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The Guardian

The Guardian, formerly known as The Manchester Guardian (founded 1821), is a British national daily newspaper in Berliner format, currently edited by Alan Rusbridger, that has grown from nineteenth century local paper to a national paper associated with a complex organisational structure and international multimedia presence with sister papers The Observer (UK Sunday paper) and The Guardian Weekly (paper published worldwide comprising articles from The Guardian, The Observer and other papers) and a large web presence. The Guardian has become a political and cultural phenomenon referred to in Hansard. The paper is identified with a major political demographic in Britain, loosely centre-left liberalism and the mainstream voice of the left in general; that group is the 'Guardian readers'.

January 22, 2009

Lady Gaga was interviewed for this edition.

It is late in the evening when Lady GaGa arrives, wearied by tour rehearsals, television shows, radio appearances. She yawns theatrically, her fluffy false eyelashes droop, and she slumps into her chair, a little awkwardly, in her PVC corset and knickers.

Lady GaGa is the 22-year-old New York recording artist currently enjoying the No 1 spot in the UK singles chart with Just Dance, an homage to overindulgence and the restorative effects of dancing. The song is her opening gambit from her debut album, Fame, a ceaselessly hedonistic, sexually charged rumination on modern pop culture which sounds at some intervals like Ace of Base and at others like the soundtrack to a weekend in Vegas, but mostly bears something of a close resemblance to the music of Pink and Christina Aguilera and Gwen Stefani - a blur of pop and dance and pelvic thrusting that simultaneously makes a grope in the direction of female empowerment.

Having successfully subdued the charts, GaGa is now touring with the Pussycat Dolls, delivering shows that combine pop music with risque costuming, choreography and home-made video. "I just shot these art films called 'crevettes'," she says huskily. "That's what I call them. It means shrimps, in French," she adds helpfully. "And shrimps are small, but decadent and tasty, which is how I think my films should be." The crucial thing about Lady GaGa is that she sees herself as not just another pop muppet, but as a living, breathing work of art. As well as writing songs for herself and for others (including Britney Spears and the aforementioned Pussycat Dolls) and producing her crevettes, she has her own fashion house and an entourage she likens to Warhol's Factory, and insists that not only are her songs inextricably linked to their performance and to her life in general, but also that she is doing something tangibly different from anything ever done before. "It's got a real, genuine, like, soul of innovation," is how she defines her music.

Born Joanne Stefani Germanotta, she was raised in Manhattan, and even in childhood she was a performer and a proponent of a DIY aesthetic. "I was in the Three Billy Goats Gruff when I was in kindergarten," she recalls in her lazy Italian-American drawl. "I was the big billy goat. I decided to make my billy-goat horns out of tinfoil and a hanger." She attended the same school as Paris Hilton, the Covent of the Sacred Heart. "I went to a lovely school and I got an incredible education," she says. "And I actually think that my education is what really sets me apart, 'cos I'm very smart." She taps her head. "I don't know that my schooling was conducive to wild ideas and creativity, but it gave me discipline, drive. They taught me how to think. I really know how to think." She searches for an example. "If I decide to make a coat red in the show, it's not just red," she explains. "I think: is it communist red? Is it cherry cordial? Is it ruby red? Or is it apple red? Or the big red balloon red? I mean there's like so many fucking different kinds of red. And so you have to say, well, what are we trying to say in this scene? Is it a happy red? Or a sad red? Is it a lace red? Or a leather red? Or a wool red? It's like there are so many components to making a show and making art, and my school taught me how to think that way."

The success of Just Dance has been a long time coming. "We've been trying to get it played in the US since March," she says. Many of the American radio stations recoiled, concerned both by the song's content and, she insists, by its musical innovation. "I mean it just doesn't sound like Katie Perry's I Kissed a Girl - which is a beautiful, lovely, amazing hit record and it sounds like a radio hit," she says. "My song doesn't sound like a radio hit. I mean it does, but it doesn't. Now here in the UK it might, because electro-pop is not this stinky underground thing, it's a real genre. But in America electro-pop is dirty underground music." There are other mainstream artists, she concedes, who have brought dance music into the records, "But I am taking it to another level. I mean my records are borderline dance records. They've got a real electro-rock heart and soul, and the vibe of the sentiment is pop, but there's a lot of people that were like, 'This is a dance record.'"

To convince the American public of the brilliance of her music, Lady GaGa's tactic was simple: "I played show after show after show and murdered every single one of them," she recalls. "In the arena I'd look at everybody and go: 'Some of you know this song and me, and some of you don't.'" She says the words in a tone that hovers somewhere between seductive and threatening. "'But you're sure as hell gonna know who the hell I am before I leave this arena tonight.' And then I would sing my record. And it's just relentless and fearless and I'm gonna fucking make my mark this year, right now. I just really, really have been the kind of person's that unstoppable, and I've never let anything get in my way."

