Life and career
1986–2004: Early life
Lady Gaga was born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta on March 28, 1986, in New York City. The first child of Italian American Joseph Germanotta, an internet entrepreneur, and Cynthia (née Bissett), Gaga has one sister, Natali, who was born in 1992. Gaga is left-handed and began learning to play piano aged four, went on to write her first piano ballad at 13, and began performing at open mike nights by the age of 14. Raised as a Roman Catholic on Manhattan’s Upper West Side after the family moved there in 1993, Gaga attended the Convent of the Sacred Heart, a private all-girls Roman Catholic school on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, from the age of 11. Despite the affluence of the Upper West Side, Gaga stressed that she did not come from a wealthy background, stating that her parents “both came from lower-class families, so we’ve worked for everything—my mother worked eight to eight out of the house, in telecommunications, and so did my father.” She described her academic life in high school as “very dedicated, very studious, very disciplined” but also “a bit insecure” as she told in an interview, “I used to get made fun of for being either too provocative or too eccentric, so I started to tone it down. I didn’t fit in, and I felt like a freak.” Acquaintances dispute that she did not fit in at school. “She had a core group of friends; she was a good student. She liked boys a lot, but singing was No. 1,” recalled a former high school classmate.
An avid actor in high school musicals, Gaga portrayed the lead roles of Adelaide in Guys and Dolls and Philia in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. She also appeared in a very small role as a mischievous classmate in the television drama series The Sopranos in a 2001 episode titled “The Telltale Moozadell”. At 16, she began to sing and play in front of live audiences and unsuccessfully auditioned for parts in New York shows. When her time at the Convent of the Sacred Heart came to an end, her mother encouraged her to apply to New York University to study drama and performance – specifically the Collaborative Arts Project 21 (CAP21), which is a faculty of the Tisch School of the Arts.
Aged 17, Gaga gained early admission and lived in a NYU dorm on 11th Street. There, she studied music and sharpened her songwriting skills by composing essays and analytical papers focusing on topics such as art, religion, social issues and politics. Gaga wrote a thesis on pop artists Spencer Tunick and Damien Hirst; research that prepared her for her future career focus in “music, art, sex and celebrity.” Gaga felt that she was more creative than some of her classmates. “Once you learn how to think about art, you can teach yourself,” she said. Being part of such a prestigious performance course, Gaga tried for and passed auditions while at CAP21, including the part of an unsuspecting diner customer where MTV’s Boiling Points, a prank reality television show, was being filmed. However, by the second semester of her sophomore year, she withdrew from the school to focus on her musical career. Her father agreed to pay her rent for a year, on the condition that she re-enroll at Tisch if she was unsuccessful. “I left my entire family, got the cheapest apartment I could find, and ate shit until somebody would listen,” she said.
2005–07: Career beginnings
Gaga (right) performing with Lady Starlight (left) at Lollapalooza 2007
Settled in a small apartment on Rivington Street towards the summer of 2005, Gaga recorded a couple of songs with hip-hop singer Grandmaster Melle Mel, for an audio book accompanying the children’s book The Portal in the Park, by Cricket Casey. She also began a band called the Stefani Germanotta Band (SGBand) with some friends from NYU – guitarist Calvin Pia, bassist Eli Silverman and drummer Alex Beckham – in September of that year. The band played a mixture of songs: some self-penned, along with classic rock numbers like Led Zeppelin’s “D’yer Mak’er”. Playing in Lower East Side bars like The Bitter End and the Mercury Lounge, the band developed a small fan base and caught the eye of music producer Joe Vulpis. Soon after arranging time in Vulpis’ studio beneath a New Jersey liquor store in the months that followed, SGBand were selling their extended plays Words and Red and Blue at gigs around New York while becoming a local fixture of the downtown Lower East Side club scene.
