I ask myself that question through the fans. I ask it through my experience at the Monster Ball, and in my love for them, and in the journey of the show, which is almost over now. Forgot about that. But I think, “Now that I’m here, what will be my legacy?” I am not a trend.
Nor do you follow them obviously.
Nor do I follow them. I am not a trend. Now what I must focus on, I must, that’s my Rilke tattoo. Must you create, must you write? I must push. I must push forward. I must fight on, no pain, and be brave so that what I have created can move now into the future.
Would you ever be worried if it were to go away?
It can’t go away. It’s already happened.
It’s here to stay.
I must be steadfast. People always ask me. They say, “What do you want to be remembered for?” And I say I would always like for someone to say she was always herself. And she was fearless. And she never conformed. And she was that voice for all of us that didn’t want to conform along with her.
And where does that come from for you? Did you have a very strong role model in your life at one point?
My mother was very fearless. But I also think that my journey is very different from a lot of other people’s. I went to a Catholic school. I wasn’t exposed to a lot of things so when I left, suddenly I was inundated with information and art and culture and music that I hadn’t experienced before. And what I want to impress upon the world and my fans, even with the song “Hair” on the album. There is this idea that we must decide what we are going to be, or conform to an idea as women or as men what we should become in reference to our own culture or society. But I think a more beautiful message, a more positive way of approaching your identity is, “Let me try on as many wigs as I can. Let me try on as many hats, and as many coats, and as many shoes and decide for myself which ones I would like to wear. And when I find the mask or the wig or the jacket that fits me perfectly, I will honour it.”
I think that’s a perfect end actually. Thank you so much for your time.