The Hot Fashion IssueEdit
- Editorial by Derek Blasberg and photography by Terry Richardson.
Anticipation isn't the right word. I'm sitting in a small recording studio's lounge in New York, waiting for Lady Gaga to arrive and play her about-to-be-released album, Born This Way, for an hour. We're on Gaga time here.
Then, in an instant, she appears. The 25-year-old former Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta is petite in stature but gargantuan in charisma. She is scantily dressed in tights, black underwear, and a black bra under a studded, slashed, and shredded military jacket. Her accessories include fingerless gloves, winged boots, and a spike-covered Hermès Birkin. And, yes, the horns that she debuted Grammy week--and the ones you see in this story--are on full display, protruding from her cheekbones and forehead.
"Gaga!" she announces, extending her black-clawed hand in a ladylike manner. "It is an absolute pleasure to meet you." She points toward a studio, spins around, and marches off.
When we are ensconced in this dungeon of sound, the first topic of conversation is the single "Born This Way," which, when it was released in February, set a new iTunes speed record for going to number one (less than three hours) and was Billboard's 1,000th number-one hit. "It broke all the records!" Gaga cheers, bopping up and down, adding that what she found most remarkable was that the song attracted new fans. "I was happy with the fans I've already got. But it opened this new fan base of people who love the simplicity and joyfulness of it." As the millions of people who have seen the video for "Born This Way" can attest, Gaga devotes as much artistic energy to her visuals as she does her audio. But today she's still editing the Nick Knight--directed opening sequence, where we meet her newest creation, Mother Monster. She offers a sneak peek but warns, "You're not ready!" presumably referring to its awesomeness. "Nick Knight? He's such an asshole," she proclaims, which means he's a genius. And her inspiration for the video's out-of-this-world surrealism? "A lot of weed."
Gaga is happiest, as she says, "living every day somewhere between reality and fantasy at all times." The only tense part of our conversation occurs when I try to transition her fantasy into reality, asking about the new look--a series of sharp bones that protrude from Gaga's shoulders, cheekbones, and temples. How long does it take to apply the makeup and prosthetics to her face and arms?
"Well, first of all," she says, "they're not prosthetics. They're my bones."
Okay, so when did the bones appear?
"They've always been inside of me, but I have been waiting for the right time to reveal to the universe who I truly am."
Did she will them to come out for this album? "They come out when I'm inspired."
Is she worried that this new look will inspire other people to "grow" similar bones?
"We all have these bones!" she says tersely. "They're the light from inside of us. Do you mean body modification?"
"No, I'm not concerned about that."
The reason I'm pushing this is that in the past, Gaga has spoken openly about her drug use while at the same time being quick to clarify that she doesn't endorse it. So one can't help but wonder if she has considered that some of her Little Monsters, as she calls her fans, may actually hurt themselves trying to emulate her transformation.
"I haven't hurt myself," she says. Then, with her darkened eyes narrowed, she continues, "I want you to be careful how you view this."
Help me view it then. It's artistic expression," Gaga says. "It's a performance-art piece. I have never, ever encouraged my fans or anyone to harm themselves, nor do I romanticize masochism. Body modification is part of the overarching analysis of 'Born This Way.' In the video, we use Rico, who is tattooed head to toe [including a skull on his face]. He was born that way. Although he wasn't born with tattoos, it was his ultimate destiny to become the man he is today."
And this was Gaga's destiny?
"I have never had plastic surgery, and there are many pop singers who have. I think that promoting insecurity in the form of plastic surgery is infinitely more harmful than an artistic expression related to body modification."
"And how many models and actresses do you see on magazine covers who have brand-new faces and have had plastic surgery, while I myself have never had any plastic surgery? I am an artist, and I have the ability and the free will to choose the way the world will envision me."
But can she acknowledge that some people will misinterpret a woman putting horns on her face?
"Trust me, I know that. I think a lot of people love to convolute what everyone else does in order to disempower women. But my fans know me. They would never hurt themselves. And if they have hurt themselves, they come to me and say, 'Gaga, I want to stop, and your music helps me want to stop. Your music makes me want to love myself.' I am in no way promoting sadomasochism or masochism."
