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Rolling Stone (magazine)

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Rolling Stone is an American magazine devoted to music, popular culture and politics that is published bi-weekly. It was founded in San Francisco in 1967 by Jann Wenner, it's current editor and publisher, and music critic Ralph J. Gleason.

Lady Gaga has appeared on the cover and in the magazine 3 times:

Issue 1080 (June 11, 2009)

Gaga worships Warhol. Kisses girls (for real). And she's the biggest new pop star of 2009 by Brian Hiatt.

For a young woman who's dressed like an alien empress, Lady Gaga is acting strangely human. She's curled up with her ex-model boyfriend, Speedy, on a tour-van seat, looking as cozy as anyone in a sparkly, curve-clutching cat suit with spiked, winglike shoulders could possibly get. "He thinks I'm pretty," Gaga purrs, batting huge false eyelashes as she rests her platinum-blond head on Speedy's shoulder, nearly poking his eye out with a shoulder spike.

As the van cruises along California's 405 freeway, heading from an Irvine amphitheater to a Burbank soundstage, fireworks bloom in the distant sky over Disneyland. Gaga, who's been munching handfuls of kettle corn and sipping from a can of Diet Coke, turns pensive. "What am I doing right now?" she asks, sounding sleepy and uncharacteristically vulnerable. "Who am I?" With theatrical timing, an interloper chirps an answer from the back seat: "You're the new princess of pop!"

The voice belongs to the gossip blogger Perez Hilton, an early and fervent Gaga supporter. He's been hanging around all day in his leopard-print Adidas T-shirt, offering compliments and toothy smiles. Gaga laughs, shocked at the near-scripted perfection of the moment. "You are," Hilton drawls, flashing the teeth.

Less than an hour ago, in front of 15,000 shrieking teens at the radio concert Wango Tango, Gaga sang a set that included both "Just Dance" and "Poker Face" — the synthed-up, Eighties-flavored dance-pop hits that, along with her art-damaged, Euro-futuristic fashion sense, have made her the defining pop star of 2009: She reigns over a self-created, plasticized aesthetic universe with Madonna-esque assurance — and offsets her oddness with shamelessly ingratiating pop hooks. With its refrain of "Just dance/Gonna be OK" (the narrator is so wasted at the club that she's lost her keys and phone), Gaga's first hit could be heard as a keep-on-pushing anthem or an endorsement of total denial — either way, perfect recession fodder. "Poker Face," in its way, has more layers — it's about Gaga wanting to sleep with a woman while she's dating a guy (hence the line "I'm bluffin' with my muffin"). The two hits have led to a platinum album — an increasingly rare feat — and nearly 10 million digital singles sold, per Nielsen SoundScan.

A few days earlier, the 23-year-old singer played a concert in New York that felt like a coronation: Madonna (with daughter Lourdes in tow) and Cyndi Lauper both turned up. And on tonight's new episode of Saturday Night Live, Justin Timberlake gives his own endorsement, singing loving, dead-on parody versions of both singles. (A week later, Rivers Cuomo will sing part of "Poker Face" at a Weezer show.)

In the face of tween pop's relentless cuteness assault, Gaga — who worships Andy Warhol and Grace Jones, and thanks David Bowie and Madonna for inspiration in her liner notes — is a pop star for misfits and outcasts. She would rather look interesting than pretty. "I don't feel that I look like the other perfect little pop singers," says Gaga, who has a still-unreleased song called "Ugly Sexy." "I think I look new. I think I'm changing what people think is sexy."

In the van, Gaga laughs as she watches for the first time a video for "Butterface," a vicious "Poker Face" parody (sample lyric: "You were thinking that I'm a 10/But my body's like a Barbie/And my face is like a Ken"). In truth, Gaga's attractive, slightly off-kilter features — ethnic nose, prominent front teeth — seem almost infinitely mutable: One day she looks like Debbie Harry, the next, Donatella Versace. But up close, she's always softer, prettier and younger-looking than her ultrastylized photos might suggest.

Gaga is fully Gaga at all times. Onstage or off, she's dressed in her future-shock style, often in clothes she designs with her 23-year-old creative director, Matthew Williams, whom she calls Matty Dada — he's part of the team she has dubbed Haus of Gaga, which she envisions as a modern-day version of Warhol's Factory. She was born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, but no one has called her that in years. (Her first producer, Rob Fusari, inspired the nickname — he was struck by some Freddie Mercury-like harmonies she recorded, and started singing Queen's "Radio Ga Ga" to her as a running joke. One day, she texted him her new name, and she never answered to "Stef" again.)

Backstage at the radio show, Gaga strolled around wearing a geometrically patterned vintage Gareth Pugh jacket over a leotard that barely covered her robust but toned bottom. But the price of her no-pants look is eternal vigilance: At all times, her ex-Marine bodyguard and three backup dancers took turns standing behind her — they were guarding her ass against paparazzi. Earlier in the week, she caused a ruckus in a Queens Stop & Shop after showing up in a transparent bodysuit (with only a bra and G-string underneath) to shop for tortelloni. "Why don't you have a fuckin' meet-and-greet in the frozen-foods aisle?" Speedy suggested. She then cooked a meal for Speedy's parents, rear end presumably still showing.

Now, ass firmly encased in cat suit, she's heading to her second gig of the night: a six-song taped performance for Walmart.com that will end sometime after 2 a.m. The next night will bring another radio concert; the day after that, a performance on Ellen DeGeneres' talk show and a photo shoot where her pal Marilyn Manson will turn up; the following day, a taping of Dancing With the Stars and a flight back to New York. There, she'll shoot a M.A.C Cosmetics campaign with Lauper, return to L.A. for another photo shoot, then jet off to New Zealand and Australia for a tour. "Welcome to my life," Gaga says. "They can't say I didn't work for it."