It is the relentlessness of Lady GaGa that is most striking: the songs that squeal for attention, the outfits that beg to be noticed. Up close, the songs are in truth exceedingly familiar, and the outfits predictably outre but the sheer spectacle of her suggests otherwise.

She has grazes on her knees, and all up her arms run broad, orange smudges of fake tan; they look like wounds sustained in the battle for pop supremacy. And on she fights: "I guess success is only as big or small as you see it," she says. "I thought I was quite successful two years ago, and I think I'm quite successful now, but I've got a long way to go. It's funny, I was sitting in the car and my manager's reading me off all the stats and the things that are happening, and he's like, 'This is great GaGa!' And I'm like, 'I know, but for some reason I feel like we've accomplished nothing and we've got so far to go.' And he's like, 'You're on the same page as me.' You know what I mean?" She blinks. "Because I don't wanna be one song. I wanna be the next 25 years of pop music. But it's really hard to measure that kind of ambition. That kind of blonde ambition," - here she tugs her bleached locks to underline the point - "is looked at with a raised brow, because most artists don't have longevity today, especially in fun music that's about underwear and pornography and money."

She has her role models of course. "Madonna. Britney's been around for a long time. Grace Jones is unstoppable. David Bowie was around for years and years. The Beatles. I strive to be a female Warhol. I want to make films and music, do photography and paint one day, maybe. Make fashion. Make big museum art installations. I would be a bit more mixed-media than him probably - combining mixed media and imagery and doing more of a kind of a weird pop-art piece."

She is, she explains, always thinking about the imagery. "I always have a vision - when I'm writing a song I'm always thinking about the clothes, and the way I'm going to sing." She shifts in her chair to demonstrate. "Russian roulette," she sings, and crosses her legs. "How I move, that kind of stuff is written into the song. It's not just a song and I'm not just gonna stand on stage and sing." This approach to performance has ruffled many, including her own father. The first time he saw her on stage she was wearing "a leopard-thong-fringed bikini with a sequinned high-waisted belt and granny panties, and it was so wrong it was amazing." Her father stayed for the entire show. "And he told me I did a great job. But he was shocked. And alarmed. My mother told me he broke down and told her he thought I was crazy. Really crazy. Later that week my family said, 'It was just really hard to watch that show and we think you've lost your mind and we don't know what to do.'"

She was at that time quite heavily into drugs, though surprised that her father was aware of this fact. "Because I thought I was slick as fuck," she explains. "But he was like, 'You're fucking up, kid.' So I stopped. I didn't stop completely, but I stopped for a while completely. And I would never fall into the hole that I did at that time." How deep was the hole exactly? "I kind of feel you're in or you're out with that shit, any hole is deep," she says. "I was just being nostalgic and creative and thought that I was Edie Sedgwick and making music." She stifles a yawn. "I dunno, I wouldn't necessarily encourage anyone to do it, but I do think that when you struggle, that's when your art gets great."

For all the proclamations of innovation, there is something quaintly old-fashioned about GaGa. Discussing the lyrical content of her song Boys Boys Boys - "I like you a lot lot/ Think you're really hot hot," it runs before its chorus: "We like boys in cars/ Boys boys boys/ Buy us drinks in bars" - she explains that she sees it as a response to Mötley Crüe's hit Girls, Girls, Girls. "I wrote that song to impress a guy," she says. "Yeah, that's the kind of way I think of boys. I dunno, maybe I'm just a different kind of girl but the first love of my life used to drive me around in an El Camino." She lets her voice smoulder: "It's watermelon-green with a black hood, and he has long jet-black hair and he looks like half Neil Young, half Nikki Sixx when they were young, and the way that he talks about his car . . ." she takes a deep, sultry breath, "and the way that he stalls the gas when he's turning the corner . . . that's my guy. I like guys like that, guys that listen to AC/DC and drink beers and buy me drinks just to show me off at the bar by the jukebox with their friends. That's kind of like an old hot groupie chick." Very few women sing about boys and cars in that way, I say. "I don't think a lot of female pop stars embrace womanhood in that domestic, American way," she notes. "And me singing about gasoline and car and beers and bars is very American." It's very Springsteen American. "I lurrrrrve Springsteen," she purrs. "Grew up listening to Springsteen. And it's like that sort of by-the-boardwalk mentality. Girls either don't know about it or they think no one can relate to it or they think it's cooler to act like men and cheat on their boyfriends and yunno." She flaps her hands. "They're 'I don't want plastic surgery! Fuck plastic surgery! And fuck cooking you dinner! I'm gonna fucking order in!' And I'm not like that - I used to make my boyfriend dinner in my stilettos, with my underwear on. And he used to be like, 'Baby, you're so sexy!' And I'd be like. 'Have some meatballs.'"