While at the peak of their career, SGBand performed at the 2006 Songwriters Hall of Fame New Songwriters Showcase at The Cutting Room in June where Wendy Starland, a singing model, appeared as a talent scout for music producer Rob Fusari who was searching for a female singer to front a new band. After Starland had informed Fusari of Gaga’s ability, he contacted her. By this time, SGBand had grown apart and Gaga left to work with the music producer in New Jersey where she would travel daily to work on songs she had written and compose new material. While in collaboration, Fusari compared some of her vocal harmonies to those of Freddie Mercury, lead singer of Queen. It was Fusari who helped created the moniker Gaga after the Queen song “Radio Ga Ga”. Gaga was in the process of trying to come up with a stage name when she received a text message from Fusari that read “Lady Gaga.” He explained, “Every day, when Stef came to the studio, instead of saying hello, I would start singing ‘Radio Ga Ga’. That was her entrance song. [Lady Gaga] was actually a glitch; I typed ‘Radio Ga Ga’ in a text and it did an autocorrect so somehow ‘Radio’ got changed to ‘Lady’. She texted me back, “That’s it.” After that day, she was Lady Gaga. She’s like, “Don’t ever call me Stefani again.” The New York Post, however, has reported that this story is incorrect, and that the name resulted from a marketing meeting.
Gaga performing at The Bazaar in Atlanta, Georgia, sporting one of her earlier looks (2008)
Although the musical relationship between Fusari and Gaga was unsuccessful at first, the pair soon set up a company titled Team Lovechild, in which they recorded and produced electro-beat pop tracks and sent them to music industry bosses. Joshua Sarubin, the head of A&R at Def Jam Recordings, responded positively and vied for the record company to take a chance on her “unusual and provocative” performance. After having his boss Antonio “L.A.” Reid in agreement, Gaga was signed to Def Jam in September 2006 with the intention of having an album ready in nine months. However, she was dropped by the label after only three months. Devastated, Gaga returned to the solace the family home for Christmas as well as the nightlife culture of the Lower East Side. Becoming fascinated with some of the emerging neo-burlesque shows, Gaga began Go-Go dancing in bars dressed in little more than bikini. She began experimenting with drugs in addition to performing in many shows. “I was onstage in a thong, with a fringe hanging over my ass thinking that had covered it, lighting hairsprays on fire, Go-Go dancing to Black Sabbath and singing songs about oral sex. The kids would scream and cheer and then we’d all go grab a beer. It represented freedom to me. I went to a Catholic school but it was on the New York underground that I found myself.”
Her father, however, did not understand the reason behind her drug intake and could not look at her for several months. During this time, she met performance artist Lady Starlight, who helped mold her on-stage persona. Starlight explained that, upon their first meeting, Gaga wanted to perform with her to songs she had recorded with Fusari. Like SGBand, the pair began playing gigs at many of the downtown club venues like the Mercury Lounge, The Bitter End, and the Rockwood Music Hall. Their live performance art piece was known as “Lady Gaga and the Starlight Revue” and, billed as “The Ultimate Pop Burlesque Rockshow”, was a low-fi tribute to 1970s variety acts. Soon after, the two were invited to play at the 2007 Lollapalooza music festival in August that year. The show was critically acclaimed, and their performance received positive reviews. Having initially focused on avant-garde electronic dance music, Gaga had found her musical niche when she began to incorporate pop melodies and the glam rock of David Bowie and Queen into her music.
While Gaga and Starlight were busy performing, producer Rob Fusari continued to work on the songs he had created with Gaga. Fusari sent these songs to his friend, producer and record executive Vincent Herbert. Herbert was quick to sign her to his label Streamline Records, an imprint of Interscope Records, upon its establishment in 2007. She credited Herbert as the man who discovered her, adding “I really feel like we made pop history, and we’re gonna keep going.” Having already served as an apprentice songwriter under an internship at Famous Music Publishing, which was later acquired by Sony/ATV Music Publishing, Gaga subsequently struck a music publishing deal with Sony/ATV. As a result, she was hired to write songs for Britney Spears and labelmates New Kids on the Block, Fergie, and the Pussycat Dolls. While Gaga was writing at Interscope, singer-songwriter Akon recognized her vocal abilities when she sang a reference vocal for one of his tracks in studio. He then convinced Interscope-Geffen-A&M Chairman and CEO Jimmy Iovine to form a joint deal by having her also sign with his own label Kon Live Distribution and later called her his “franchise player.” As 2007 came to a close, her former management company introduced her to songwriter and producer RedOne, whom they also managed. The first song she produced with RedOne was “Boys Boys Boys”, a mash-up inspired by Mötley Crüe’s “Girls, Girls, Girls” and AC/DC’s “T.N.T.”. Gaga continued her collaboration with RedOne in the recording studio for a week on her debut album and also joined the roster of Cherrytree Records, an Interscope imprint established by producer and songwriter Martin Kierszenbaum, after co-writing four songs with Kierszenbaum including the single “Eh, Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say)”.