But this life — art, music, fashion, celebrity cameos — is all she ever wanted, even before she dropped out of New York University after her freshman year to pursue music full time. "I don't have the same priorities as other people," she continues softly, glancing warily at Speedy, who's not listening, distracted by his cellphone. She doesn't necessarily want him to hear this part. "I just don't. I like doing this all the time. It's my passion. When I'm not doing a show, I'm writing a song, or I'm on the phone with Dada yapping about a hemline. The truth is, the psychotic woman that I truly am comes out when I'm not working. When I'm not working, I go crazy."

As we reach Burbank, Gaga closes her eyes for a minute. "I'm rebooting," she says. "Activate Lady Gaga program."

Before she had an audience, it was just Gaga and her mirror. And for a while, it got weird. Four years ago, she was living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, after leaving school and her parents' financial support. In her shitty little apartment, she would order a bag of cocaine from a delivery service, get high, and work on her hair and makeup for hours. She'd get it perfect, and then come down from the coke and do it all over again. "It was quite sick," Gaga says with a barely concealed note of pride. "I suppose that's where the vanity of the album came from. It was just like this very special moment that I had with myself where I could feel confident and feel like a star. Sometimes I look back on it and I miss it in a way."

Around that time, she met the guy she still calls the love of her life — a charismatic heavy-metal drummer named Luke. Almost all of the songs on her debut, The Fame, were inspired by him — from the exuberant "Boys Boys Boys" to the sweet, early-Britney-like new single "Paparazzi," which turns out to be about love as an escape from her own narcissism and desire for fame: Gaga was so infatuated with her man that she was ready to be his fan, to turn the camera around and photograph him.

They had a rough breakup. "I was his Sandy and he was my Danny, and I just broke," she explains. Gaga sees love differently now. "Speedy means a lot to me," she says of her current boyfriend, "but my music's not going to wake up tomorrow morning and tell me it doesn't love me anymore. So I'm content with my solitude. I'm OK with being alone. I choose to have someone in my life when I can."

Gaga considers herself bisexual, but her attraction to women is purely physical — she's never been in love with a woman. And she's been highly disappointed by her boyfriends' reaction to this aspect of her sexuality. "The fact that I'm into women, they're all intimidated by it," she says. "It makes them uncomfortable. They're like, 'I don't need to have a threesome, I'm happy with just you.'" She shakes her head in disbelief.

If she's ever interested, there's one man in Lady Gaga's life who's up for pretty much anything she might want: His name is Marilyn Manson, and he's newly single. The two stars met not long ago when they recorded remixes of each other's upcoming singles, and they hit it off. But when Manson shows up at Gaga's photo shoot late one Monday night — toting a glass of absinthe, an assistant filming him with a Flip camcorder — he makes it hilariously clear that he'd like to get to know her a lot better. "I want to be that guy," he says in Gaga's dressing room, as she screens her sleekly imaginative new "Paparazzi" video, which has her making out with a studly model. "I want to be balls deep."

Gaga laughs it off, leaning on his shoulder. Manson points to a wire hanger on a nearby shelf. "You're going to need these for the abortion later." Another laugh. "I'll give you a cervical exam," he offers minutes afterward.

In between horrifying pickup lines, Manson makes the case for Gaga as an artist: "I was most impressed by her paparazzi photos. I thought that it looked the way that rock stars should look, as exciting as something that Warhol or Dalí would do. And I don't consider her to be similar to her contemporaries — the other girls that do pop music — simply because she knows exactly what she's doing. She's very smart, she's not selling out, she's a great musician, she's a great singer, and she's laughing when she's doing it, the same way that I am."

Gaga grew up in comfort on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, studying classical piano and working with Christina Aguilera's voice coach. Her dad, a former bar-band musician, raised her on Bruce Springsteen records, and she sang in a classic-rock cover band during her freshman year of high school at the Catholic, ultra-upscale Convent of the Sacred Heart. "I met some good-looking guys with guitars, and I wanted to have sex with really hot older men — they were seniors," she says.

At NYU, she sang in a glammy band, while starting to write and play piano-heavy solo songs that — depending on whom you ask — sounded like Tori Amos, the Beatles, Elton John, Queen or Otis Redding. "That was my favorite, the incredibly theatrical and emotional stuff where you could really hear her voice," says a key early collaborator, New York scenester Lady Starlight. These very different tracks won Gaga a first, short-lived record deal with Island Def Jam — and that side still comes out in the solo piano segments of her live shows.

But Gaga was starting to find her own music dull. "I was like, 'If it wasn't me, I wouldn't listen to this. I would be bored at this show,'" she says. "It was like a baby becoming a toddler — at a certain point, I smelled my own shit and I didn't like it." A Prince-inspired tune called "Beautiful, Dirty, Rich" was a breakthrough. With its hip-hop break beat and hypnotic spoken chant, it cracked open new, danceable possibilities. "I always loved pop music," says Gaga, who defines the genre loosely. She rattles off her favorite "pop" songs of all time: Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love," the Beatles' "Oh! Darling," Wilson Phillips' "Hold On," AC/DC's "T.N.T." and David Bowie's "Rebel Rebel."

Even after hearing "Beautiful, Dirty, Rich," Def Jam execs dropped Gaga. "They didn't get it," she says. "Some people still don't get me." After a dispiriting few months, she began working with RedOne, a synthesizer-loving Moroccan-Swedish producer, and found a new record deal with Interscope. In a single week, she and RedOne wrote and recorded her album's first three singles: "Just Dance," "Poker Face" and "LoveGame." "I just felt so free," she recalls, "and there was nothing in my way."

Gaga, a misfit in the Gossip Girl world of her high school, had found her true self. "I've always been Gaga," she says. "It's just that all the years of schooling and being in a Catholic environment and living in a place where we were kind of told what was the right way to be, I suppressed all those eccentricities about myself so I could fit in. Once I was free, I was able to be myself. I pulled her out of me, and I found that all of the things about myself that I so desperately tried to suppress for so many years were the very things that all my art and music friends thought were so lovely about me, so I embraced them."