Since GaGa arrived in the UK, barely a day has passed without an appearance in the tabloids. She is snapped buying fish and chips in a fluorescent leotard, leaving her hotel in diamante knickers and bare legs. Hers seems a very modern breed of courted notoriety, one borne of an era characterised by gossip mags and crowds of paparazzi poised to shove cameras up one's skirt, in which baring flesh and singing about sex seems a failsafe way to attract a following. It was therefore not surprising that she should choose to call her album Fame. "I think there's different kinds of fame," she says. "I think there's 'fame', which is plastic and you can buy it on the street, and paparazzi and money and being rich, and then there's 'the fame', which is when no one knows who you are but everybody wants to know who you are. That's what this whole record's about, this record beckons for everybody on the planet to stop being either jealous or obsessive about what they don't have and start acting like they do."

And how does one act like you do? "It's carrying yourself down the street like, 'I'm beautiful and dirty rich but I've got no money,'" she says. "Fame is not pretending to be rich, it's carrying yourself in a way that exudes confidence and passion for music or art or fishing or whatever the hell it is that you're passionate about, and projecting yourself in a way that people say, 'Who the fuck is that?' It has nothing to do with money. I can wear a $2 pair of pants and a T-shirt and a pair of sunglasses for two bucks on the street, but I can make it look like I'm Paris Hilton. You gotta have the fame, you gotta exude that thing. You gotta make people care, you gotta know and believe how important you are. You gotta have conviction in your ideas."

And does she have days when she doesn't want people to see her? She pauses for a long time. "That's a very dangerous question," she says eventually. She shakes her head. "I'm very grateful. I appreciate any attention to the music. And as long as it's on the music, and not who I'm fucking, I'll be OK." But if she does achieve her goal of dominating the next 25 years of pop music the fame is unlikely to dwell only on the music. Is she prepared for that? "I don't think I could ever be prepared for fame," she says. "I don't think that you can prepare for it or get used to it. I've felt famous my whole life, but this is a whole other level of famous".

  • Editorial: Laura Barton

G2

September 3, 2013

Back in 2008, when Lady Gaga mania began, it often felt like you couldn't avoid her. There were the hit records, of course – Poker Face, Telephone and Bad Romance to name just three. But in the space of a few years there were also the meat dresses, the Grammy performances in giant eggs and an almost regular stream of controversy. You'd be forgiven for thinking that the popstar, born Stefani Germanotta, was constantly thrusting herself into the public eye – but the reality, she says, was quite different.

"I hid in my house," she explains matter-of-factly when I meet her before the opening night of the iTunes festival at the Roundhouse in north London. "I hid a lot ... to preserve my image as a superstar to my fans. I don't mean I am a superstar, I mean that they only ever see me at my best. And it really drove me crazy. So I've really had to make more of an effort to go out more. I mean, can you imagine what it's like not to feel real wind? Honestly, I hadn't felt real wind for years!"

Gaga prides herself on putting her fans first, and in this instance it seems she didn't want her fans to ever see her as a normal human being. "I would be indoors all day and then I'd get in a car in a garage and then drive to another garage and get out and rehearse and then do it again, from country to country, and never walk outside. I remember some of the longest walks I had were from the car to the aeroplane on the tarmac."

During this performance Gaga will perform the title track from her forthcoming album ARTPOP and utter a line that sums up everything her fans love about her and her critics detest: "My art-pop could mean anything," she coos over a lilting electronic throb. To her detractors – of which there seem to be a growing number – she's the perfect example of the dichotomy of the globe-straddling megastar spouting empty signifiers with the meaning crowbarred in afterwards. To her hardcore fans (or "Little Monsters"), she's not only the greatest pop star on the planet, but a sort of cult leader whose mantra of self-love, implemented on her last album Born This Way, acts as their Bible.

Perhaps aware of her Marmite appeal, today Gaga is immediately on the charm offensive, giving me a kiss on arrival and complementing me on my shoes (at one point she bends down to stroke the material). Her PR and manager, both lurking near the door, are instructed to sit down and "stay quiet". Shuffled back on an armchair so that her giant heels swing off the ground, she has the mannerisms of a well-behaved toddler. But there's also an ever-present strain of determination that underlines everything she says. You sense she's aware that while 2011's Born This Way album sold 6m copies worldwide, many saw it as a the end of her imperial phase, with the album's last single Marry the Night becoming her first to miss the US top 10. With only one single released so far – the 80s electropop of Applause – there's a palpable feeling that the ARTPOP campaign is already stalling, with the single yet to reach the top three in either America or the UK.

A few weeks ago, Gaga tweeted a Michael Jackson quote that read: "The bigger the star, the bigger the target". Does she feel persecuted? "Yeah, for sure I do," she replies without hesitation, her skintight jumpsuit parping with her every movement. "Yes! I certainly feel that at this time it's almost as if people are surprised they haven't already destroyed me."

She puts a straw to her mouth and takes a dramatic slurp. "It gives them a sense of pleasure when they believe that they've destroyed me or taken me down. It's almost entertainment for people to poke fun at Lady Gaga, but at the very same time they have no idea the album I've made. They have no idea what I put into this, they have no idea the work that I've put behind my performances and what I do. In fact, people have no idea what it really took for me to get here. So it doesn't bother me, it's just an interesting observation of where we are as a society."

