"Who’s your favorite Gaga?” is a question that will be asked more and more as the pop star’s career progresses. The singer, born Stefani Germanotta, has a gift for churning out iconic moments. At this point, it takes more than one hand to count all of them—an especially impressive feat considering her discography is only four studio albums deep. There’s “Poker Face” Gaga; meat dress Gaga; Kermit the Frog-coat Gaga; Alexander McQueen Gaga; leather-and-fishnets Born This Way Gaga; Artpop Gaga; and, most recently, old glamour Gaga, who coincides with the release of Cheek to Cheek, her collaborative album of jazz standards with Tony Bennett.
Over her decade-plus career, Gaga has not only proven herself to be a fearless master of reinvention, she’s bridged the worlds of music and high fashion, introducing avant concepts and niche designers to the masses (one of whom, her former stylist Nicola Formichetti, went on to become artistic director of Diesel). Ahead of her 53rd ArtRave show, Lady Gaga phoned in from Denmark to talk about getting back to her roots with Cheek to Cheek, her relationship with Alexander McQueen, and her off-duty style.
How did you decide to do a jazz album with Tony Bennett? It’s such a bold move after Artpop.
Tony and I met years ago at a Robin Hood Foundation event to raise money for impoverished people in New York. I was singing that night, and my buddies that I’ve been playing jazz with for many years—I call them the Rivington Rebels, they’re from the Lower East Side—were in town, so I said, “Hey, do you want to sing a couple jazz tunes with me during my set?” They said sure, so I sang Nat King Cole’s “Orange Colored Sky” and George Gershwin’s “Someone to Watch Over Me.” It just so happened that Tony Bennett was in the audience. After the show, someone said, “Mr. Bennett would like to meet you.” I said, “Are you kidding me? Oh, God, he was here?” I was mortified. I couldn’t believe I had just sung jazz in front of the great Tony Bennett. But I collected myself, put on something elegant, and met him, and he said, “My gosh, can you sing jazz. I had no idea. We have to do an album together.” I immediately said yes, let’s do it. We did “The Lady and the Tramp,” and because that was so successful, we decided to go ahead with the album. I don’t have any rules when it comes to where or how I release music. I always feel like if it’s good, it’s good.
Were you nervous about alienating some of your younger fans with this release?
No, I wasn’t. Little Monsters are very open-minded. They have a thirst for new things. I started singing jazz when I was 13 and I discovered it before then. My mom used to play Billie Holiday on Sundays, I found Ella Fitzgerald—who’s my absolute favorite jazz singer—and my father listened to Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. So part of me knew in my heart that many of my fans would fall in love with jazz the same way I did, because we’re very similar.
I’m also not afraid of anything. At the end of the day, it’s much more important to me to put out this great music into the world. Because I am a jazz vocalist, it’s a completely humbling experience to be doing this with Tony. All I want is to spread the message of this music as far and wide as I can with these great composers: Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Rodgers and Hart, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn—I could go on and on.
Where do you think pop music is headed right now?
It’s really hard to say where it will go, but I will say that I’m loving watching people gravitate toward the likes of Sam Smith and people who have these rich, beautiful organic voices. I’m excited that this album is coming out now because I think people are ready for an organic type of music. I feel that culture is excited to hear something more natural.
Where are you right now with your clothing? It seems like you’ve been channeling Norma Desmond from Sunset Boulevard and Cher with your hair. Did you have a particular muse in mind?
I’m always inspired by the greats. I look back at Ginger Rogers, and even though I might not be dressing like her, she’s been a big inspiration for me—as well as Ella Fitzgerald. Ella didn’t care how she looked. She wasn’t worried about anyone thinking she’s beautiful. She was worried about giving the most honest, authentic performance that she could.
When I was choosing what kind of hair I wanted to wear while singing this album, I remembered how I wore my hair when I was 13 when I sang standards for the first time. I’m an Italian girl, so when I get out of the shower, my hair curls up and I get out my diffuser and put spray in it. Because I’m returning to my roots with jazz, I thought I’d also return to my hair roots.
I feel very supportive and blessed that Cher has been so supportive of me borrowing her wigs. That shows the mark of a real artist.
How do you see the relationship between your music and what you wear?
Truthfully, I like to be as comfortable as possible when I’m onstage singing jazz. I don’t like to be thinking about if I look beautiful or not, or if there’s any sex appeal. Those things are distractions for me. I need to sing with my whole body and mind. I have to really focus on my vocal inflections. I don’t like to have any choreography or routine. I just want to feel totally natural, and I believe that will produce the most honest interpretation of the song. That’s the way you do justice to jazz, when you give all of yourself.
I also have been dressing so nicely because of Tony. He calls me “lady” when I’m with him, and it inspires me to wear elegant dresses. He’s never told me to change my clothes. He loves everything I wear—even when I come to the studio with a leather jacket on and a cigarette hanging out of my mouth. Something about him makes me want to dress nice.
You’ve brought fashion to mainstream consciousness like no other artist. Was that always the intention? Do you feel like an ambassador for the fashion world?
Well, that’s a very nice thing to say to me. Grace Jones used to call herself a fuse, as opposed to a muse, and I would view myself more as a vehicle for the fashion world. What I’d like to do is always support great and young designers and bring their art to the forefront of commercial culture. I have a love for the avant-garde, but I also have a love for simplicity. For me, it’s all about supporting the artists. I think the more artists that support each other, the better the creative world will be. I just love fashion, and I want people to feel the same passion I feel and the same admiration for designers.
I weep over hemlines when I receive dresses. I cry over the beading. I spend hours and hours choosing the perfect jewelry with Brandon Maxwell. I was so proud of him for that blue velvet dress he designed for me that I wore in Belgium. That was a magical moment for the two of us, and that’s really what it’s all about—sharing a beautiful moment, that’s what makes the dress good.
Do you have a favorite outfit you’ve worn?
My favorite outfit is the Alexander McQueen outfit I wore to the MTV VMAs when I accepted an award for “Bad Romance.” It was a piece from his last collection right before he died. That was my favorite moment. I think about it all the time and I think about him. He was wonderful because he didn’t care so much about impressing anyone in the fashion world. He wanted to burst the bubble.
After the flying dress that you debuted last year, what’s next? How can you one-up that?
Well, you’ll just have to wait and see. The Haus of Gaga has some really intelligent and very passionate people. I’m very lucky to know all of these young, brilliant people, and we’ll continue to dream up fantasies.
How do you recruit for the Haus of Gaga?
Very often now, we’re approached by people. There’s no method or process other than we start to create together, and if there’s a strong bond, then we stay together. That’s the beauty of it. We’re one big family and it’s all about the work. I feel like we’re a powerful aura when we all come together.
What’s your off-duty Gaga style?
I’m usually naked with my face mask on, running around my hotel room on my cell phone, working my tits off and burning sage.