That settled, conversation reverts to safer territory: avant-garde fashion. In her early music videos, before she became the darling of the fashion industry and could show up on morning TV dressed in a condom-inspired latex ensemble (to raise awareness for safe sex, of course), Gaga pushed boundaries. Three years ago, before she was a pop icon, she was known as the singer who refused to wear pants. Her relationship with the stylist Nicola Formichetti is one of fashion's great love affairs; she even closed his first womenswear outing as the creative director of the house of Mugler in March dressed as a club-kid bride. She also greatly admires Hussein Chalayan, who designed her "vessel" for the Grammys and who she describes as "an incredible mind and a genius human being. He truly leads the way in the avant-garde world."
Her other fashion hero is the late, great Alexander McQueen. When McQueen comes up, Gaga leans back and a sense of wonder glows from her face. She thinks that after his suicide, McQueen began working through her. "I think he planned the whole thing: Right after he died, I wrote 'Born This Way.' I think he's up in heaven with fashion strings in his hands, marionetting away, planning this whole thing." Supporting Gaga's claim was the decision by the label--not Gaga herself--to move up the release date for "Born This Way," ultimately to the exact day of the one-year anniversary of McQueen's death. "When I heard that, I knew he planned the whole damn thing. I didn't even write the fucking song. He did!"
If McQueen, from beyond the grave, did help Gaga with this record, he had his work cut out for him. After she unlocks her iPod (with some difficulty, given those claw fingernails), she blasts the entire album. It is epic. Gaga wants the listener to be intoxicated by every song, but in different ways. "'Born This Way' is the marijuana to the heroin of the album. The [album's] experience gets massively more intense as you explore it. All the different songs are different kinds of highs."
The song "Marry the Night," which Gaga wrote once she was this superstar she had always dreamed of being, is particularly memorable. She says that once she had become a household name--after winning Grammys, after wrestling with Madonna on Saturday Night Live, after countless magazine covers--she felt pressured to move to the pop-culture mecca that is Los Angeles. "I had all these number-one records, and I had sold all these albums, and it was sort of this turning point: Am I going to try and embrace Hollywood and assimilate to that culture?" Suffice to say, it didn't work out. "I put my toe in that water, and it was a Kegel-exercise vaginal reaction where I clenched and had to retract immediately," she says in a very vivid metaphor. "I ran furiously back to New York, to my old apartment, and I hung out with my friends, and I went to the same bars." On a list of Gaga's passions, there's music, then fame and, somewhere lower, material comfort and cash. When she came back to New York, she returned to her studio apartment, which she says is the size of the recording studio we're sitting in, and it's where she still lives. Asked what she spends her money on (upwards of $62 million a year, according to Forbes), she says it goes to her live shows and her friends. She flew about 20 people to L.A. for the Grammys, and if anyone on tour needs equipment, it comes out of her piggy bank. "I spend my money on my props and my creations. I'm an inventor."
Financial freedom has been a tonic for any emotional fatigue. "The true luxury of my success is that I can do it all on my own terms now, even though the roller-coaster ride is still going." But now she owns the roller coaster. "I own the whole theme park, actually."
What Gaga has realized, and what she is extolling in Born This Way, is that there is more to life than the paparazzi (even though she wrote an entire song devoted to the glamour of being stalked by photographers) and fortune. Is it hard to give up the glamorous life? "It's not if it doesn't mean anything to you," she says. "What means something to me is my music. I don't want to make money; I want to make a difference."
She says she doesn't read tabloids but is amused that they have such a vested interest in her personal life. (She's happy to respond to recent claims: "I'm not engaged, and I'm not a drug addict, but thank you for asking.") But in getting people's attention, Gaga has been universally sensational. In an early video interview, she looks into the camera and uses the word gaga as an adjective. "I've always wanted to be an adjective," she says with a smile. But she adds, "Back then, I was just delusional. I'm going to make a T-shirt that says, I'M NOT A PROPHET, I'M DELUSIONAL."
And what if it hadn't worked out? What if she was still struggling Stefani? Gaga says she'd be just as happy as she is now. "I would still be living next door to my friend Jennifer, playing at the clubs I've always played at. It was never not going to work out for me because I was already living my dream when I was playing music."
Born This Way will have a tour, and after that tour will come another album "and another Grammy performance, and the cycle continues," Gaga says. Is she worried about reaching a saturation point with the media? Nope. "You can quote me on this: People love you when they think you won't be around for very long, and people hate you when they can't get rid of you. But I'm not going anywhere."