Before being asked about it, she brings up the success or otherwise of Applause: "It's literally not even been two weeks since my first single came out and it's all, 'She's over', or because I'm not No 1 yet, 'She's finished'. People focus less on the music and focus more on how the music's doing; how it's faring from a numbers perspective, from a financial perspective. If you think I give a damn about money then you don't know me as an artist at all." She adds: "I think that once you've had a few No 1s in your career that you've kind of proven yourself and I don't feel the need to prove anything anymore."

For some, Applause's failure to connect in the way her previous singles have done is down to the fact that it appears to be solely about Gaga and for Gaga. Written after she had to cancel her Born This Way Ball Tour at the beginning of the year, the result of a severe hip injury that required an operation and left her in a wheelchair, the song is about the need she has as a pop star to experience adulation from a crowd.

Gaga says she would have tried to keep the hip operation a secret – to shield her fans once more – if she had managed to make it to the end of her tour, but it wasn't possible. "I was wheelchair-bound two weeks before that even happened," she says. "That I did hide from them because I didn't want to stop the show. I know everyone was thinking I was trying to be a bit silly with my gold wheelchair but I was really trying to keep a bit of strength for my fans because it really upset them and scared them."

Gaga disputes the idea that Applause is a song for herself. Rather, she says, it is as universal as any love song. "It's so interesting for people to say that the lyrics are all about me the performer," she says, somewhat disingenuously. "I want you to feel that way about yourself, that's why I wrote the song. I want you to wake up in the morning and say: 'I live for your applause, look at me today, I'm having a great day, I'm going to work and I'm going to have a fantastic lunch with my friends.' But it's not to be taken quite as seriously and as literally as people make it to be, which is why in the verses I'm sort of making fun of what people think about fame."

It is this sense of humour that Gaga's critics tend to forget, or have been more likely to forget since Born This Way's heavy-handed "we are all equal" didacticism. Like Michael Jackson before her, it often felt like the Biggest Pop Star on Earth was creating music not for the everyday pop fan who might buy an album, but for the first 20 rows of dressed up, banner-waving, camped-out-since-4am apostles. When you talk about your fans, who do you mean? "I mean everybody. I mean anyone that's watching."

Gaga concedes that it can be "uncomfortable" to fall in love with a pop star that has more to her under the surface than was bargained for. "Suddenly the pop star takes off her sheep's clothing and you see the kind of dingy, underground, metal-loving girl from New York who wants to talk about equal rights and go on and on and on about loving yourself. I made a choice to show people that," she says. "I made a choice to do that because I wanted them to know that for the rest of my career, underneath every outfit that I have on, that girl is always underneath. With ARTPOP I'm veering in a new direction in terms of my messaging, but Born This Way was all about that particular message."

Did you anticipate that this would lose you fans? "I was comfortable with just speaking to the ones that really needed to hear the message and confident that I had enough great songs on the album that the general public would latch on to," she says. "People can say whatever they want about whether or not I enforced change [in her fans' lives] or if it's all fake, but the truth of it is I travelled the entire length of the world with the tour."

At this point she rattles off audience attendance figures at various venues, checking facts with her manager, before, seemingly apropos of nothing, adding: "I know people said I wasn't selling out in America but that was entirely untrue, we sold out all over the world and every night I looked out into the fans and those front rows that you're talking about, the tears, the honesty, the inability to not be completely overjoyed because they felt accepted. That's sometimes more powerful than making a pop song and it just was at that time."

We talk briefly about the recent MTV VMA awards, which she opened with a dazzling, Botticelli-influenced performance of Applause. Even that, however, was overshadowed by Miley Cyrus and her semi-naked grinding of Robin Thicke's groin area. "For me, my performance was not about taking clothes off, if that makes sense. I wanted it to be strong and beautiful and powerful and full of confidence. It doesn't bother me, though, that there was a lot of attention paid to any other performances, it's not a competition. I do what I do and they do what they do. Isn't it nice that it all happened and that it's all been recorded and we can watch it all – it's not like the good things stay and everything else gets erased."

It's rare for a pop star of Lady Gaga's stature to acknowledge failure and she seems, on the surface at least, happy to concede that some of the novelty of what she does has worn off slightly. In fact, she is open about the fact that things needed to change following Born This Way.

"I had really tried to hide a lot of my pain from my past in the last few years," she says towards the end of the interview, whereas at the Roundhouse a new song, Swine, is introduced with, "My heart, my skin and my pussy felt like trash." It seems to hint at domestic abuse. Does this hint at Gaga's future direction? That she's ready to come out of hiding, to reveal herself?

"For ARTPOP, I, in the most metaphorical explanation, stood in front of a mirror and I took off the wig and I took off the makeup and I unzipped the outfit and I put a black cap on my head and I covered my body in a black catsuit and I looked in the mirror and I said: 'OK, now you need to show them you can be brilliant without that.' And that's what ARTPOP is all about. Because I knew that if I wanted to grow, if I really wanted to innovate from the inside, I had to do something that was almost impossible for me."

