Are you a little monster? Are you caught up in a bad romance? Can you read Lady Gaga’s poker face?
Only the truest fans of the pop icon will know these facts and behind-the-music stories. These are deep facts, fam — we’re far from the shallow, now.
She played music from a ridiculously young age
Stefani Germanotta’s mom placed her in front of a piano when she was only three. She had to prop herself up to hit those keys, but she made it work. When we were three, we could barely walk around. But Germanotta was sowing the seeds that would become Lady Gaga.
Despite Gaga’s lower-class upbringing, she still found the resources to foster her talents at a young age. She attended arts camps, studied method acting at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute, and attended CAP21, a famous New York University musical theatre school, at 17.
She has some unexpected acting credits
From her extracurricular activities to her leading roles in high school productions of Guys and Dolls, Gaga had a precocious interest in acting. And while we all adored her work in A Star Is Born (2018), you may have missed her in two important TV shows.
Here she is in The Sopranos, playing a high school girl who tempts A.J. (Robert Iler) to walk on the wild side… of their high school pool. Gaga also popped up in MTV’s Boiling Points, a prank show that has definitely achieved more cultural influence than The Sopranos.
Her music career began in two wildly different places
In 2005, Gaga teamed up with Melle Mel, revolutionary lead singer of hip-hop group Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. What awesome music did they make?
It was, of course, music for an audio version of children’s book The Portal in the Park. And it slapped TOO hard.
Beyond her moonlighting as a top 40 Raffi, Gaga was also becoming a fixture in the underground NYC music scene. She formed a group called the Stefani Germanotta Band and began playing trendy clubs like the Cutting Room. When singer/talent manager Wendy Starland saw her perform, that was that.
Her stage name came from a classic band
When Germanotta met with music producer Rob Fusari, who helped craft hits like “Bootylicious” and “Wild Wild West” as 8Bit, he suggested a stage name. Taking his cue from Queen, the influential, Freddie Mercury-fronted rock band, he bestowed her with Lady Gaga — after Queen’s tune “Radio Ga Ga.”
After their fruitful professional relationship (the two wrote early Gaga hits like “Paparazzi” together) turned into a romantic relationship, things soured when Fusari sued her. He claimed she abruptly left their professional relationship, owing him $30 million. One judge ruled that he, instead, pay Starland $7 million.
Much of her image comes from a source you may not have heard of
In 2006, Gaga signed with Def Jam Recordings! Amazing, right?
Not so much. They dropped her just three months later, and after a brief recovery period with her parents, Gaga reemerged to join the world of contemporary burlesque. Among her visits to this world, she met artist Lady Starlight.
Starlight and Gaga became fast friends, and the more experienced Starlight helped Gaga mold what would become her stage persona. They performed together as Lady Gaga and the Starlight Revue around New York clubs, before earning a spot at Lollapalooza 2007.
Like Lady Gaga? Thank Akon
Gaga was eventually signed to Interscope Records by record exec Vincent Herbert… as a songwriter.
So, Gaga began dutifully writing tunes for artists like Britney Spears, Fergie, The Pussycat Dolls, and even New Kids on the Block. But when it was time to write a track for Akon, everything changed.
Songwriters often sing the lead vocals on demo tracks to show the artist what they’re supposed to sound like. When Akon heard Gaga belt out a tune meant for him, he knew he found a star. He signed Gaga to his record label, KonLive, and called her his “franchise player.”
At first, radio stations didn’t “get” Gaga
So Gaga gets signed to a bunch of record labels. She pairs up with pop hitmakers like RedOne and Cherry Cherry Boom Boom. She starts cranking out songs for her debut album. Down the yellow brick road Gaga goes, right?
Wrong. Just a few more Wicked Witches to deal with.
When her labels distributed singles to radio stations, she was criticized for being too “underground,” “racy,” or “dance oriented” for the radio. Gaga’s response? “My name is Lady Gaga, I’ve been on the music scene for years, and I’m telling you, this is what’s next.”