2008–10: The Fame and The Fame Monster
Gaga at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards
By 2008, Gaga had relocated to Los Angeles, where she worked extensively with her record label to complete her debut album The Fame (2008). She combined different genres on the album, “from Def Leppard drums and hand claps to metal drums on urban tracks.” The Fame received positive reviews from contemporary critics; according to the music review aggregation of Metacritic, it garnered an average score of 71/100. The album peaked at number one in United Kingdom, Canada, Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Ireland, and the top-five in Australia, the United States and fifteen other countries. Worldwide, The Fame has sold over fourteen million copies. Its lead single “Just Dance” topped the charts in six countries—Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and the United States—and later received a Grammy Award nomination for Best Dance Recording.
The following single “Poker Face” was an even greater success, reaching number-one in almost all major music markets in the world, including the United Kingdom and the United States. It won the award for Best Dance Recording at the 52nd Grammy Awards, over nominations for Song of the Year and Record of the Year. The Fame was nominated for Album of the Year; it won the Grammy Award for Best Dance/Electronica Album. Although her first concert tour happened as an opening act for fellow Interscope pop group, the reformed New Kids on the Block, she ultimately embarked on her own worldwide concert tour, The Fame Ball Tour, which was critically appreciated and began in March 2009; ending in September of that year. The cover of the annual “Hot 100” issue of Rolling Stone in May 2009 featured a semi-nude Gaga wearing only strategically placed plastic bubbles.
In the issue she said that while she was beginning her career in the New York club scene, she was romantically involved with a heavy metal drummer. She described their relationship and break-up, saying of it, “I was his Sandy, and he was my Danny [of Grease], and I just broke.” He later became an inspiration behind some of the songs on The Fame. She was nominated for a total of nine awards at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, winning the award for Best New Artist, while her single “Paparazzi” won two awards for Best Art Direction and Best Special Effects. In October Gaga received Billboard magazine’s Rising Star of 2009 award. She attended the Human Rights Campaign’s “National Dinner” the same month, before marching in the National Equality March for the equal protection of LGBT people in all matters governed by U.S. civil law in Washington, D.C.
Gaga performing in 2010 at The Monster Ball Tour
Written over the course of 2008–09, The Fame Monster, a collection of eight songs, was released in November 2009. Each song, dealing with the darker side of fame from personal experience while she traveled the world, is expressed through a monster metaphor. Its first single “Bad Romance” topped the charts in eighteen countries, while reaching the top-two in the United States, Australia and New Zealand. In the U.S., Gaga became the first artist in digital history to have three singles (along with “Just Dance” and “Poker Face”) to pass the four million mark in digital sales. The song won a Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance while its accompanying music video won the Grammy Award for Best Short Form Music Video.
The album’s second single “Telephone”, which features singer Beyoncé, was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals and became Gaga’s fourth UK number-one single while its accompanying music video, although controversial, received a more positive reception from contemporary critics: praising her for “the musicality and showmanship of Michael Jackson and the powerful sexuality and provocative instincts of Madonna”. Her following single “Alejandro” paired Gaga with fashion photographer Steven Klein for a music video similarly as controversial—critics complimented its idea and dark nature, but the Catholic League attacked Gaga for her alleged use of blasphemy. Despite the controversy surrounding her music videos, they made Gaga the first artist to gain over one billion viral views on video-sharing website YouTube.