Manson's namesake, Marilyn Monroe, is singing "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" on a photo-studio sound system, and Lady Gaga and a youthful-looking Cyndi Lauper are straddling giant pink lipstick tubes as flashbulbs pop. "It's like a penis!" Gaga says, playing the ingénue. They're wearing near-matching Jetsons-style red dresses, and Lauper keeps giving her younger counterpart little tips in her thick New York accent: "Put your leg out like that, it's more flattering. Arch your back! Stick your butt out and puff your chest."

"She's such a doll," Lauper says of Gaga afterward. In the next room looms an imposing, middle-aged Italian-American guy in jeans and an untucked white button-down shirt — he's Joseph Germanotta, Lady Gaga's dad and a successful Internet entrepreneur. He offers a firm handshake and some steely-eyed, Jersey-accented, impossible-to-heed advice on this article: "Keep it clean," he says, poking me hard in the chest bone. Then he pulls up his sleeve to reveal a new tattoo — it's Lady Gaga's lightning-bolt symbol, the one that can be seen on her face in the "Just Dance" video.

He wasn't always so down with the Gaga program, especially when his daughter first began singing half-naked in New York dives about six months after leaving college. "I was performing in a leopard G-string and a black tank top," she says. "He thought I was crazy. It wasn't 'She's inappropriate' or 'She's a bad girl' or 'She's a slut.' He thought I was nuts, that I was doing drugs and had lost my mind and had no concept of reality anymore. For my father, it was an issue of sanity."

He stopped talking to her for a while, and Gaga found that almost unbearable. "As successful as people may perceive me to be, if my father called me right now and said, 'What the fuck were you thinking doing this?' and was mad about something, it would break my heart. If somebody walks up to me and said, 'You're a nasty cunt and I hate your music and you're talentless,' it means nothing to me. Nothing. But if my father says it, it means a lot." Eventually, he came around — the record deals didn't hurt. "He loves me for what I am. When I grabbed a guy's ass today on set, he laughed. He loves it. He thinks I'm wonderful, and thank God. If he didn't, I would be a different Lady Gaga."

Her mother, Cynthia, an attractive blonde in a stylish electric-blue jacket and a Gaga lightning-bolt necklace, never stopped talking to her daughter — who credits her mom for a lot of her ass-baring chutzpah: "She'd tell me, 'Little baby girl, you can be whatever you want, and you are beautiful and you are talented and you could rule the world.'"

It's shortly past midnight at the Burbank soundstage, and Lady Gaga is sitting at a Lucite piano of her own design, filled with plastic and silver balls. She's wearing her cat suit and an awe-inspiringly odd metal hat — its many rings oscillate of their own accord, mimicking planets in orbit. She kicks into her showstopper — a wow-she-can-really-play Bette Midler-meets-Elton John take on "Poker Face" that often finds her hitting piano notes with one of her high heels — before stopping abruptly a few husky notes in. She asks for a glass of water and then retreats to her dressing room: She's worried that her voice is going.

She later admits that she nearly broke down and cried in the dressing room. Gaga can't abide even the prospect of failure — it terrifies her. "I had this disappointment in myself. That was a hard moment for me. Because as resilient as I believe that I am and as much as you can tell me all day, 'I don't think you have a breaking point, I think you're fearless and you can do it,' the physical body, at a certain point, just starts to clock out."

A few minutes later, though, Gaga emerges, brown eyes blazing with determination beneath her insane hat. She makes it through a throaty "Poker Face," and then kicks into her uptempo songs, backed by her dancers. As the beats reverberate, she sings and hits her dance moves with savage commitment, as if scourging weakness from her body. She's treating this rather tawdry, audience-free little Walmart gig like it's the Grammys, and her ferocity would be silly if it wasn't almost scary.

"All that ever holds somebody back, I think, is fear," she says later. "For a minute, I had fear. I went into the room and shot my fear in the face — then I came out and I did the rest of the show."

By her standards, Lady Gaga is dressed way down tonight, in full Debbie Harry mode — black leather jacket, white tee (with two X's of nipple-concealing electrical tape in front in lieu of a bra), zip-up leather tights, Sid Vicious-style spiky bracelets and a policewoman's cap that she keeps taking on and off. She's all but unrecognizable, which doesn't stop fan after fan from approaching. It's a rare moment of semi-leisure, which she's using for an interview over red wine in the bar of her hotel in New York's Meatpacking District. "This is probably the first date I've had in a really long time," she coos, after we clink glasses. "I'm getting wet."

If all goes according to plan, Gaga won't have much time to relax for the foreseeable future. "I feel like I have so much to do," she says. "The whole world sees the number-one records and the rise in sales and recognition, but my true legacy will be the test of time, and whether I can sustain a space in pop culture and really make stuff that will have a genuine impact."

She wants to make "museum-worthy" art out of pop — an ambition probably better left unstated. But more important, she wants to inspire her fast-growing fan base — which now ranges from downtown drag queens to suburban eight-year-olds — to find their true selves, to shoot their fear in the face. "I operate from a place of delusion — that's what The Fame's all about. I used to walk down the street like I was a fucking star," she says, her voice rising. "I want people to walk around delusional about how great they can be — and then to fight so hard for it every day that the lie becomes the truth."

Photoshoot by David LaChapelle

Issue 1108/1109 (July 8-22, 2010)

In her dressing room in Nottingham, Lady Gaga dances to a Billy Joel album, which is spinning on the small record player that’s become a backstage fixture. She hops into a chair in front of her make-up mirror and plays a rough cut of the video for her latest single, Alejandro, on mute on her MacBook Pro.

Considering her penchant for attention-grabbing outfits, the scene she keeps replaying is relatively sedate. “See, there’s no phone on my head — or a phone booth,” she says. Then she backs up the video and pauses it. “I’m not even wearing any make-up here. It’s just me, and people will see that what’s underneath everything is still me.”

She pauses and savours the image a little longer: “And I can still be fierce.”