She just busted all kinds of records
“Poker Face” was the world’s best-selling single of 2009. One year later, “Bad Romance” became the most watched YouTube video of all time, and Gaga’s overall YouTube views broke a billion. She also received 13 nominations at the MTV Video Music Awards — the most of any single artist.
In 2009, The Guinness Book of World Records sanctified Gaga as the highest downloaded female artist in the US. Later that year, she underwent The Monster Ball Tour, which ran until 2011 and became the highest-grossing tour ever mounted by a musical artist.
Gaga has health issues you might not know about
During an otherwise routine interview with The Times, Gaga admitted to some worrisome health concerns going on in her life — all the while insisting that no one should be worried. “I have heart palpitations and… things,” she said ominously, alluding to previous incidents on her tour.
Gaga had cancelled shows on her tour, citing fatigue. And in this interview, she mentioned that she was even tested for lupus, a disease her beloved aunt had. She carefully did not reveal the result of the test, but did reveal she needed oxygen before a Tokyo show.
She ain’t a businessman, she’s a business, man
Want to listen to Gaga tunes the best way possible? Get yourself some Heartbeats, a line of earbuds developed by Gaga in partnership with Dr. Dre, another musician-turned-headphones magnate. They’re encrusted with jewels (jewels!) and designed to look like earrings (earrings!).
In 2010, Gaga became the creative director of Polaroid. Of the gig, she said, “I am so excited to extend myself behind the scenes as a designer, and as my father puts it, finally have a real job.” She and the company crafted several cool crossover products.
A big relationship came from a strange music video
The video for the country-tinged “You and I,” off the Born This Way album, features Gaga cavorting with actor Taylor Kinney in a series of surreal horror vignettes. Despite the spookiness of the video, Gaga and Kinney began a long relationship, getting engaged in 2015.
The two enjoyed a relatively low-key celebrity relationship, with Kinney agreeing to step away from presenting at an Oscars ceremony so Gaga could perform her nominated song without any focus on her romantic endeavors. Unfortunately, the couple split up in 2016.
She had a lot of fun in a lot of comedies
Gaga’s persona often toes the line between earnestness and camp. But sometimes, Gaga jumps right into the comedy pool.
In 2011, she collaborated with The Lonely Island and Justin Timberlake on underrated SNL Digital Short “3-Way (The Golden Rule),” a ‘90s R&B banger that is also incredibly funny.
Gaga has also collaborated with two of our greatest comedy families: The Simpsons and The Muppets!
On the former, Gaga made a splash in episode “Lisa Goes Gaga,” featuring a Homer-sung performance of “Poker Face.” And she straight up hosted a holiday special with the Muppets! Lucky!
She’s put out two dang fragrances
In 2011, a strange rumor percolated. Lady Gaga was going to put out a perfume with a curious smell: A combination of blood and… another bodily fluid you don’t normally want to smell.
Thankfully, “Lady Gaga Fame” was released one year later with more reasonable scents like apricot and saffron.
Lady Gaga Fame was a huge success for the singer/smell-entrepreneur. So in 2014, she struck again, with “Eau de Gaga.” This time around, she went with a simple lime, white violet, and leather combination. It was the 10th best-selling perfume of that year.
She enjoyed a fruitful collaboration with a classic singer
While much of her most successful music is top-40 four-on-the-floor dance pop, Gaga is quite the versatile performer. If you need a reminder, check out her medley of Julie Andrews songs during the 2015 Academy Awards. Or, check out one of her many joint efforts with… Tony Bennett?
That’s right. Gaga and Bennett, together at last.
They originally recorded a duet of “The Lady Is a Tramp” in 2011, before cutting an entire album of standards called Cheek to Cheek in 2014. It received generous reviews, prompting the two to embark on a yearlong tour.
Gaga loves herself some genre cinema
Lady Gaga’s A Star Is Born is, by and large, a respectable Oscar-ready drama, one that can be enjoyed by an average cinemagoer not looking for disturbing schlock. Her other screen work?
Let’s just say that the weak of stomach need not apply.
She appeared in two ultraviolent Robert Rodriguez sequels. In Machete Kills, she played assassin La Chameleon; in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, she played a vampy waitress named Bertha. After these bloody roles, she appeared in American Horror Story: Hotel as a literal vampire named The Countess.
