Interview by Andrew C. Stone
Coordinated by Jan Jeffries
Photography by Mariano Vivanco
Fashion Direction by Nicola Formichetti
- Our Lady of Pop
If Lady Gaga’s songs haven’t hooked you yet, her earnestness will. Boasting three smash albums, five Grammys and a No. 1 ranking on the Forbes celebrity power list—all by the age of 25—this formidable talent has dug in her spiked heels and is here to stay.
If a superstar musician is principled, talented and smart enough to call out the trappings of fame as she unrepentantly eclipses the notoriety of her contemporaries, she has the license to do as she pleases… as long as the music stays spectacular. Such is the unfolding phenomenon of Lady Gaga, who has morphed from a fashion- and art-obsessed NYU theater student (then known as Stefani Germanotta) to the most influential woman in pop culture (according to Forbes). Who could have predicted that Gaga, 25, would maintain her stamina and mass appeal three years and two albums after the release of The Fame, the debut that offered the infectious dance tracks “Poker Face” and “Just Dance?” She, for one, could have predicted it… which is why we’re all still listening.
Her latest album, Born This Way, melds relentless electronic beats with a bit of a metal sensibility, while her soulful crooning and introspective lyrics add dynamism and depth. Its first singles—the title track, “Judas” and “The Edge of Glory”—are rallying cries from the center of the dance floor, urging listeners to cast off the labels that limit them (gender, race, sexuality and the like). “Performing Born This Way for my fans has brought more joy than I can express,” Gaga says. “They helped me write this record, and to share that moment with them is the greatest blessing.”
That loyalty to her legions of Little Monsters—those who sold out stadiums on her two-year Monster Ball tour, the 10 million-plus following her on Twitter, her 34 million Facebook devotees—is one of Gaga’s most endearing qualities. “I’ve been given the greatest gift I could have ever dreamt of: my fans,” she enthuses. “Seeing the Beautiful faces of my fans each night in the crowd is all I need. The inspiration they provide is limitless. Everything I do is for [them], and as long as we have each other, nothing else matters.”
Say what you will—and you surely will—about her outrageous fashion moments, her political statements (marriage equality, immigration laws and the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell) and her brow-raising video performances. Gaga has worn her heart on her sleeve since day one. “I don’t choose to speak on things that are controversial,” she says. “I speak from my heart about causes and issues that are important to me.”
And she backs up that boldness with a litany of critically acclaimed tunes. The prolific singer-songwriter wrote the highly anticipated Born This Way in a few short months, and each album seems to peel back more layers of Gaga’s enigmatic onion.
Once known for geometric hairdos and exaggerated shoulder pads, then leather bikinis and wild weaves, Gaga’s rocking a grommeted biker-babe look these days—complete with prosthetic spikes on her cheeks and shoulders that echo her recurring “monster” theme. This can (and will), of course, change. “Fashion is a major part of my art,” she says. “I’m a performance artist and use my clothing as a huge form of expression. Each piece is delicately selected to tell a story, create a feeling, fulfill a vision.”
Meanwhile, fashion designers say rosaries in the hopes that Gaga will don their apparel. Nicola Formichetti of Mugler coaxed her into walking in the house’s fall/winter 2011 fashion show, and V magazine has invited her to be a contributor. “I’ve always had a special place in my heart for V, and becoming a columnist has been so exciting,” she says. “My love for fashion and art has always been immense. This has just given me a new way to express it.”
While much is said about her clothes and showmanship, Gaga and her neo-apocalyptic crew of dancers have a highly distinctive dance style, envisioned by choreographer Laurieann Gibson. “My choreography is an essential part of telling the story of each song,” Gaga says. “I reinvent and reinterpret the vision for my music through the performance and visuals. It’s one way that my passion shines through.”
It’s easy—with every spotlight shining in her direction—to lose sight of the young woman inside the myth. Gaga insists her authentic spirit is alive and well (she has devoted albums and her tours to the concept, in fact), and she seems to keep her vulnerable side well insulated from the press. At the end of the day, we get the most unguarded peek at her soul through her music. “I am mostly the same person I was growing up; still that same New York City girl,” she says. “My family means everything to me. I am a real family girl, rather old-fashioned when it comes to love.”
Old-fashioned in love, perhaps… but as a pop star, she’s lightyears ahead. And, if you’re worried she might run out of steam eventually, take heart. Her biggest fear?
“That I won’t be able to get all of my ideas out before I die.”