Of course, a few scenes later in the video, she’s dancing with assault rifles thrusting out of her breasts. “OK, so there’s still a little Lady Gaga there,” she confesses with a smile.

The former Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta is on a mission: to prove that Lady Gaga is art and that her art is not a mask. It is her life.

And if she were any less strong-willed, her life would be spinning out of control right now: her grandfather is in the hospital, her father recently had heart surgery, and she was just told by doctors that she is at risk of developing lupus, an autoimmune disease that killed her aunt before Gaga was born.

Add to this the pressures of her sudden rise to cultural dominance, her relentless work ethic, her seemingly endless world tour and the fact that she has already completed demos for her next album, and you might imagine a star on the verge of collapse. But that’s not the way Gaga sees it.

“We’re supposed to be tired,” she says, before singing a few of the new songs she wrote on the road. “I don’t know who told everyone otherwise, but you make a record and you tour. That’s how you build a career. I told my manager today, ‘I can’t wait to take all my platinum records off the walls and make room for more.’”

Though Gaga’s savvy and ambition are clear, there is also something naive and trusting about her in person. When her road manager tells her not to share her new music with a journalist, even if it’s off the record, she dismisses the warning. “He’s going to write about other stuff,” she says. “I just want him to know who I am.”

And who is she? Some say Lady Gaga came into being the day that she and her former producer and boyfriend, Rob Fusari, came up with the nickname, based on the Queen song Radio Ga Ga. But if you follow her story and music carefully, she is more likely a product of heartbreak: first from her father, a moonlighting rock musician who cut her off after she dropped out of college; then from Island/Def Jam, which signed her and then dropped her, unimpressed with the Fiona Apple-style piano rock she was recording at the time; and finally, and perhaps most devastatingly for her, from a passionate and tempestuous relationship with a heavy-metal drummer, the only boyfriend she says she ever truly loved, just before she became famous.

After her break-up, she promised herself that she would never love again and would make him rue the day he doubted her. And this may be the origin of her transformation from Stefani to Gaga. As anyone who has seen her tour — which at this point would be roughly 1.4 million people — knows, it is not just a stage spectacle like a Madonna or Kiss show. It is a highly personal piece of performance art dressed up as a pop spectacle. As she puts it over and over in the show, she is a “free bitch,” and the audience should be too: free not just of society’s pressures to conform but also of letting the men in their lives control or define them. She sees her audience as a collection of mini versions of her socially and romantically rejected self, telling them at one point, “Let’s raise a glass to mend all the broken hearts of my fucked-up friends.” Her success is the ultimate misfit’s revenge.

The following night in Birmingham, Lady Gaga is backstage again, preparing for her show. This time, she is listening to Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run on vinyl, wearing in tribute a blue bandanna around her head and an unbuttoned black-studded vest with a black bra underneath. When she uses words like “fierce”, or describes her sexual conquests of beautiful men, one sees why the hermaphrodite rumours about her have been so persistent: she seems, at times, like a gay man trapped in a woman’s body. She sits on the couch, lowers the volume and considers the idea that Lady Gaga was born of heartbreak.

Neil Strauss: I have a theory about you.

Lady Gaga: Go ahead. Should I lay down?

NS: You might need to.

Gaga: We don’t have enough couches to lay me down.

NS: Have you ever been to therapy?

Gaga: No. I’ve, like, spoken to spiritual guides and things. I’m terrified of therapy because I don’t want it to mess with my creativity.

NS: So the question is: do you think if you’d never gotten your heart broken by that guy you were dating in the East Village five years ago, you wouldn’t have become as successful as you did afterward?

Gaga: No, I wouldn’t. No, I wouldn’t have been as successful without him.

NS: So here’s the thought . . .

Gaga: You made me cry [wipes tears from her eyes].

NS: Do you think that all that love you directed toward men now goes toward your fans instead?

Gaga: Well, I’ve really never loved anyone like I loved him. Or like I love him. That relationship really shaped me. It made me into a fighter. But I wouldn’t say that my love for my fans is equated to my attention for men. But I will say that love comes in many different forms. And I sort of resolved that if you can’t have the guy of your dreams, there are other ways to give love. So I guess in some ways you’re kind of right.

NS: Did he contact you at all after you got famous?

Gaga: I don’t want to talk about him.

Gaga: I’m sorry. I want to, but he’s too precious to talk about.

NS: I’m surprised. I thought that you’d be over it by now.

Gaga: Oh, I love my friends and my past, and it’s made me who I am. I didn’t just, like, wake up one day and forget how I got here. In fact, I’ll always have one high heel in New York City. I live in Hollywood, but you can’t make me love Hollywood. I’ll never love Hollywood.

NS: Do you think with that guy it was obsession or love?

Gaga: Love. But, you know, I don’t really know very much about love. I suppose if I knew everything about love, I wouldn’t be good at making music, would I?

NS: I don’t know. Some artists make their best music when they’re in love.

Gaga: I’m terrified of babies, though.

NS: Because?

Gaga: I think, creatively as a woman, you change once you give birth. I’m totally not ready for that.

NS: Did you ever have any resolution with your father after he cut you off during your wild days?

Gaga: It’s just recently that I’ve been healed in a way, because my father had this heart surgery that he was supposed to have since I was a kid. The fear of losing the man of my dreams, such as my dad — there’s fucking Freud for you — was terrifying. So the biggest fear of my life passed.

NS: Do you ever feel like you’re fulfilling your dad’s unrealised rock-star ambitions?

Gaga: Yeah, sure I do. I love my daddy. My daddy’s everything. I hope I can find a man that will treat me as good as my dad.

NS: You usually fall for dirty musician types, and your dad’s a musician. So . . .

Gaga: It’s loopy.

NS: That’s an interesting word to choose.

Gaga: ‘Loopy’ is my dad’s nickname for me. Loops! My dad is so funny. He called me the other day and he’s like, ‘I’m drunk, and I’m fucking really depressed because my dad is sick. This sucks.’ And I said, ‘You know, Dad, this is just part of life, and I’m sorry, but I’m here for you.’ And he said, ‘You’re right, Loops, it’s part of life.’ My whole life, my dad was trying to hide from me that he was a real dude, and now I’m old enough, we’re the best of friends, because he’s just given up on trying to be the father.