Her Vegas residency is different from most
Many artists have recently performed lavish, limited runs and residencies in one of Las Vegas’ many theatres. But Lady Gaga is not “many artists.” And for her Vegas production, scheduled to run until May 2020, she gave concertgoers two shows for the picking.
Which Gaga do you prefer?
If you want spectacle, check out Lady Gaga Enigma. It’s a two-hour marathon of Gaga’s biggest hits, with bonkers costume changes, pyrotechnics, and an eccentric narrative. But if you want pure music, check out Jazz And Piano, where Gaga belts simple arrangements from a piano.
Many of Gaga’s influences have returned the favor
Lady Gaga is influenced by a postmodern blender of pop culture. She’s cited everyone from Mariah Carey to Black Sabbath as being important to her. But when she namechecked Madonna, Madonna namechecked her right back: “I can see myself in Lady Gaga… I think Lady Gaga is great.”
We also need to talk about Gaga’s status as a fashion icon. That meat dress? C’mon.
Among Gaga’s many lewk loves includes Donatella Versace, mega-fashionista and brand namesake. Versace loves Gaga — she attends fashion shows with her and calls her “the fresh Donatella.”
Gaga has a male alter-ego with… strange opinions
In the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards, Gaga was booked to perform her new single “You and I.” But, because she is Lady Gaga, she couldn’t just perform an earnest rendering of the tune. Instead, she introduced audiences worldwide to her bitter, male alter-ego: Jo Calderone.
Apparently, Calderone was “in a relationship” with Gaga. And he had some stories to tell. “She can’t stand to have one honest moment where nobody’s watching. I want her to be real, but she says, ‘Jo, I’m not real. I’m theater and you and I…This is just rehearsal.’”
Gaga is a philanthropy monster
While her show biz persona pulsates with performative selfishness, Gaga constantly gives back. She participated in the “We Are the World 25” single to help rebuild Haiti after the 2010 earthquakes. She also teamed up with Cyndi Lauper to release a line of cosmetics benefiting AIDS/HIV charities.
Gaga has also long been a proponent of the Dalai Lama, speaking publicly with him on many occasions. Additionally, she started a foundation dedicated to the rights of the youth. It’s called the Born This Way Foundation, named after her self-empowerment anthem.
She has animals and plants named after her
Gaga calls her fans her “little monsters,” even tattooing that phrase on herself. But from the purest biological definition, Gaga has some “little monsters” with her name.
The Aleiodes gaga is a parasitic wasp (!) flying around, which scientists named after the singer.
Additionally, Gaga has two species plants named after her: the Gaga germanotta (her last name!) and the Gaga monstraparva (her little monsters!). The ferns were named by Duke University researchers, who wanted to pay tribute to Gaga’s commitment to equality. Plus — the plants look like her fashion!
She planned a world tour with Kanye West
In 2009, Kanye West and Lady Gaga were at the height of their powers. West had just dropped 808s & Heartbreak, a hip-hop game-changer. And Gaga had just dropped The Fame Monster, a smash hit, banger-filled expansion of her debut EP. So they decided to co-headline the Fame Kills tour together!
But then, Taylor Swift won Best Female Video at the 2009 MTV VMAs. And West interrupted her speech, telling the world that Beyonce should have won. And he took a long break after the ensuing controversy, causing Gaga to cancel their tour and go solo instead.
A Star Is Born had lots of iterations before Gaga
There had been three versions of A Star Is Born — the silent 1937 original, the Judy Garland-starring 1954 musical, and the Barbra Streisand-starring 1976 rock musical. When plans began for a fourth version, it was clear who the two stars would be: Jamie Foxx and Aaliyah!
Unfortunately, Aaliyah died in a plane crash, and this version was shelved. After that, lots of musicians-turned-actors were considered, including Jennifer Lopez, Kesha, and Janelle Monae. It looked like Clint Eastwood was going to direct Bradley Cooper and Beyonce. But then Gaga got the role, and the rest is history.
Gaga hates a subject of one of her songs
Released as the last single off of The Fame, “Paparazzi” is a deceptively summery bop, a major-key head-nodder that feels like a danceable ode to love.