Musically, The Fame Monster has also received abundant success. Equating to the amount of Grammy nominations her debut received, The Fame Monster garnered a total of six; the album won for Best Pop Vocal Album and earned her a second-consecutive nomination for Album of the Year. The success of the album allowed Gaga to start her second worldwide concert tour, The Monster Ball Tour, just weeks after the release of The Fame Monster and months after having finished The Fame Ball Tour. Upon finishing in May 2011, the critically acclaimed and commercially accomplished tour ran for over one and a half years and, according to Billboard, grossed 227.4 million dollars, making it one of the highest-grossing concert tours of all time and the highest-grossing for a debut headlining artist. Additionally, Gaga has performed other songs from the album at international events such as the 2009 Royal Variety Performance where she sang “Speechless”, a power ballad, in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II; the 52nd Grammy Awards where her opening performance consisted of the song “Poker Face” and a piano duet of “Speechless” in a medley of “Your Song” with Elton John; and the 2010 BRIT Awards where a performance of an acoustic rendition of “Telephone” followed by “Dance in the Dark” dedicated to the late fashion designer and close friend, Alexander McQueen, supplemented her hat-trick win at the awards ceremony.
Excited about bringing back Polaroid and “combining it with the digital era”, Gaga was named Chief Creative Officer for a line of imaging products for the international optic company in January 2010 with the intent of creating fashion, technology and photography products. Her production team, Mermaid Music LLC, was sued in March by Rob Fusari; claiming that he was entitled to a 20% share of its earnings. Gaga’s lawyer, Charles Ortner, described the agreement with Fusari as “unlawful” and declined to comment; five months later, the New York Supreme Court dismissed both the lawsuit and a countersuit by Gaga. In April, Gaga was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people of the year. While giving an interview to The Times, Gaga hinted at having Systemic lupus erythematosus, commonly referred to as lupus, which is a connective tissue disease. She later confirmed with Larry King that she does not have lupus but “the results were borderline positive”. With the television host, Gaga also revealed that she was among several artists who would have opened for Michael Jackson during his This Is It concert series at London’s O2 Arena. “I was actually asked to open for Michael on his tour,” she stated. “We were going to open for him at the O2 and we were working on making it happen.” She added: “I believe there was some talk about us, lots of the openers, doing duets with Michael on stage.” In November 2010, one month after the singer reported assassination fears, a restraining order was issued against Russian Anastasia Obukhova, who had threatened to shoot her in the head.
2011–present: Born This Way
Gaga promoting Born This Way by performing its songs on the Good Morning America “Summer Concert Series”.
Gaga’s second studio album and third major release Born This Way was released on May 23, 2011. She announced the title of the album during her acceptance speech for Video of the Year at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards. Described as “a marriage of electronic music with major […] metal or rock ‘n’ roll, pop, anthemic style melodies with really sledge-hammering dance beats” and referred to as an album “about what what keeps us up at night and what makes us afraid”, She stated, “It came so quickly. I’ve been working on [the album] for months, and I feel very strongly that it’s finished right now. Some artists take years. I don’t. I write music every day.” Likening Born This Way to “bad kids going to church” that are “having fun on a high level”, Gaga characterized her new music as “something so much deeper than a wig or lipstick or a fucking meat dress” and upon hearing it, Akon remarked that she will take music to the “next level.” Its arrival followed the release of its eponymous lead single on February 11, 2011, which was performed live for the first time at the 53rd Grammy Awards two days after its release. The song debuted atop the Billboard Hot 100, becoming the 19th number-one debut and the 1,000th number-one single in the history of the charts.