NS: He probably thought, ‘I tried to change her, but I can’t.’ So he just had to accept that you’re going to be who you’re going to be.

Gaga: Well, did you just sum up every relationship I’ve ever had, or what?

NS: They say that most workaholics are that way because it’s an addiction and a way to avoid other things.

Gaga: In so many ways, my music also heals me. So is it heroin, and I need the fix to feel better? Or is it that music is healing? I guess that’s the big question. When you work as hard as I do, or you resign your life to something like music or art or writing, you have to commit yourself to this struggle and commit yourself to the pain. And I commit myself to my heartbreak wholeheartedly. It’s something that I will never let go. But that heartbreak, in a way, is my feature. It’s a representation of the process of my work. As artists, we are eternally heartbroken.

NS: I didn’t mean to get so deep so early . . .

Gaga: I’m deeper than you thought [laughs]. And we didn’t talk about my favourite wacky outfit.

NS: So do you think workaholism is a way of avoiding intimacy and the vulnerability that comes with that?

Gaga: Well, sex is certainly not, like, a priority at the moment.

NS: Sex is different than intimacy.

Gaga: I guess I view sex and intimacy as the same. But I’m at a different place in my life now than I was two years ago. So I guess I’m a woman now.

NS: In what way do you mean?

Gaga: I don’t know when or why you realise that you’ve become a woman, but I’m a woman. I think different. I feel different. And I care less and less about what people think as the hours go by. I feel very strong.

NS: Is there anyone you’re able to open up with and show your vulnerabilities to?

Gaga: Well, there are very few people I can do that with. I do it with my fans. I mean, last night onstage I told them about my grandpa being sick. But there’s some things I keep sacred for myself. As someone who has written two albums about it, I have the right to choose whether or not I want to be a celebrity, and I don’t want to be one. And I feel that I’m relatively clever enough to control that people pay attention more to my music and to my clothing than they do to my personal life. Trust me, I’d much rather people write about what I wear and what I’m singing and what I do in my videos than about who I’m fucking. I mean, that, for me, is the kiss of death.

NS: Do you feel like you’re sacrificing certain parts of yourself and your life for your art and career?

Gaga: It’s kind of good for me, though, isn’t it? Because what if we want to date? We’re not gonna tell anybody. And we’re gonna lie profusely that we’re not together. And if you’re like, ‘Why don’t you want people to know?’ then I know you’re with me for the wrong reasons, so I’m like, ‘Fuck off.’

NS: Of course, the more you try to hide things . . .

Gaga: I guess what I’m trying to say is, this is showbiz for me. It might not be showbiz for the rest of you, but for me, this is showbiz. If I were to ever, God forbid, get hurt onstage and my fans were screaming outside of the hospital, waiting for me to come out, I’d come out as Gaga. I wouldn’t come out in sweatpants because I busted my leg or whatever.

And that’s what Michael [Jackson] did. Michael got burned, and he lifted that glittered glove so damn high so his fans could see him, because he was in the art of show business. That’s what we do. Some people don’t. They want to relate in a different way. I don’t want people to see I’m a human being. I don’t even drink water onstage in front of anybody, because I want them to focus on the fantasy of the music and be transported from where they are to somewhere else. People can’t do that if you’re just on Earth. We need to go to heaven.

NS: Are you finding that the songs you’re writing for your new album all have a certain theme?

Gaga: Yeah, that’s how I work. I always have these concept records. I just sort of spiritually harness onto something, and then everything grows out of this one seed. But I don’t want to say too much, because, in truth, it’s not going to come out until the top of next year, and I’m going to announce the title of the album at midnight on New Year’s. And no one knows that, so you can print that.

NS: Thanks.

Gaga: I think I’m just gonna get the album title tattooed on me and put out the photo. I’ve been working on it for months now, and I feel very strongly that it’s finished right now. It came so quickly. Some artists take years; I don’t. I write music every day. I really want to play you something. Just turn the tape off for one second.

[Tape is turned off, and she sings the title track of the new album.]

That chorus came to me, like, I swear, I didn’t even write it. I think God dropped it in my lap. And I swear to you that I’m in a place now writing music where there’s this urgency to protect and take care of my fans.

NS: Was any of that written on ecstasy?

Gaga: No. I love ecstasy. But I don’t take it very much. Well, I like MDMA. I don’t like ecstasy.

NS: Your fans seem to really like what you stand for, because some people need to be reminded that it’s OK to be different.

Gaga: I love what they stand for. I love who they are. They inspire me to be more confident every day. When I wake up in the morning, I feel just like any other insecure 24-year-old girl. But I say, ‘Bitch, you’re Lady Gaga, you better fucking get up and walk the walk today,’ because they need that from me. And they inspire me to keep going.

NS: Is it frustrating to have a new album ready yet still be touring playing the old one?

Gaga: I love writing on the road, because I go out there every night, and while I’m onstage performing the old songs, I literally imagine them singing the lyrics to my new songs. If I can’t imagine them singing the lyrics in the audience, why even write the song? What? To fulfil some fucking therapy in my soul?

NS: What about Speechless? That sounds therapeutic.

Gaga: I wrote that song to soothe my spirit, but nobody gives a shit if the chorus isn’t good. I don’t mean to sound crass, but just that’s how I view music. Not everybody gives a shit about your fucking personal life. Music is a lie. It is a lie. Art is a lie. You have to tell a lie that is so wonderful that your fans make it true. That has been my motivation and my inspiration for the longest time, and the new album is a lie that I want to become true so desperately.

NS: Do you feel there’s a side of you that forces you to stay strong for the fans, to be an example of having no fears?

Gaga: Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I break down and cry onstage. I totally wear my heart on my sleeve.