  • Editorial: Michael Cragg

The Observer

The Observer is a British newspaper, published on Sundays. In the same place on the political spectrum as its daily sister paper The Guardian, which acquired it in 1993, it takes a liberal or social democratic line on most issues. It is the world's oldest Sunday newspaper

May 14, 2011

Lady Gaga was featured in this issue.

It's not the vertiginous heels that I can't keep my eyes off, nor the super-mafioso shades, not even the see-through catsuit. It's that little growth from her forehead. There's only one on show today. It could be a horn, a cancer, an embryonic phallus. It could be, as she likes us to think, a physical manifestation of her creative genius. And it could, of course, be prosthetic implant as fashion accessory.

She's chatting away about how touring is her life, how she loves her fans like no other artist, her heroes, and all I'm thinking about is the growth.

"Can I touch it?"

She smiles, and doesn't answer.

We're meeting again tomorrow. "Can I touch it tomorrow, please, just one little go?" I plead.

She smiles again.

"What is it?"

"It's pleased to see you. They come out when they're excited."

We're sitting in her "relaxation" room at the Q arena in Cleveland, Ohio. There are numerous perfumed candles, a supersonic hi-fi system – all the normal rock'n'roll paraphernalia. On the walls are photos of Led Zeppelin, Iggy Pop, the Sex Pistols. Gaga is a musical magpie. She's brazenly nicked and nicked and nicked to create something her own. There's no attempt to hide it, either. So on her first album, The Fame, which pre-empted her actual fame, she thanked Madonna and Bowie and Prince. At a glance, you can see the bras and knickers of Madonna, the hats of Grace Jones, the body suits of Bowie. We're listening to bits of her new album, and you can hear Giorgio Moroder, the E Street Band, Euro pop. Whereas her first album instructed her fans to embrace their inner fame, this one could be addressed to a younger audience – follow your heart, no matter what your parents say. It's called Born This Way, after the single that was number one for six weeks in the States – in Britain, the message can seem trite, but in America it's been embraced as a radical, almost revolutionary statement.

The irony, of course, is that Gaga was not "born this way" but, as she says, to interpret it literally is to miss the point – we're born this way to be true to ourselves, whatever that is.

She explains the new song Hair. "Hair is about when you're younger. I am my hair." And was it really her hair, or was she cheating it back then? "No, I wasn't cheating it back then." She looks at the great yellow-gold Rapunzel locks flowing from her hat. "I wouldn't say I'm cheating it now. I would just say it's a surrealist extension of my being. I'm half living my life between reality and fantasy at all times. It's best not to ask questions and just enjoy."

Which is a perfect Gaga statement. If you're not wedded to reality or truth, you're entitled to say whatever you fancy. On the wall is a picture of Warhol's painting of Debbie Harry. Warhol is perhaps Gaga's biggest influence. Just as he was, she is obsessed with the nature of fame and the marriage of commercialism and fine art.

Gaga is just about to perform her last US date of a world tour, The Monster Ball. When she started it in November 2009, the performance artist from New York was beginning to enjoy an unlikely success. Now she is the biggest music star in the world. Nobody is quite sure how she did it, least of all her. What's more, she doesn't seem to have gained fans so much as followers.

It's no coincidence that her latest single is called Judas, and uses that great biblical betrayal to tell a story of love gone wrong.

After singing about fame on her first two albums, she says she's bored with the subject. "On Born This Way, I'm writing more about pop culture as religion, my identity as my religion: 'I will fight and bleed to the death for my identity.' I am my own sanctuary and I can be reborn as many times as I choose throughout my life." She has never shied away from the grand statement.

She calls her fans little monsters and they call her Mother Monster. Already, she says, she has undergone so many transformations – from Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta to Gaga to Mother Monster.

"I bet your mum doesn't call you Mother Monster," I say.

"No! She's the only mother in our house. She'll just call me Gaga or Stefani."

"How long has your mum called you Gaga?"

"I started being called Gaga by friends when I was about 19, and I don't believe she stuck on to it right away, because she was a bit worried about my mental health." She bursts out laughing.

Outside the arena in Cleveland, the fans are gathering – young men and women, girls and boys. Aaron Fleming is wearing thigh-length PVC boots, black tights, black jacket, one black glove and a bonnet. "I just took a bunch of different things about Gaga to make a little outfit," he says. Why does he like her? "She knew what she wanted to do, she went after it, she's doing it – that's setting an example for anybody."

"It's unbelievable that a song about accepting everyone, with the word transgendered in it, was number one for so long," says his friend Michael Joseph, modestly dressed in skinny jeans and lobster heels. Thirteen-year-old Casey Jones is wearing a blond wig, tattoos and fishnets. "Lady Gaga has empowered us," she says. "To know that you're not the only freak is great. Now the freaks are rising up and taking a stand."

