The Advocate is an American LGBT-interest magazine founded in 1967, printed bi-monthly and available by subscription. Magazine and website have an editorial focus on news, politics, opinion, and arts and entertainment of interest to lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender (LGBT) people.
November 2008 Edit
The racy Lady Gaga, née Stefani Germanotta, entered hard on singles charts (particularly on iTunes) with the Colby O’Donis -aided single "Just Dance" off her recently released debut, The Fame. Now her candor and showmanship have earned her a Billboard Top 20 album, comparisons to Madonna, and frequent championing from that ubiquitous gay force Perez Hilton.
Gaga sees celebrity behavior as ritualized art form, a Noh drama in which limousine arrivals, saucy Maxim interview quotes, and prison mug shots are all equally rehearsed and mastered. Though Gaga looks like a Gwen Stefani take on T. Rex, her intentions, to some degree, are as serious as a textbook. She believes pop music is vital, never lowbrow. And maybe she would know best, having worked with and written tracks for Britney Spears, the Pussycat Dolls, and New Kids on The Block.
The Advocate phoned Lady Gaga to discuss her influences, her raunchy persona, and the salacious lady she calls her "total girl-crush". Oh, and the story behind that highly suggestive "disco stick" she brandishes onstage like a titanium emblem off a homosexual spaceship.
You approach fame like a pop archaeologist, studying its bizarreness and machinations. Now how does it feel to experience fame so suddenly?
Oh, it’s really overwhelming and very exciting. It’s interesting, because you usually think about fame a certain kind of way in your head, but I really didn't have a real moment of it until I saw myself on iTunes at number 1. Because that's your music, you know? So that was a really different moment for me, as someone who analyzes fame and celebrity obsession and media culture and, you know, fame as an art form -- it was kind of a real moment for me to have my first real dose of it.
Your bluntness and defiance are signature attributes. What made you this way? Do you always seek to defy?
No, I guess it’s just that New York girl in me. I've got a pinch of some punk in my blood. I've always been that way; I was always pretty bad-ass growing up, trying to stay out late. I was always in bands with boys. I just always wanted to be independent, making music, and a free woman. It’s just kind of always been in my blood.
You're a fixture on Perez Hilton’s site. Do you devoutly follow celeb gossip as part of your interest in glamour?
I used to be more in tune with it than I am now. Now I'm a lot more focused on, you know, my project, and more focused on articulating how I'm going to bring all of my ideas about fame into fruition in my work. But, yeah, I'm certainly up to date on pop culture -- I read Perez’s site all the time. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him as a pop culture journalist. I'm for sure up to date. It’s funny, I do a lot of research, if anything, on YouTube and the internet a lot. Kind of seeing what other artists are doing, fashion overseas, things like that.
What artists are you watching out for right now?
Right now I'm excited that Marilyn Manson's working on his new album. I'm kind of gearing up for that.
The influences you've cited in past interviews are totems of gay culture -- Madonna, David Bowie, Boy George, Sinéad O'Connor, Andy Warhol. What draws you to these people? What do you glean from them?
They're performance artists. They go much further and much beyond being a singer and musician. It’s about being a visionary and a storyteller. I just use these artists as a template as the kind of artist I want to be and the kind of figure that I want to be remembered as.
You must have a favorite Madonna persona
Wow... hmm. Erotica. I loved her in the latex with the black lips and all that. It’s defiant, you know? Most remember sort of remember Madonna most famously for the Like a Virgin bridal gown. That’s a bit more traditional in my eyes. There’s something about the erotic look that was so inappropriate, so unsuitable for television. Even at, like, 3 a.m.
If you had to role play, would you be more like the "straight" rocker David Bowie or the "gay" David Bowie, flanked by an amorous Mick Jagger?
Hello! Gay, gay, gay! Did you even have to ask? Gay, gay, gay, gay, gay! Yes! With Jagger on the side.
How do the spectacles of your show come together? And how did your famous prop "the disco stick" come to be?
The disco stick has gone through many a metamorphosis. Originally it was going to be a cane. Then we started to talk about the club shows and the fact that I was going to be moving around, you know, from country to city to city all the time -- and without a tour bus for the first part of my tour. So I started to think about ways that we could have a self-contained show that was still really powerful and felt like you were watching an artist who’s been around for 10 years.
So we started playing with ideas about light and fashion and how we could incorporate them into the show. And so the disco stick became a light-up invention. And from that came the glasses, and then I came up with the LCD-screen glasses and iPod glasses. For me, the philosophy was "trash sophisticated". It was "How do I create a show, a traveling show, a circus that still feels like they got in everything?" And then we throw in a microphone plugged into an amp. Something I can travel with, something that’s beautiful, something that has strong imagery that doesn't require a staff of 50 and 80 trucks. So, you know, for me, it was just wrapping my head around stuff.