Two other singles, “Judas” and “The Edge of Glory”, the former being criticized for its references to Biblical characters Judas, Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene, were released before the album, both placing in the top ten of the major musical markets. Upon release, Born This Way sold 1.108 million copies in its first week in the United States, debuting atop the Billboard 200, and topping the charts in more than 10 other countries. Lending her vocals elsewhere, Gaga paired with Elton John to record an original duet for the animated feature film Gnomeo & Juliet. The song, titled “Hello, Hello”, was released on February 11, 2011, without Gaga’s vocals. The duet version is only featured in the film. She undertook her job as a fashion columnist for V, where she wrote about her creative process, her studying of the world of pop culture, and her ability to tune into the evolution of pop-culture meme. In May 2011, Gaga told Australian radio show The Kyle & Jackie O Show that she would be coming to Sydney to perform a one-off concert in July 2011, to promote Born This Way, which occurred at Sydney Town Hall on Wednesday 13 July 2011.
Musical style and influences
“Just Dance” (2008)
A 30-second sample of Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance” featuring the chorus sung by Lady Gaga and Colby O’Donis in the range of B3 to C♯, backed by a synth marching beat. The song became her first international hit single.
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Gaga has been mainly influenced by glam rock singers such as David Bowie and Freddie Mercury, as well as dance-pop artists such as Madonna and Michael Jackson. The Queen song “Radio Ga Ga” inspired her stage name, “Lady Gaga”. She commented: “I adored Freddie Mercury and Queen had a hit called ‘Radio Gaga’. That’s why I love the name […] Freddie was unique—one of the biggest personalities in the whole of pop music.” Gaga has also a lot of comparison to Madonna. She stated: “there is really no one that is a more adoring and loving Madonna fan than me. I am the hugest fan personally and professionally.” Gaga’s other musical inspirations include Whitney Houston, Britney Spears, Grace Jones and Blondie singer Debbie Harry. In an interview with Yahoo! Singapore, when she answered questions for the media, she stated that Cyndi Lauper is someone she admired, and she also stated the reason why her sophomore album, Born This Way, was more rock-supported. She stated that she wanted her album to be for her fans, as they reacted a stronger way for rock songs than pop, which influenced her rock elements in the album.
Gaga wearing a plastic bubble dress while performing on The Fame Ball Tour
Gaga has the vocal range of a contralto. Her vocals have drawn frequent comparison to those of Madonna and Gwen Stefani, while the structure of her music is said to echo classic 1980s pop and 1990s Europop. While reviewing her debut album The Fame, The Sunday Times asserted “in combining music, fashion, art and technology, [Gaga] evokes Madonna, Gwen Stefani circa ‘Hollaback Girl’, Kylie Minogue 2001 or Grace Jones right now.” Similarly, The Boston Globe critic Sarah Rodman commented that she draws “obvious inspirations from Madonna to Gwen Stefani… in [her] girlish but sturdy pipes and bubbly beats.” Though her lyrics are said to lack intellectual stimulation, “[she] does manage to get you moving and grooving at an almost effortless pace.” Music critic Simon Reynolds wrote that “Everything about Gaga came from electroclash, except the music, which wasn’t particularly 1980s, just ruthlessly catchy naughties pop glazed with Auto-Tune and undergirded with R&B-ish beats.
Gaga has identified fashion as a major influence. She considers Donatella Versace her muse. Gaga has her own creative production team called the Haus of Gaga, which she handles personally. The team creates many of her clothes, stage props, and hairdos. Her love of fashion came from her mother, who she stated was “always very well kept and beautiful.” “When I’m writing music, I’m thinking about the clothes I want to wear on stage. It’s all about everything altogether—performance art, pop performance art, fashion. For me, it’s everything coming together and being a real story that will bring back the super-fan. I want to bring that back. I want the imagery to be so strong that fans will want to eat and taste and lick every part of us.” The Global Language Monitor named “Lady Gaga” as the Top Fashion Buzzword with her trademark “no pants” coming in at No. 3. Entertainment Weekly put her outfits on its end of the decade “best-of” list, saying, “Whether it’s a dress made of Muppets or strategically placed bubbles, Gaga’s outré ensembles brought performance art into the mainstream.”