The Fall Fashion IssueEdit
- Editorial by Lady Gaga, photography of Debbie by Popfest.
Blonde on Blonde: Lady Gaga interviews Debbie HarryEdit
Lady Gaga interviews Debbie Harry about her upcoming album, being an icon and that famous hair color.
- I’m just thinking about the first time we met. It was at Carnegie Hall.
- I remember I was really nervous around you [laughs]. I listened to your new album, Panic of Girls [out September 13], and I love it, and I have some questions for you. After everything you’ve been through — so many albums, tours, the reality that you’re the most iconic female in rock ‘n’ roll — what is the first thing that runs through your head when deciding the next album you want to write?
- I’ve never really done an album that’s a set concept piece. It’s a continuous thought process. Especially when I work with Chris [Stein, Blondie's cofounder], it automatically becomes encapsulated as a story from a particular time, but I guess it’s not so easy to say that it is a concept piece. Mostly I want to reach out and share my experience.
- I love that answer, as I’m always obsessing with the concept. One of my favorite songs from your new album is “The End the End.” My favorite lyric is “You’re my one and only chance; let’s walk before we dance.” Is that about finding the person that you spend the rest of your life with, and is “the end” a representation of the end of life? I actually just put out a song called “The Edge of Glory” because I just had my first experience with death, but what does it mean for you?
- Yeah, I think you’ve nailed it. It is about having a long-term relationship. It is probably a romantic notion, but it’s true that this is the relationship of your life. It carries on, and you’re willing to stay to the end with this person.
- My other favorite, I think, is “Words in My Mouth.” What inspired you to write this song?
- Somehow or other, I got hooked up with Shirley [Manson] from Garbage. I met her when she was a wee little girl, and we actually shared the same manager when she did Garbage.
- I am such a huge Garbage fan. When I was in middle school, I had a rotation of your albums and Garbage’s albums. I used to put them in my Discman and walk around the block because my mom wouldn’t let me walk more than one block by myself.
- That’s so sweet. In any case, she told me that she was looking for a new song, so I wrote the song for her. They didn’t use it in the end. So I did.
- It’s hard to make records that you are happy with artistically and then be aware that you have a record label and it must be commercially sold. Tell me more about “China Shoes.” I actually started to cry when I first heard it.
- You’re an artist, and you’re feeling things and giving them your own interpretation; we embrace it, and the emotion touches us, and then we apply it to our lives. I mean, even jokingly, you know how women feel about their shoes [laughs]. It becomes very important.
- It made me very, very emotional. It reminds me so much of my life, especially when you mention Brooklyn, because I live in Brooklyn. It reminds me of how sometimes I feel that moments in my life are interrupted because I’m so dedicated to my work. I often feel like my shoes are the only part of me that know what I’m doing all the time because they’re always with me. There’s this one pair of boots that I always wear, and sometimes when I’m so alone in my hotel room, I look at them and I think how they really are the only things in my life that know exactly what I’ve been through all day. So is that what the song was about, or was there a different meaning?
- I try to put a core of real sensitivity and make the words childish to just say simply, This person is going away, and I’m missing them very much. I’m not going to recover unless they come back soon, and I’m leaving this note in the back of a book because I know you’re going to read it when you are traveling.
- That’s so funny because I had a lover who was a writer, and I used to leave him notes in his book, so it meant a lot to me. I know it sounds so crazy that the lyric would fit perfectly to my life, but that song was just really beautiful.
- I’m loving it too, and we actually do it now in the show. I’ve seen one of your shows, actually. I went to the Garden. It was fantastic.
- Oh, you were at the Garden? Actually, it’s probably best that I didn’t know you were there because I would have been too nervous.
- I mean, that’s an extensive show. That’s a whole lot of work.
- I can’t wait to see your show. I would say to all the readers that they should buy your album just based on the song “Le Bleu” alone. I just want to turn all the lights off and take a bubble bath and think about love.
- Ah, you take bubble baths!
- Sometimes [laughs].
- I know your bubble dress.
- I would take a bubble bath in my bubble dress! Now, this is a more over-arching question, but are you aware of the tremendous effect you had on women when you dyed the underside of your blonde hair black? Because when I experiment with a different blonde, like I did that very yellow blonde and a teal blonde and a lavender blonde, I put a black root in because of you.