From a fashion perspective it's incorporating technology into the work. It's putting stage design into the clothing.
What’s your biggest fashion must?
I love my sunglasses. They're just great because no matter what you freaking have on, if your hair’s messed up and you've got no makeup on, just pop those puppies on and you're good.
You hop on a girl’s lap in the video for "Poker Face". Is sexuality-bending just part of your act?
I would say yes. I mean, I think I'm a free-spirited woman, and I intend to continue to push sexual boundaries in my work visually and musically.
Let’s say you're only allowed one decadent lesbian fling in your life -- who’s it going to be with? And who dominates during the proceedings?
I would say... Dita von Teese. I have a total girl-crush on her. And who’s dominating? I think it would have to be an equal love-sharing.
Though your biggest single thus far is “Just Dance”, you said in an interview that you don't consider yourself a dance artist. Care to explain?
I think that, especially since the word dance is in the title, that sometimes, you know, I've been called a "dance artist" a lot, but I make pop music. And it’s got a rock n' roll heart and a little R&B flavor in the melodies. The lyrics are super twisted. I mean, it’s not a dance record -- if you put it up next to an Ida Corr record or a Bob Sinclair record, it’s not dance, it’s pop. I want to challenge people to think about pop in a less compartmentalized-genre kind of way and just think of it a song. I think with this album proving itself in the pop world, we can break out of boundaries, think outside of the box, and do something that’s a little bit left of center and still get played on radio.
I take it we can only expect your gay following to grow exponentially in the near future?
I want to keep making great music, and what I love about the gay community and my gay fans is there’s no getting anything past them. It’s either great music and a great artist and a great dress or it’s not, you know? [Laughs] The gays are never afraid to go, "Honey... I didn't like that outfit". There’s a real honesty and trust with my gay fans. I'm always going to be 150,000 % percent loyal.
To me, it doesn't matter if I make it big-time as a pop sensation, Top 40, playing in clubs, and selling out arenas all over the world. The gay community is always with me. Always, always. I'm not moving on or changing. With the gay community, it’s always and forever.
- Article by: Louis Virtel
- Published: November 13, 2008
August 2011 Edit
Gaga's Self PortraitEdit
Lady Gaga has just touched down in Los Angeles after a red-eye flight from New York City, following a meet-and-greet with fans at a Best Buy store—a crowded event that lasted until 2 a.m. The 25-year-old musician, who since the release of her debut studio album, The Fame, in 2008 has seen her celebrity rocket to stratospheric heights, is riding in a car on her way to rehearse for a performance she’ll give the next evening on American Idol.
Most entertainers with her schedule would be exhausted. Gaga feels euphoric. “I’m so, so happy”, she tells me. “I got to spend all night with the fans last night, and it was so much fun”. She sounds genuine. The inflection in her voice when she says the word “fans” is saturated with affection.
Gaga is a very busy lady, and consequently our interview has been postponed four times. Her wildly hyped, hugely anticipated album Born This Way was released the day before. First-week sales of the album have defied even the most optimistic estimates by her record label, and everyone from David Letterman to The Wall Street Journal wants a piece of her. I just want her to describe what she’s wearing.
An enormous part of Gaga’s appeal comes from her avant-garde fashion sense—from her surreal Alexander McQueen footwear to the facial spurs she sports in the Born This Way artwork. I tell her that I don’t want to sound like a pervert, but I want the details on today’s ensemble. Gaga laughs at this. “That’s OK, pervy is fine”, she says before describing her entire outfit down to her bra and panties (Calvin Klein), the dance tights, and the leather jacket with the new album artwork hand-drawn on the back. The jacket is a gift from one of the fans she met the previous night.
“My love for my gay fans is just pure, authentic love for them as supporters of me from the beginning, and me feeling connected to their struggles as someone who is a part of their fight”, she says.
The mutual love affair between Gaga and her intensely devoted — and largely gay — disciples has come into the conversation a second time within a few minutes. She has declared numerous times that, like many of her “Little Monsters”, she was bullied. In one instance, as a young girl in Manhattan, she was literally tossed into a trash can by classmates. It’s not just sympathy she feels, though. Her connection to her fans goes deeper, to the point of identification. She says she is one of them.
Though she’s recently ended an on-off relationship with musician Lüc Carl, Gaga has discussed her attraction to other women in the past. As to whether she also considers herself an actual member of the LGBT community — “yes”, is her response after a brief pause. Gaga draws the word out, perhaps steeling herself for the follow-up question, wondering if she’ll be forced to address the rumor that she has a penis. “The b letter”, Gaga answers, and lets out a giggle. She really is in good spirits today.