Gaga, well-recognized for her unconventionality, during a “blood soaked” performance on The Monster Ball Tour
Critical reception of Gaga’s music, fashion sense and persona are mixed. Her status as a role model, trailblazer and fashion icon is by turns affirmed and denied. Gaga’s albums have received mostly positive reviews, with critics pointing out her unique place in pop music, the need for new movements in popular culture, the attention Gaga brings to important social issues, and the inherently subjective nature of her art. Her role as a self-esteem booster for her fans is also lauded, as is her role in breathing life into the fashion industry.
Her performances are described as “highly entertaining and innovative”; in particular, the blood-spurting performance of “Paparazzi” at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards was described as “eye-popping” by MTV. She continued the “blood soaked” theme in The Monster Ball Tour, in which she wore a revealing leather corset and is “attacked” by a performer dressed in black who gnaws on her throat, causing “blood” to spurt down her chest, after which she lies “dying” in a pool of blood. Her performances of that scene in Manchester, England, triggered protests from family groups and fans in the aftermath of a local tragedy, in which a taxi driver had murdered 12 people. “What happened in Bradford is very fresh in people’s minds and given all the violence which happened in Cumbria just hours earlier, it was insensitive,” said Lynn Costello of Mothers Against Violence. Chris Rock later defended her flamboyant, provocative behavior. “Well, she’s Lady Gaga,” he said. “She’s not ‘Lady Behave Yourself.’ Do you want great behavior from a person named Gaga? Is this what you were expecting?”
She later returned to the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards wearing a dress supplemented by boots, a purse and a hat—each fabricated from the flesh of a dead animal. The dress, named Time magazine’s Fashion Statement of 2010 and more widely known as the “meat dress”, was made by Argentinian designer Franc Fernandez and received divided opinions—evoking the attention of worldwide media but invoking the fury of animal rights organization PETA. Gaga, however, later denied any intention of causing disrespect to any person or organization and wished for the dress to be interpreted as a statement of human rights with focus upon those in the LGBT community.
Contrary to her outré style, the New York Post described her early look as like “a refugee from Jersey Shore” with “big black hair, heavy eye makeup and tight, revealing clothes.” Gaga is a natural brunette; she bleached her hair blonde because she was often mistaken for Amy Winehouse. She often refers to her fans as her “little monsters” and in dedication, she had that inscription tattooed on “the arm that holds [her] mic[rophone].” She has another six known tattoos, among them a peace symbol, which was inspired by John Lennon, who she stated was her hero, and a curling German script on her left arm quoting the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, her favorite philosopher, commenting that his “philosophy of solitude” spoke to her. Towards the end of 2008, comparisons were made between the fashions of Gaga and fellow recording artist Christina Aguilera that noted similarities in their styling, hair, and make-up. Aguilera stated that she was “completely unaware of [Gaga]” and “didn’t know if it [was] a man or a woman.” Gaga released a statement in which she welcomed the comparisons due to the attention providing useful publicity, saying, “She’s such a huge star and if anything I should send her flowers, because a lot of people in America didn’t know who I was until that whole thing happened. It really put me on the map in a way.”
When interviewed by Barbara Walters for her annual ABC News special 10 Most Fascinating People in 2009, Gaga dismissed the claim that she is intersex as an urban legend. Responding to a question on this issue, she stated, “At first it was very strange and everyone sorta said, ‘That’s really quite a story!’ But in a sense, I portray myself in a very androgynous way, and I love androgyny.” In addition to Aguilera’s statement, comparisons continued into 2010 when Aguilera released the music video of her single “Not Myself Tonight”. Critics noted similarities between the song and its accompanying music video with Gaga’s video for “Bad Romance”. There have also been similar comparisons made between Gaga’s style and that of fashion icon Dale Bozzio from the band Missing Persons. Some have considered their respective images to be strikingly parallel although fans of Missing Persons note that Bozzio had pioneered the look more than thirty years earlier.