NS: When you talk really brazenly sexually or when you dress showing a lot of skin, there’s sort of a form of . . .

Gaga: Rebellion?

NS: No, not rebellion. There’s a form of social control. It’s like saying, ‘I’m kind of uncomfortable socially, and I’ll make you more uncomfortable, and that way I’ll feel more comfortable.’

Gaga: Oh, I see what you’re saying. I wish I could say yes, because that’s an interesting analysis, but I just feel really comfortable in those moments. I’m quite a schizophrenic person. Let’s call a spade a spade, right? But I’m OK with that, and I recognise that. It’s really interesting to me, because I put out music videos, and I do performances, and I am 79 per cent of the time shocked by how people respond, because I don’t really think it’s particularly ground-breaking or shocking. I think it’s just me and who I am, and I’m a feminist.

NS: It’s interesting to speak with you, because you have this intellectual and artistic side, but half of your hits are about clubbing and being drunk . . .

Gaga: Well, now I have a little bit more of an opportunity to be that, don’t I? I don’t mean to speak arrogantly about my musical strategy as a pop artist in the Warholian sense, but today you have to almost trick people into listening to something intelligent.

NS: So you’re thinking, “I’m going to trick this idea down your throat”?

Gaga: Or seduce people to be interested in something that is uncomfortable. Why are we still talking about ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’? It’s like, what fucking year is it? It makes me crazy! And I have been for three years baking cakes — and now I’m going to bake a cake that has a bitter jelly.

NS: Elaborate on that metaphor a little.

Gaga: The message of the new music is now more bitter than it was before. Because the sweeter the cake, the more bitter the jelly can be. If I had come out as who I was, no one would be listening. Now people are listening. So I can be inspirational, and I’m in a different place in my life. I’m interested in different things. I’ve got fame now. So I don’t want to write about it anymore.

Fifteen minutes before her performance that night, Lady Gaga asks if she can continue the interview afterward. As soon as the show ends, she rushes from the stage to the tour bus, covered in stage blood. As the bus lurches out of the backstage parking lot, she hears screaming outside, then yells to the bus driver, ‘Hold on, will you stop the bus? I’m just going to say hi to my fans.’

Her security guards look disapprovingly at her, then relent. She walks to the door of the bus and opens it, and hundreds of fans stampede toward her. The security guards start yelling for the driver to shut the door, and the bus pulls away. She smiles, pleased, as she walks back to continue the interview while her tour manager serves her white wine and chicken fingers, which she dips copiously in ketchup.

NS: How do you think you developed the resources to be able to handle fame and grow along with it?

Gaga: I think it’s my family. I think it’s the friendships that I’ve built that are really strong and wonderful. My best girlfriend from high school — and my friends that I made downtown in New York when they really welcomed me into this society of freakish kids that band together. I was actually talking to [performance artist and collaborator] Lady Starlight today, and I just said, ‘Without you guys, I wouldn’t be where I am today, for sure.’ They gave me a sense of belonging somewhere. It’ll make me cry just talking about it, because when you feel so much like you don’t fit in anywhere, you’d do anything just to make a fucking friend. And when I met the right people, they really supported me. I’ll never forget when she turned to me one day and she said, ‘You’re a performance artist.’ I was like, ‘You think so?’ When people believe in you, that’s what makes you grow.

NS: I notice that people who grow up in a stable home, with parents who they know love them, can deal with success better.

Gaga: Oh, yeah! But I was a bad kid. So I had a lot of home issues when I was in high school especially. I was a fucking nightmare. My mom laughs at me now, because I get drunk when I’m at home with my parents at a bar down the street. I’m like, ‘I was such a bad kid, I’m so sorry!’ I get so upset. My mom’s like, ‘You made up for it. It’s fine.’

NS: You have a lot of things in your behaviour that are signs of someone who had a traumatic experience in adolescence or childhood. Is that something you would ever discuss publicly?

Gaga: Probably not.

NS: When Christina Aguilera began talking about the dark issues in her past — growing up around domestic abuse — there was no negative response to it, and it ended up informing her work.

Gaga: [Hesitates] I feel like I tell this story in my own way, and my fans know who I really am. I don’t want to teach them the wrong things. And you also have to be careful about how much you reveal to people that look up to you so much. They know who I am. They know how they can relate to me. I’ve laid it all on the table. And if they’re smart like you, they make that assessment, but I don’t want to be a bad example.

NS: A bad example in the sense of being a victim?

Gaga: Yeah, and I’m not a victim. And my message is positive. My show has a lovely naivete and melancholy to it: a pop melancholy. That’s my art. If I told that other story in that way, I don’t know if that’s the best way I can help the universe.

NS: Because if you did talk about it, then things you did would be misinterpreted and seen through that experience?

Gaga: Yeah. Maybe if I was writing my own book or something. I guess it’s hard to . . . If I say one thing in our interview right now, it will be all over the world the day after it hits the stands. And it would be twisted and turned. And it’s like you have to honour some things. Some things are sacred.

NS: I understand.

Gaga: There are some things that are so traumatic, I don’t even fully remember them. But I will say wholeheartedly that I had the most wonderful mother and father. I was never abused. I didn’t have a bad childhood. All of the things I went through were on my own quest for an artistic journey to fuck myself up like Warhol and Bowie and Mick, and just go for it.

NS: That’s interesting that you have this idea that the artist has to expose himself to these dark parts of life.

Gaga: You do, but all of the trauma I caused to myself [pauses]. Or it was caused by people that I met when being outrageous and irresponsible. What I’m trying to say is that I like to, within moderation, respect that I’m not Mick Jagger or David Bowie, and I don’t just have fans that are a certain age. There are, like, nine-year-olds listening to my music, so I guess I try to be respectful of them if at all possible.

NS: You do talk about cocks and pussy all the time, but I know what you mean.

Gaga: I do, but cock and pussy is not the same as the things that I could talk about.

NS: You seem to have become more religious or spiritual in the last year or so.