Is this declared affinity for LGBTs, the championing of equality, just pandering, so much lip service to an album-buying public, all in the service of promoting a new release? It would be easy to be skeptical of her enthusiasm, of her rainbow flag–waving. She’s been accused of not being gay enough to claim a letter in the acronym, and it’s been said that her activism for marriage equality, against the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, and for AIDS awareness (she once appeared on Good Morning America dressed as a condom) is as superficial as her outré fashion.
“To say that I would use the gay community to sell records is probably one of the most ridiculous statements anyone can make about me as a person”, Gaga states. The timbre of her voice changes, deepening with frustration. “I would say the top thing I think about every single day of my life, other than my fans, loving the music, and my family being healthy, is social justice and equality”, Her conviction is convincing. Why do Gaga’s fans hang on her every move? Are they drawn to her nonconformity, hypnotized by the sheer force of her personality, or do they just really like the damn catchy songs she records?
“I don’t know exactly”, she says simply. For a woman so frequently called upon to explain her looks, her videos, her sensibilities, her response is surprisingly unselfconscious. But a flair for the dramatic takes over. Rather than answer, she tells a story about a 20-something gay serviceman she met at Best Buy last night. “He was afraid that he would be discharged and that he would be judged or found out. [He said] that the fight in America against ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ and the fight for equality made him feel stronger and made him feel safe, and he gave me his service jacket”, Gaga is silent for a moment. “And we just held each other and cried. Anyone who says that I’m not genuine is not interested in overcoming this fight. That was such a pure and wonderful moment that we shared, and I remember thinking. There’s no album sale, no number 1, that could compete with this moment. That is what the fuck it’s all about. What the fuck it’s all about is if I can write one song that could change one person’s life”.
“Born This Way,” the single she released in February, plainly desires to be that kind of song. It’s a pulsating dance track with a message meant to empower the lonely, the disaffected, the discriminated against. No less than Elton John predicted it would surpass “I Will Survive” as the great gay anthem. The song immediately shot to the top of the charts, where it remained for six weeks, making it the first number 1 with a shout-out to transgender people. The single also received a fair amount of criticism. It was maligned in some quarters for borrowing too heavily from Madonna, and in other quarters for the lyric “Don’t be a drag / Just be a queen,” which some said alienated gay people who don’t do drag or consider themselves queens.
The first signs of another b word —backlash— began to surface. To have become this powerful so quickly, Gaga has surely insulated herself with an invisible armor. Her friend Mario Lavandeira (a.k.a. blogger Perez Hilton) says the criticism still gets to her, but she still chooses to face it. “She likes to be two steps ahead of everyone else”, he says. “The only way to do that is to be plugged in and aware of what everyone else is doing and what people are thinking and what they’re responding to”. Makeup artist Billy Brasfield, a member of Gaga’s glam squad, says she reads everything written about her, no matter how mean-spirited. He suggests that this ultimately serves to strengthen Gaga’s resolve to succeed for her fans, to show them that if she can, so can they. “By facing your haters, you educate yourself about what people are saying”, Billy B says. “You take what you can learn from it, and fuck the rest of it”.
While it would be impossible for any record to live up to the hyperbole and sheer anticipation that attended Born This Way — Gaga herself described it as “the greatest album of the decade” —reviews were mostly respectable, and sales were spectacular. The album is loud, huge, meticulously produced, an eclectic auditory assault. The lyrics are filled with metaphors, messages about acceptance and empowerment, and there’s an abundance of references to religious figures as well as dead presidents and their mistresses. Yet, for such a progressive artist, the sound is surprisingly retro— equally rooted in mid-’80s Bruce Springsteen and late-’80s techno. Like its creator, it’s all over the place.
“I would say that’s precisely what Born This Way is all about. It’s not about just being born in one moment; it’s about being reborn over and over again until you find and become that unique and special person inside of you that is the most brave and the most sure and the most ready to take on the world”, she says. “And I was born this way. And that’s who I am. Some people weren’t born to wear masks, but I was. I was born to wear masks and wigs and fashion. To express myself through my clothing and my performance art, and that’s who I am. And the song is meant to be liberating not only from an individual perspective but from a creative perspective”. She knows that with her outrageous fame come slings and arrows from cynics. Her pulpit makes her an easy target, and as a rite of passage and badge of honor for the musician, she’s been dissed in a song by Eminem, and the antigay Westboro Baptist Church picketed her St. Louis concert in July 2010. She addresses all the skeptics in “Bloody Mary”, one of several songs on the new album that references Jesus, in which Gaga sings, “I’m ready for their stones”. But, is she really? “The nature of what I create is very polarizing. Public perception of me is the least important thing on my list”, she says. “Rumors, shots at me as a human being, that’s what comes with the territory of being a musician and being someone who is a public figure. I care only about what I can change. What can I push forward? How can I be a part of the fight for modern social issues? How can I change young people’s lives? How can I create a show and an album that is a portal to surreality, to free ourselves of all of our insecurities and to be proud of who we are? I’m a fucking hippie in that way, and that’s just who I am”.