But in reality, its lyrics tell a much darker tale of obsession and violence — one underlined by its video.
Gaga made her feelings about the paparazzi clear in an interview with The Times: “You know what I spend most of my money on? Disappearing. I hate the paparazzi. Because the truth is – no matter what people tell you – you can control it.”
Her first single didn’t do as much as it should have
“Just Dance” is a mission statement for Gaga. It’s the first track off The Fame, the first single she released worldwide, and a literal command for how an audience should interact with Gaga. And it went number one… in Canada, Sweden, and Australia.
In America, it was a different story.
The single was just enough of an American hit to earn Gaga… a supporting act on a New Kids on the Block tour? A few thousand plays on a MySpace account? Clawing to find extras for her music video?
We, as a nation, were not on Gaga’s side early enough.
Gaga has a smart reason for all her bonkers lewks
To know Gaga is to have a take on her crazy fashion. Let’s take the bubble dress as an example. It is, literally, a dress made out of plastic bubbles. Do you love it, or hate it? No matter what, Gaga is happy you’re talking about it.
“A year from now, I could go away,” explained Gaga to New York Magazine. “But how wonderfully memorable 30 years from now, when they say, ‘Do you remember Gaga and her bubbles?’… Everybody in that room will forget every sad, painful thing in their lives, and they’ll just live in my bubble world.”
She wanted to be “seen” from a young age
Gaga has shown disdain for a media age where anyone can be a celebrity based solely on social media. She believes celebrity should be decidedly weird, show-offy, and elite. And she started crafting this thesis statement at a young age.
At high school, Gaga was considered a lower-class student. Her classmates came from money — she worked a server job to make ends meet. But she still scrimped and saved to buy celeb-ready accessories like Gucci purses, because “My mom and dad were not buying me a $600 purse.”
One surprising artist inspired Gaga directly
After releasing the smash folk-pop single “I’m Like a Bird” in 2000, Nelly Furtado’s career started to fizzle. Unsure of what to do, Furtado met with hip-hop mega-producer Timbaland. His idea? To rebrand Furtado as a club-ready pop temptress. And it worked — her next album Loose was her best selling one.
This path inspired a young Gaga, still unsure of her musical identity. Fusari incorporated drum machines into the studio the day after he researched the Furtado story, ending Gaga’s experimentation with rockier, folkier tunes (which she would reincorporate in 2016’s Joanne).
Gaga loves one particular visual artist
Cans of soup. Films of buildings. Fame lasting 15 minutes.
We’re talking about Andy Warhol, arguably the most influential pop art figure who ever lived. His blond-haired eccentricities directly influenced Gaga — even to the point where her early hairstyles were a bite of Warhol’s blonde moptop.
Warhol had his Factory, a New York-based studio full of bohemian weirdos. So Gaga created Haus of Gaga, a creative team responsible for her most eye-catching pieces of mythology. About the Haus, Gaga said, “Warhol said art should be meaningful in the most shallow way… that’s what I’m doing too.”
Gaga had to cull many of her old friends
In her old New York days, Gaga was relentless in self-promotion. As old friend Brendan “DJ VH1” Sullivan put it, “she used to send texts out in New York inviting everyone on the Lower East Side to her shows, and not too many people would come.”
After Gaga blew up, many “friends” suddenly began courting her. Sullivan commented that it came after Gaga had to retool her entire life, and she resented their bandwagoning. “Once she blew up, and everyone wanted a piece of her, we stopped calling her Gaga. We started calling her Stef again.”
She fought the law, and we all won
On a 2009 stop in Chicago, touring her Fame Monster record, Gaga went outside wearing one of her typically outrageous outfits. In this instance, she was wearing a particularly short pair of pants. Or, as she put it, “I guess they weren’t really pants at all.”
Some Chicago police officers cited Gaga for indecent exposure!
“It was really funny,” admitted Gaga, “because all you saw was this half-naked girl on the street yelling at some cop, ‘It’s fashion! I’m an artist!’” The police warned her to dress more conservatively. She did not listen.
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