Gaga: I’ve had a few different experiences. I’m really connected to my Aunt Joanne, and she’s not with us anymore. And then there was my father’s surgery. And also, my life has changed so much. It’s hard not to believe that God hasn’t been watching out for me when I’ve had such obstacles with drugs and rejection and people not believing in me. It’s been a long and continuous road, but it’s hard to just chalk it all up to myself. I have to believe there’s something greater than myself.

NS: Like a higher power?

Gaga: Yeah, a higher power that’s been watching out for me. Sometimes it really freaks me out — or, I should say, it petrifies me — when I think about laying in my apartment [in New York] with bug bites from bedbugs and roaches on the floor and mirrors with cocaine everywhere and no will or interest in doing anything but making music and getting high. So I guess I’ve come a really long way, and I have my friends to thank for that, and I have God.

NS: So do you think that getting addicted to work replaced drugs in your life?

Gaga: You just learn to put your energy into something creative and wonderful. I work with Deepak Chopra, and I called him and told him some wacky dream I had about . . . I don’t want to say. It’s too morbid.

NS: You seem like you have morbid dreams.

Gaga: I do have morbid dreams. But I put them in the show. A lot of the work I do is an exorcism for the fans but also for myself. The [video] piece in the show where I’m eating the heart, it’s a real bovine heart.

NS: What made you do that?

Gaga: My father was about to have surgery, or maybe he had just had surgery. So Nick Knight, who did all the visuals for the shows, said to me, ‘It’s time for you to let go of this.’ And he gave me the heart as kind of a way to face my fear.

NS: So you were saying earlier that you had gone to Deepak Chopra with your dream. What happened?

Gaga: Oh, right. I was freaking out. I was hysterically crying before the show, like, ‘The devil’s trying to take me, Deepak. I’m a good girl!’ I don’t know if I really believe in stuff like that. I think I was just worried about my dad. And Deepak goes, ‘You are so very creative, my Gaga. You should make this into a video.’ And I guess in his own way, he spoke to me about learning to respect and honour my insanity. It’s part of who I am.

NS: Do you have any recurring dreams?

Gaga: [Hesitates] I have this recurring dream sometimes where there’s a phantom in my home. And he takes me into a room, and there’s a blonde girl with ropes tied to all four of her limbs. And she’s got my shoes on from the Grammys. Go figure — psycho. And the ropes are pulling her apart.

I never see her get pulled apart, but I just watch her whimper, and then the phantom says to me, ‘If you want me to stop hurting her and if you want your family to be OK, you will cut your wrist.’ And I think that he has his own, like, crazy wrist-cutting device. And he has this honey in, like, Tupperware, and it looks like sweet and sour sauce with a lot of MSG from New York. Just bizarre. And he wants me to pour the honey into the wound, and then put cream over it and a gauze.

So I looked up the dream, and I couldn’t find anything about it anywhere. And my mother goes, “Isn’t that an illuminati ritual?” And I was like, “Oh, my God!”

NS: People keep reporting that you’re exhausted from pushing it too hard on the road. You’ve been on tour for . . .

Gaga: Three years. It’ll be four years when we’re done. And then I’m going to put out a new album. So, see ya! [Laughs cruelly] We’re already designing that show.

NS: Are you worried that you’re going to hit a point where there’s a backlash?

Gaga: From where?

NS: No one can predict it. But when you look at anyone who gets to a certain point in their career, all of a sudden something random happens, and everybody turns on them, and then of course at some point later, everybody loves them again.

Gaga: I’m not worried about it. I believe in karma. I’m really good to the people around me. I don’t know if you made any observations of our wonderful team, but I love everybody here. My assistant is one of my best friends. I’m not a diva, in any sense of the word.

NS: But apart from that, the media likes to build people up so they can tear them down, then build them up again. Everybody goes through that.

Gaga: I mean, they’ve tried everything. But they haven’t done it. When they start saying that you have extra appendages, you have to assume that they’re unable to destroy you. I’ve got scratch marks all over my arms, and they say I’m a heroin addict. It’s from my costumes. When I pass out onstage, they say that I’m burning out, when I have my own a) personal health issues and b) it’s fucking hot up there and I’m busting my ass every night. I’ve heard that Audrey Hepburn used to faint on the set all the time, and nobody thought she was a burnout.

NS: What are your health issues right now?

Gaga: I don’t have lupus. I’m a borderline lupetic person, which means I have it in my system, and they don’t know a lot about it. I don’t want my fans to worry, so I didn’t talk about it. But it’s just more making sure that I reduce stress in my life to make sure that I don’t develop it.

NS: Did doctors give you a regimen of some sort to follow?

Gaga: It’s in my family, so I don’t really listen to doctors very much when it comes to it, because it’s so personal. I talk to people that I know that have it, or my father, whose sister died from it. There’s nothing to worry about, but I do get very tired sometimes, and I naturally wonder . . .

NS: Of course, you get to be a hypochondriac.

Gaga: I don’t want to be one, so most of the time I’m like, ‘Fuck it, I’m fine.’ At a certain point, you’re so beyond the point of exhaustion that you don’t know: do I have a health problem that may or may not be real, or am I just really tired?

NS: So what changes did you make in your life once you found out?

Gaga: I make much more of an effort now to minimise the drama or the stress in my life. I take care of myself. I drink, and still live my life, but I could never let my fans down. That would kill me to have to face that extra obstacle every day to get onstage. It’s completely terrifying, so I’m just really focused on mind, body and soul. And also Joanne — I believe that her spirit is inside of me, so, you know, my closest friends have told me that it was just her way of peeking in to say hello.

NS: That’s an interesting way to think about it.

Gaga: And I’ve got her death date on my arm. [Shows passage in German from Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet]

NS: Next to the Rilke quote?

Gaga: Yeah. She was a poet and a writer, and I guess I truly believe that she had unfinished work to do and she works through me. She was, like, a total saint. So maybe she’s living vicariously through a sinner [laughs].