During an interview with Harper’s Bazaar magazine published in May 2011, Gaga discussed the recent appearance of horn-like ridges on her cheekbones, temples, and shoulders. When asked about the necessary makeup to attach the prosthetics, she responded, “They’re not prosthetics, they’re my bones.” She also clarified that they were not the result of plastic surgery, believing such surgery to only be the modern byproduct of fame-induced insecurity to which she does not subscribe. Further probing by the interviewer only got her to state that they are an artistic representation of her inner inspirational light, part of the “performance piece” that is her musical persona, an inevitability of her becoming who she now is. In view of Lady Gaga’s influence on modern culture and her rise to global fame, sociologist Mathieu Deflem of the University of South Carolina since the Spring of 2011 organizes a course titled “Lady Gaga and the Sociology of the Fame” with the objective of unravelling “sociologically relevant dimensions of the fame of Lady Gaga with respect to her music, videos, fashion, and other artistic endeavors”.
Gaga’s treatment of her fans as “Little Monsters” has inspired criticism, due to the highly commercial nature of her music and image. To some, this dichotomy contravenes the concept of outsider culture. Writing for The Guardian, Kitty Empire opined that the dichotomy “…allows the viewer to have a ‘transgressive’ experience without being required to think. At [her performance’s] core, though, is the idea that Gaga is at one with the freaks and outcasts. The Monster Ball is where we can all be free. This is arrant nonsense, as the scads of people buying Gaga’s cunningly commercial music are not limited to the niche worlds of drag queens and hip night creatures from which she draws her inspiration. But Gaga seems sincere.” Camille Paglia wrote a cover story “Lady Gaga and the death of sex” on September 12, 2010, in The Sunday Times in which she asserts that Gaga “is more an identity thief than an erotic taboo breaker, a mainstream manufactured product who claims to be singing for the freaks, the rebellious and the dispossessed when she is none of those.”
Besides her career in music, Gaga has enhanced her repertoire as a philanthropist who has contributed to various charities and humanitarian works. Although declining an invitation to record a benefit song, Gaga held a concert of The Monster Ball Tour following the 2010 Haiti earthquake and dedicated it to the country’s reconstruction relief fund. This concert, held at the Radio City Music Hall, New York, on January 24, 2010, donated any received revenue to the relief fund while, in addition, all profits from sales of products on Gaga’s official online store on that same day were donated. Gaga announced that an estimated total of $500,000 was collected for the fund. Hours after the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami hit Japan on March 11, 2011, Gaga tweeted a message and a link to Japan Prayer Bracelets. With the company, she designed a bracelet, with all sales revenue going to Japanese relief efforts. The bracelets raised $1.5 million (as of March 29, 2011). Performing at MTV Japan’s charity show on June 25, 2011 in Makuhari Messe, Gaga will appear for the benefit of the Japan Red Cross which aids victims suffering in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami. However, attorney Alyson Oliver filed a lawsuit against Gaga in Detroit in June 2011, noting that the bracelet was subject to a sales tax and an extra $3.99 shipping charge was added to the price. She also believed that not all proceeds from the bracelets would go to the relief efforts, demanding a public accounting of the campaign and refunds for people who had bought the bracelet. Gaga’s spokesperson called the lawsuit “meritless” and “misleading”.
Gaga also contributes in the fight against HIV and AIDS with the focus upon educating young women about the risks of the disease. In collaboration with Cyndi Lauper, Gaga joined forces with MAC Cosmetics to launch a line of lipstick under their supplementary cosmetic line, Viva Glam. Titled Viva Glam Gaga and Viva Glam Cyndi for each contributor respectively, all net proceeds of the lipstick line were donated to the cosmetic company’s campaign to prevent HIV and AIDS worldwide. In a press release, Gaga declared, “I don’t want Viva Glam to be just a lipstick you buy to help a cause. I want it to be a reminder when you go out at night to put a condom in your purse right next to your lipstick.”
With the performance of the bilingual song “Americano” from her second studio album Born This Way (2011), Gaga jumped into the debate surrounding SB 1070, Arizona’s immigration law. She premiered the tune for the first time on the Guadalajara, Mexico stop of her Monster Ball tour telling the local press that she could not “stand by many of the unjust immigration laws” in the United States.