In the actions-speak-louder-than-words category, one could solidly place Lady Gaga’s dealings with retailer Target. Many people expressed indignation this past February when it was announced that a special edition of Gaga’s album would be sold exclusively by the company after Target had come under fire by LGBT activists. The company’s corporate political action committee made campaign contributions to support antigay candidate Tom Emmer in his failed 2010 run for governor of Minnesota. The company apologized and promised to look more closely at its donations, but it later emerged that three fourths of the PAC’s money had gone to anti–gay rights politicians. There were calls for a boycott of the retail giant. Over these concerns Gaga met with “the entire executive staff”, and soon afterward, she canceled the deal.
“You’re either going to try and change or you’re not”, Gaga recalls of the meeting, in which she had insisted that Target ally itself with LGBT charities and organizations. While the details were not made public, the terms did not satisfy the singer. “Taking an ambiguous stance is not what I’m about, obviously. I like to go right for the ass-kicker. You’re either in or you’re out. I’m from New York. I know bullshit. I can smell it from a mile away”.
She wants to make it clear that stepping away from the potentially lucrative partnership was in no way a concession to score points with her intended audience. “I was very unhappy with the ambiguity and the way Target was holding their position”, she says. “I believe that monopolies, in terms of the music industry and artists having guns held to their heads for where they have to sell their albums, I think it’s unfair. It’s unfair to us, it’s unfair to the public, it’s unfair to the communities that are affected by it. And I wanted to take a stand”.
The stand Gaga has already taken is undeniable. She’s taped PSAs against DADT and been escorted by a group of gay servicemen to awards shows. In 2009 she delivered a rousing speech before throngs assembled at the National Equality March in Washington, D.C. Is energizing a political crowd a different sensation from performing? “Yes, it’s electrifying in a completely different way”, she says. “As much as I love the fantasy of the Monster Ball, it is a fantasy; it’s a place to escape to. Whereas when I’m working as a political activist, we’re rooted in reality. We’re rooted in the reality of the fight”. While Gaga was being interviewed for a February segment on 60 Minutes, she took control of the lighting and camera setup. Anderson Cooper remarked that he’d never seen anyone do that before, but he’d heard Barbra Streisand and Madonna had done the same. Gaga laughed and called the two performers her “sisters”.
More so than any of the female entertainers in her peer group (it’s doubtful Gaga will ever need a conservatorship), she merits comparison to these decades-older “sisters”. All have legendary iron wills, legions of devout gay followers since their earliest public performances, and folklore surrounding their prefame existences, and all have been defiant, outspoken advocates for equality. Also like the other two, Gaga has transcended unconventional, ethnic looks to redefine a new standard of beauty. Sex appeal sells, but longevity requires passion and chutzpah. Gaga understands that. “There’s no drama, there’s no jealousy, there’s no competition”, she says about the females she admires. “They’re just happy to see other women winning”.
“I just feel so connected to Madonna in a lot of ways, and I feel connected to Barbra, and I feel connected to Cher and Blondie and all of the women who came before me”, Gaga adds. “I worshipped them my whole life, and I would never be where I am today without all of them to inspire me. I feel so grateful that I have such strong women to look up to.”
Considering the flair for comedy she demonstrated during her two guest appearances on Saturday Night Live, perhaps Gaga is ready to follow the lead of her “sisters” and launch an acting career. She shrugs off the suggestion. “I don’t know”, she tells me. “Maybe someday. Right now I’m just really focused on this record. I really love making music. I know that sounds crazy, but I’m obsessed…obsessed with music. I’m just really enjoying making albums right now”.
Gaga doesn’t take the accompanying fame for granted. She knows that with it comes an equal measure of responsibility. “I believe I was destined to be an artist”, she says. “At the end of the day I could be rolling around in Rolls-Royces, buying mansions for myself, making records, and dancing around in my underwear. But to be honest, I’m not interested in doing that at all. I’d rather be at rallies with the fans, being a part of their voice, helping to mobilize and enforce change. If people don’t believe me, they don’t have to be a part of it”.