NS: There are all these videos of you on YouTube playing alternative and classic rock. Do you ever want to go back to that and do a Billy Joel kind of thing?

Gaga: I totally wrote one for this new album. It’s so good. And it’s very personal. The song is about my sadness in the most real and honest kind of way, and the song is about how whenever I become so unbearably lonely, my father has always been my friend. He would take my calls, and he’d listen to me crying and poetically talk about my sorrow, and he would say, “You know, Loop, you’re gonna be OK if your songs are on the radio.”

The tour bus stops at a hotel in Birmingham, where Lady Gaga’s assistant boards the bus.

NS: I’ll let you get to Manchester. Thanks for the time.

Gaga: Use the stuff that’s going to make me a legend. I want to be a legend. Is that wrong?

Photoshoot by Terry Richardson

Issue 1132 (June 9, 2011)

Monster Goddess - Unicorns, sex dreams and the freak revolution: deep inside the unreal world of Lady Gaga by Brian Hiatt.
In a dark, airless studio control room on the third floor of a downtown-Manhattan office building, Lady Gaga is clutching a toy unicorn and talking about Rocky IV. She’s eight hours away from finishing vocals for her third album, Born This Way, which is supposed to be out in less than a month. But even with deadlines looming (“soon” is all anyone will say, ominously, about the final cutoff), even in the computer monitors’ dim light, even while she sips from a can of Coke Zero through a bendy straw, she is resplendent in her Gaganess: Her blond hair extensions are in dual ponytails, rising up like her unicorn’s horn; her bangs are a contrasting black; her dramatic cat-eye makeup extends well past the edges of her lids. She’s wearing tights with a small rip in the left thigh, a bra top, knee-high “stripper boots” and a hugely oversize denim jacket with the cross-and-heart cover art of her current single, “Judas,” painted on it – a present from a fan. Until a moment ago, she was wearing a beret that made her resemble a particularly fashion-forward Guardian Angel.

“Whenever I get sad, I think of little monsters and go like this,” Gaga coos, making the unicorn’s tiny horn light up. “Fight on, little pony, fight on!” Her admirers call themselves little monsters; in the oft-heartbreaking letters they pass up to the stage, they call her Mother Monster. In three years of fame, Gaga has amassed 34 million Facebook friends and 1 billion YouTube clicks; hip teens in China express surprise by saying, “Oh, my Lady Gaga.” She’s reshaped pop in her image, telling kids it’s cool to be gay or freaky or unpopular, that they’re born that way: a message that’s largely been absent from the charts since Nineties alt-rock’s outcast chic. Gaga may, on occasion, draw heavily from the music and iconography of her heroes, but her influence on her own peers is even more obvious: Miley Cyrus and Christina Aguilera practically destroyed their careers trying to copy her; Rihanna and Katy Perry keep getting weirder (see Perry’s “E.T.” video); Ke$ha is allowed to be famous.

Not to mention the now-inescapable four-on-the-floor dance beats that Gaga reintroduced to pop radio – a sound she’s now trying to reinvent. “Step away from the formula!” says Gaga, who’s infused the new album with her passion for vintage rock. “If I could get those epic choruses on the dance floor, that for me is the triumph of the album.”

But Gaga still feels like an underdog – so she’s been watching the Rocky movies. Rocky is a lot like Gaga, minus the meat dress, giant egg and 10-and-counting hit singles: small, scrappy, Italian-American, always in competition with more flawless physical specimens. Last night, she saw the fourth film for the first time, crying when Rocky triumphed over the evil Soviet Ivan Drago. “My favorite part,” Gaga says with rapt enthusiasm, “is when Apollo’s ex-trainer says to Rocky, ‘He is not a machine. He’s a man. Cut him, and once he feels his own blood, he will fear you.’ ” (She actually invented at least half of this quote, but whatever.)

“I know it sounds crazy, but I was thinking about the machine of the music industry,” she continues. “I started to think about how I have to make the music industry bleed to remind it that it’s human, it’s not a machine. I kept saying to myself today, ‘No pain, no pain, I feel nothing.’ ” She punches the air. “Left hook, right hook. I’ve been through so much worse in my life before I became a pop singer that I can feel no pain in the journey of the fight to the top.” She pauses, and quotes AC/DC: “ ‘It’s a long way to the top if you want to rock & roll.’ It is! But at the end of the day, everything has a heart, everything has a soul – sometimes we forget that.”
[...]
• When Gaga first blew up in early 2009, people had a hard time accepting her outrageous wardrobe and public persona. "Being myself in public was very difficult," she says. "I was being poked and probed and people would actually touch me and touch my clothes and be like, 'What the fuck is that,' just so awful. It was like I was being bullied by music lovers, because they couldn't possibly believe that I was genuine."

• Gaga was also teased mercilessly in high school. "Being teased for being ugly, having a big nose, being annoying," she says. “'Your laugh is funny, you're weird, why do you always sing, why are you so into theater, why do you do your make-up like that?’ . . . I used to be called a slut, be called this, be called that, I didn't even want to go to school sometimes."

• While offstage, she's taken to wearing lots of clothing given to her by fans. "We have this umbilical cord that I don't want to cut, ever," she says. "I don't feel that they suck me dry. It would be so mean, wouldn't it, to say, 'For the next month, I'm going to cut myself off from my fans so I can be a person.' What does that mean? They are part of my person, they are so much of my person. They're at least 50 percent, if not more."

• She is annoyed at the suggestion by some critics that her main goal is to attract attention. "I have attention," she says, and begins addressing her critics directly. "Is it that you believe that I am attention-seeking or shock for shock's sake, or is it just that it's been a long time since someone has embraced the art form the way that I have? Perhaps it's been a couple of decades since there's been an artist that's been as vocal about culture, religion, human rights, politics. I'm so passionate about what I do, every bass line, every EQ. Why is it that you don't want more from the artist, why is it that you expect so little, so when I give and give, you assume it's narcissistic?"

Photoshoot by Ryan McGinley

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