Gaga delivers a speech at the National Equality March, October 11, 2009
Gaga attributes much of her early success as a mainstream artist to her gay fans and is considered to be a gay icon. Early in her career she had difficulty getting radio airplay, and stated, “The turning point for me was the gay community. I’ve got so many gay fans and they’re so loyal to me and they really lifted me up. They’ll always stand by me and I’ll always stand by them. It’s not an easy thing to create a fanbase.” She thanked FlyLife, a Manhattan-based LGBT marketing company with whom her label Interscope works, in the liner notes of The Fame, saying, “I love you so much. You were the first heartbeat in this project, and your support and brilliance means the world to me. I will always fight for the gay community hand in hand with this incredible team.” One of her first televised performances was in May 2008 at the NewNowNext Awards, an awards show aired by the LGBT television network Logo, where she sang her song “Just Dance”. In June of the same year, she performed the song again at the San Francisco Pride event.
After The Fame was released, she revealed that the song “Poker Face” was about her bisexuality. In an interview with Rolling Stone, she spoke about how her boyfriends tended to react to her bisexuality, saying “The fact that I’m into women, they’re all intimidated by it. It makes them uncomfortable. They’re like, ‘I don’t need to have a threesome. I’m happy with just you’.” When she appeared as a guest on The Ellen DeGeneres Show in May 2009, she praised DeGeneres for being “an inspiration for women and for the gay community”. She proclaimed that the October 11, 2009, National Equality March rally on the National Mall was “the single most important event of her career.” As she exited, she left with an exultant “Bless God and bless the gays,” similar to her 2009 MTV Video Music Awards acceptance speech for Best New Artist a month earlier. At the Human Rights Campaign Dinner, held the same weekend as the rally, she performed a cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine” declaring that “I’m not going to [play] one of my songs tonight because tonight is not about me, it’s about you.” She changed the original lyrics of the song to reflect the death of Matthew Shepard, a college student murdered because of his sexuality.
Gaga addresses the crowd at SLDN’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” rally in 2010
Gaga attended the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards accompanied by four service members of the United States Armed Forces (Mike Almy; David Hall; Katie Miller and Stacy Vasquez). All of whom, under the U.S. military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) policy, had been prohibited from serving openly because of their sexuality. In addition, Gaga wore a dress fabricated from the flesh of a dead animal to the awards ceremony. Gaga wished that the dress, more widely known as the “meat dress”, was interpreted as a statement of human rights with focus upon those in the LGBT community adding that “If we don’t stand up for what we believe in and if we don’t fight for our rights, pretty soon we’re going to have as much rights as the meat on our own bones.” She later released three YouTube videos urging her fans to contact their Senators in an effort to overturn the policy. In late September 2010, she spoke at the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network’s “4the14K” Rally in Deering Oaks Park in Portland, Maine. The name of the rally signified the number – an estimated 14,000 – of service members discharged under the DADT policy at the time. During her remarks, she urged members of the U.S. Senate (and in particular, moderate Republican Senators from Maine, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins) to vote in favor of legislation that would repeal the DADT policy. Following this event, editors of The Advocate commented that she had become “the real fierce advocate” for gays and lesbians, one that Barack Obama had promised to be.
Gaga has most recently appeared at Europride, a pan-European international event dedicated to LGBT pride, held in Rome in June 2011. In a nearly twenty-minute speech, she criticized the intolerant state of gay rights in many European countries and described homosexuals as “revolutionaries of love” before performing acoustic renderings of “Born This Way” and “The Edge of Glory” in front of thousands at the Circus Maximus. She stated that “Today and every day we fight for freedom. We fight for justice. We beckon for compassion, understanding and above all we want full equality now”. Gaga revealed that she is often questioned why she dedicates herself to “gayspeak” and “how gay” she is, to which, she told the audience: “Why is this question, why is this issue so important? My answer is: I am a child of diversity, I am one with my generation, I feel a moral obligation as a woman, or a man, to exercise my revolutionary potential and make the world a better place.” She then joked: “On a gay scale from 1 to 10, I’m a Judy Garland fucking 42.”