- I did it for practical purposes because I was always doing my own hair and I didn’t think I could do the back. But I ended up really liking having the back be this sort of dark side of the moon. Because when I was in school, that was one of my nicknames: Moon. It seemed perfect, that here I was with the bright side of the moon and the dark side of the moon.
- Did that have anything to do with Pink Floyd?
- No [laughs]. Could have been; you know how things seep into our thinking.
Fabulous at Every Age Edit
- Editorial by Laura Brown; Photography by Inez and Vinoodh
The Real Lady GagaEdit
A few months ago, Donatella Versace threw open the doors of the Versace archive in Milan, which contains pieces from the glorious, Medusa'd peak of the Gianni years, for Lady Gaga to plunder at will. "It was me and my friends," Gaga remembers of this particular fashion moment. "We were all running around this warehouse laughing and putting on jackets and shoes. We started crying at one point. I've been dreaming of seeing those outfits my whole life."
It's not a secret that Lady Gaga loves to dress up — in Mugler, in Alexander McQueen, in meat. Lately, "there are some amazing emerging kids from Parsons. I've been wearing a lot of young designers," she explains. She wore a custom-made Hussein Chalayan dress in her recent "Yoü and I" video and chuckles that without McQueen, "I'd be naked." But for this shoot, which will soon be seen in a "fashion film" created in collaboration with photographers Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, a basically barefaced Gaga is very deliberately dressed down.
While this might seem a departure from more theatrical Gaga garb, she doesn't see the slightest difference. "I don't really view it as 'natural,'" she explains. "I think that artifice is the new reality. It's more about just being honest and sincere to the core of what you do. Whether I'm wearing lots of makeup or no makeup, I'm always the same person inside."
But does she ever look in the bathroom mirror in the morning and think, Here we go again? "Sometimes I do. It all really depends on my mood for the day. But I think the perception that I 'put it on' every day is probably not true."
In Gaga's mind, "putting it on" is subject to interpretation. "Don't you think that what's on the cover of a magazine is quite artificial?" she asks. "There's this idea that it's all natural, but everything's been staged to look natural. It is also an invention. It's just that my inventions are different. I often get asked about my artifice, but isn't fashion based on the idea that we can create a fantasy?"
One could suppose that her little monsters might be disappointed, though, if she started wearing jeans and T-shirts. "I try to not focus on what people expect from me," she says. "I think what has been lovely about my relationship with the public is that they expect something unexpected from me."
What is expected of Gaga is her love for fashion and her ability to use it, quite literally, as a performance enhancer. For all her love of couture — her custom Armani dresses, her epic love story with stylist and Mugler designer Nicola Formichetti, all those supermodular Versaces — "there's this one pair of shoes I've had for years, and they cost like $25. I have such an emotional attachment to the shoes that every time I see them, I can hear the fans and feel the bass coming through the bottom of the stage."
Sometimes, of course, shoes are the most substantial part of a Gaga outfit; her body image is as fearless as her fashion. "I'm very free-spirited," she says, like a Swede in a spa. "Even when I was a kid, I used to run around naked with the babysitter, driving her crazy." She attributes her body confidence to dancing, and "I do yoga, I do Bikram and I run, and I eat really healthy. You know, my work sort of feeds me. I keep in shape by working hard."
Even when she's not touring, Gaga works "about 16 to 20 hours a day. And when I'm alone, I write, I imagine, I create things, and I decide how I want to do my future performances. I don't take much time off."
And due to her crushing travel schedule, Gaga spends a lot of time on her own. "When you're alone as much as I am," she observes, "you become accustomed to your solitude and embrace it." Of late, she's been immersing herself in plays. "I love John Patrick Shanley. And I've been reading some books that I loved when I was in theater school, like Bertolt Brecht. Those books really changed my life."
Gaga has also taken up surfing, which she tried for the first time on a princely two-day vacation to Mexico in August. "I fell off a lot in the beginning," she says, "but one of the surfers said to me, 'Now that you can stand up, just look into the future and enjoy the ride.' I thought that was an interesting metaphor about life."
Gaga tweeted a picture of herself to her 13 million followers, writing, "Yeah, that's me. No heels, baby." She was au natural.