Support act Semi Precious Weapons, a glam rock group, are getting ready. Gaga's first gig in 2007 was supporting them in front of 400 people in New York. The band had a small but devoted indie following – not unlike today. "She came backstage just before we went on and said, 'I want to thank you so much, I've never performed in front of so many people, this is such a huge opportunity for me,' " says singer Justin Tranter, who is slipping into his navy fishnet body suit as we talk. "She spent as much money as she could find for her show and went balls to the wall for a 20-minute set."

Now Semi Precious Weapons support her. Does it feel like a reversal? "Not really, because we're still hanging out, figuring what each of us is going to wear, and just because she's holding up Mugler and I'm holding up fishnet.org from a sex website doesn't mean there's any difference."

"And she's probably ordering something off a sex website just right now," says bassist Cole Whittle. Today, a Gaga event is ridiculously lavish and expensive, what with the meat dresses, the dance troupe, the many designers, and the Haus of Gaga entourage. A recent photo shoot was estimated to have cost £150,000.

Lady Starlight used to spin heavy-metal discs with Gaga. She is 10 years older and as dressed down (trackie bottoms) as her friend is dressed up. Now she DJs before Gaga's shows. They make an unusual team. "I know." She grins. Why did they get on well? "We were just down to fuck with people. Punk rock mentality." How? "Just shocking people – going to indie clubs and playing pop. And I'd spin metal in between her singing pop songs in a bikini. They hated us!" The unusual thing about Gaga, she says, is that her indie mentality was coupled with a ferocious desire for success.

Now that she's achieved it, on such a massive scale, does it get to Gaga? "Yes," Starlight says. She talks of the gossip, the bitchiness, the lies. How does Gaga cope? "She just throws herself into her work. She's very focused on 'What am I doing next?' That's the way; just the tunnel vision."

Gaga's show starts with a giant projection of her. Then the curtain goes up, and there she is in all her lunatic majesty. This is not a gig, it's theatre. The set is a degenerate hell, with neon directions to Liquor, Implants, Sedation, Car Accident, Death Cases and Whip Lash. There are crashed cars, voracious monsters, trees with razor-blade leaves. It's hard to follow the plot, but she seems to be passing through the valley of self-harm.

The outfits change by the song – one minute she's all formal elegance, the next there are streaks of fire shooting from her bosom and crotch. She jumps on the piano and plays with her feet. She douses herself in blood – cheeks, shirt, belly, all haemorrhage red. "Do you think I'm sexy?" she shouts. "It took me a long time to feel sexy because I was bullied at school." She is an astonishing performer, and she knows it. "In case you're wondering whether I lip synch, the answer is no... people think so because I sound so good."

As she sings the hits – Paparazzi, Poker Face, Just Dance, Bad Romance – she tells her disciples: "I didn't used to be brave, but you have made me brave, little monsters." Gaga is an evangelist. "Nothing we do together has a last or first time," she says, her voice cracking with emotion. "We are eternity… you made me, little monsters. Tonight I want you to forget all your insecurities... what you feel makes you different in the greater destiny of life… I worked so hard to get where I am... just remember, I was so far beneath and now I'm so far above."

Perhaps she's simply playing a role – she knows the iconoclasm, the Jesus parallels and parables, are all of a piece with flogging her new single, Judas. But I think there's more to it than this. She is a sincere believer in the cult of Gaga – she really does think she's a modern-day Messiah, here to lead her fans to a brighter, better future. And if they buy the records and spread the word along the way, so much the better. Gaga has now set her sights on breaking into India – a vast, untapped market.

Stefani Germanotta was born in New York to self-made parents – her father, Joseph, was an internet entrepreneur, mother Cynthia a telecommunications executive. She started playing piano at four, attended a private convent school on Manhattan's salubrious Upper East Side, escaped to the less salubrious Lower East Side to perform at open-mic nights at 14, won a place at New York University's Tisch School of The Arts at 17, where she studied music and left before completing her degree because she was miserable and impatient for the real thing. At 19, she signed to Def Jam and was dropped in three months. A couple of years later, she was writing songs for New Kids On The Block and Pussycat Dolls. By 2008, she was living in Los Angeles recording an album that's sold 14m copies.

A day after playing Cleveland, the Gaga-mobile is on the road to Chicago where she will sing on one of Oprah Winfrey's final shows. The Haus of Gaga, the name she has given to her creative team, has taken over the top floor of a luxury hotel and transformed it into a bustling factory. In one room, her video diary is being updated, in another the Oprah set is being designed, and in another outfits are being vetted. Gaga, now 25, strides from one room to the other, huge and imperious in wraparound shades, mega heels and black Alexander McQueen power suit. It's easy to forget she's only 5ft 2in.

I am taken to a room to wait for her. One is always placed in situ so she can make an entrance. Today, she marches in and apologises for all the shouting in the background – things haven't been going too well. She takes off the shades and softens – her skin is gothic white, her face unremarkable. Her jacket is barely buttoned, and she is wearing nothing underneath. It seems like a statement outfit – look at this and try telling me I'm a man (as has been rumoured) or anorexic (ditto).

I stare at her forehead in vain. No horns. "Today I'm not very happy to see you, so they are not here." She's smiling, but I'm not sure she's joking.

The previous day she had said it's difficult to talk about the show to people who haven't seen it. She was right, I say, it's like a revivalist meeting. "Yes, it is. It is a religious experience. But it's like a pop cultural church." She pauses. "I never intended for the Monster Ball to be a religious experience, it just became one."

She's become the Billy Graham of pop, I say. She laughs. "It's more self-worship, I think, not of me. I'm teaching people to worship themselves."

What is going wrong with conventional religion if kids are looking to her for spiritual guidance? "The influence of institutionalised religion on government is vast. So religion then begins to affect social values and that in turn affects self-esteem, bullying in school, teen suicides, all those things." Her message, she says, is simple and perfectly Christ-like – love yourself and love others.

Does having such influence scare her? "No, but it does put me in an interesting position as an artist whose fan base is commercial and widening. If you were to ask me what I want to do, I don't want to be a celebrity, I want to make a difference. I never wanted to look pretty on stage and sing about something we've all heard about before. I'd much rather write a song called Judas and talk about betrayal and forgiveness and feeling misunderstood, and talk to the fans and figure out what it is society needs. If I can be a leader, I will."

Where did her own sense of being misunderstood come from? "From being bullied." Wasn't she too tough to bully? "No, I was not hard. I'm eccentric and talkative and audacious and theatrical, and I used to get picked on. I got thrown in a trash can on a street corner once by some boys who were hanging out with girls in my class. I got profanity written all over my locker at school and all the others were nice and clean. I got pinched in the hallways and called a slut."

What did she feel like when they put her in the trash can? "Worthless. Embarrassed. Mortified. I was 14. Three boys put me in it. The girls were laughing when they did it."

There have been other struggles – drugs in her late teens, discovering she carried the lupus gene from which her aunt died, being dropped by Def Jam. Could she have become who she is without having gone through all this? "No, I don't think anybody could. That is, in many ways, the point, and the point of Judas; in fact, Judas was not a betrayer, he was just part of the over-arching destiny of the prophecy. Those things in your life that haunt you are just part of what you must go through in order to become great."

It's hard to know how to respond. The strange thing about Gaga is that for all her outlandish outfits and statements, I find it hard to remember what she looks or sounds like the next day.

On her left wrist is a peace symbol tattoo. In her dressing room, there is a picture of John Lennon and Yoko Ono in bed holding up the slogans "Hair peace" and "Bed peace". As she talks, I think of Lennon's statement, "We're more popular than Jesus now." Just as Lennon did, she insists she's not anti-religious. "Don't say I hate institutionalised religion – rather than saying I hate those things, which I do not, what I'm saying is that perhaps there is a way of opening more doors, rather than closing so many."

Your mix of indomitable self-belief and uncertainty is weird, I say. "I always had a lot of nerve. And insecurity." The two go side by side? "Why not? I don't believe any of the most exciting artists in history were these privileged, happy zen human beings. The struggle of so many artists is why I fell in love with them." Such as who?

"We all know how much I love David Bowie." Not only has she adopted the royal 'we', she is now speaking in a voice resembling that of the English upper classes. "We know how much I love Elton John." Gaga is the godmother of Elton and David Furnish's son Zachary Jackson Levon Furnish-John, aka Zac.

Is it true that as a child she prayed for madness? "Yes, I did, and here we are," she says with a little mousy smile. "Careful what you wish for." What was the madness she craved? "I wanted to release my true identity, which I had not yet fully discovered. I used to stare at all the posters on my wall, many of which are the same ones that are on the walls of my dressing room now. I used to imagine what these legends must have been like and then I used to pray that whatever condition was impressed upon them I would also experience. In a lot of ways it was a prayer for creativity."

Looking at those posters in her dressing room, I was struck by the similarity of their stage presence – most of them are topless, Iggy Pop virtually naked. It made me think Gaga's own state of undress was not so much a sexual provocation as a statement about being a rock star. "Absolutely. It is a statement about show business. I adore show business and don't ever want my fans to see me in any other way. I don't believe in it. Show business, pop culture that is my religion."

I tell her that Lady Starlight says she would not have been able to cope with Gaga's fame. "I have no conception of how or how not famous I am. I have no conception about how or how not successful I am. I can only conceive of what happens at the Monster Ball."

But a couple of minutes later I discover she's not always quite so humble. We're talking about Born This Way, and I momentarily forget its name. She looks at me in disbelief, then at her publicist horrified. I think she's joking, but there isn't the flicker of a smile. "It's really great that you're writing about my music and you don't know the name of my record. Is it forgettable?"

"No," I say. "Look, I can even sing it for you." So I do, complete with actions.

"That was good." The smile returns. "I like the fist pump."

Would it upset her if I couldn't remember the name of the album? "Yes, it would. And it would upset all of my fans."

When Lady Gaga emerged in 2008, she seemed fully formed. Had she been constructing herself for years? "There was nothing perfect or manufactured about it. The sentiment when I was first starting out was that I was too strange to be pop."

I tell her there's something sweet about her relationship with Lady Starlight and Semi Precious Weapons. Yes, she says, proper friends are not made just when you're partying and times are good. Starlight had said it was a "miracle" that Gaga had achieved such success when all they'd set out to do was express themselves, confuse the audience and have a laugh. "Oh yes, it was a ruckus. I felt, and I still feel, that I was sent to this planet from my planet, Planet Goat, to create a ruckus."

Isn't the biggest ruckus the success? "We're all baffled by it. I'm grateful, though. The most precious thing about this whole journey is that I've got to bring all my friends along with me." That's interesting, I say, because loads of people think you are the kind of person who would climb over your friends and claw your way to the top. She nods, and says she knows that. "I would never do that. There's nothing that makes me happier than to see my friends' success. Money doesn't matter to them or to me. What matters is that we did it." She's welling up. "What matters is there was a time – I'm going to cry – when nobody knew who we were, and all we had was each other and we only created for each other, because it made us happy, and now that the whole world is watching, we're still doing the same thing. So, no, I didn't pop out of nowhere and become a pop singer. It's been a very real and arduous journey through Judas all the way to Jesus." Just as she's talking from her heart, she has to go and ruin it all with the Judas-Jesus shtick.

Yes, she says, she knows there are misconceptions about her, but she doesn't care. Such as? "If you are eccentric or have a strong identity or live in a fantastical regalious way…"

What? "Regalious? I don't know. I made it up. There is a belief that if you're strong in your identity or different, there must be nothing substantial underneath. It's hiding something vacuous or it's artificial. Whereas I am solidly devoted to my artistry and craft, but am also quite regalious – whatever it means."

Does her "regaliousness" extend to a lover? She has had an on-off relationship with Luc Carl, the barman she calls her soul mate. Is she still going out with him? "I don't have a boyfriend," she snaps. What about the huge picture of him in her dressing room? She looks shocked. "I know not of what you're speaking of," she says with supreme disdain.

It's past 10pm and she she's off to the Oprah studio to rehearse for tomorrow's show. Will she ever have enough, and retire to a nice, quiet world of non Gagadom? "I don't separate myself from Gagadom. So, no... I do think I would like, maybe next week, to retire to somewhere quiet, and still exist in Gagadom. That's who I am."

In recent months there have been hints of a backlash. Perhaps it's inevitable. There are critics from gay and lesbian organisations who say she is not gay or bisexual enough (she has said she's had relationships mainly with men, occasionally with women); religious leaders who say she is blasphemous; former producer Rob Fusari who says he invented her; school peers who say she wasn't bullied. "That's my favourite. 'You weren't bullied.' You're bullying me by saying that. Hahahaha! Isn't that a funny statement, 'You weren't bullied'?"

Can she brush it off? "What I have learned the most from my fans, and what you will hear most on Born This Way, is that it is part of my destiny to take the bullets, but my heart keeps on beating. You cannot destroy me. Because I am an art piece." And with that she's off.

Next day at the Oprah show, the curtain comes up to reveal a giant golden stiletto with Gaga perched at the top playing piano, singing Born This Way. It's a wonderful performance – slowed down, anguished and a sign that she could evolve into a brilliant soul or jazz singer.

Three days on the road with the Gaga industrial complex, and you see her in all her contradictory glory. So there she is, ruthless marketeer and hippy chick, needy neurotic and self-proclaimed saviour, younger than her years and older than her years, and ultimately rather brilliant – though it would be impossible to be quite as brilliant as she'd have us believe. After the Oprah show, she meets her host backstage. She's wearing pants and a bizarre face mask, and looks like a lost little girl. She pats her tummy and does a self-conscious little dance.

"Oooh, Johnny Depp," she says in awe as the actor passes.

"Lady Gaga!" he says. For a second she can't believe he knows who she is. And then the confidence returns.

"Was I good?" she asks one of her team.

"You were good," he says.

"Amazing?"

"You were good."

"Amazing?"

"Good. You were good."

"You were amazing," says another of the entourage.

"I prefer you to him," she says, and already she's talking about how her tour will be remembered for ever. She says most people measure wealth in terms of record sales, but not her. "Success is not temporal. You either have it for ever or you don't. My wealth is in the cultural impact I have and in my longevity and legacy and the stamp that I will leave on the universe."

What will that be? "She was always herself. She was fearless, and she moved pop culture, technology, art and music forward relentlessly, and she never gave a fuck what anybody thought about her." Trust Gaga to have already written her own obituary.

Editorial by Simon Hattenstone, photograph by Mariano Vivanco

November 12, 2011

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