Lady Gaga is a bona fide pop phenomenon.
At only 22 years old, she sashayed onto the music scene last fall with the worldwide dance hit “Just Dance” from her debut album The Fame.
Unlike most stars who are manufactured by big studios or dreamed up by marketing teams, this dance diva was born with glitter in her veins.
She learned to play the piano by ear when she was four and started writing synth-pop songs in her teens while she toiled away at art school. In 2007 she signed with Interscope Records as a songwriter and, while working with rapper Akon, parlayed her demos into her very own record deal.
Flexing her muscles in the New York nightclub scene with a cabaret performance act which included new-wave go-go dancers, hairspray pyrotechnics and Bowie-esque costumes, Lady Gaga became the indisputable queen of clubland — and a huge hit with homos everywhere.
Whether she’s being arrested for indecent exposure at Lollapalooza or designing costumes and sci-fi props with her crew, The Haus of Gaga, Lady Gaga is destined to become a gay icon for the 21st century.
Xtra West’s Toronto sister magazine Fab recently got to chat with the disco siren about drag queens, bitchy pop copycats, new year’s resolutions and fucking in the back of cabs.
Matt Thomas: I loves me a Catholic schoolgirl gone bad! What was it like going to a button-down all-girl school with the likes of Paris and Nicky Hilton?
Lady Gaga: Well I didn’t really know the Hiltons, they were a lot older than me at school. What I think was interesting about going to that school was that there were some girls that had tons of money, some that had no money, some down the middle. There were blondes, brunettes, artsy girls, stoner girls — we had everybody. I was the nerdy theatre girl, playing in the band and being made fun of.
I look back at my schooling, though, and I feel like I learned so much about different kinds of women and it totally prepped me to figure out the kind of woman I wanted to be.
MT: You started out young in the notoriously crazy New York club scene. What’s your favourite memory from those days?
LG: I was 19 and I was playing a show where I was supposed to debut all this new material. When I sat down to play I couldn’t get everyone to stop talking so I took off all my clothes. Works every time.
MT: You’ve played with a lot of great queer acts in New York like Cazwell and Amanda Lepore. What attracts you to playing shows with them?
LG: The freaking freedom, the joy, the fun and the spirit. There is no fucking spirit in the world like in the gay community. Amanda and Cazwell opened up for me at my Fame Ball in New York for my record release. They are just such amazingly good people, there’s no pretension. I’m always gonna be the most supportive chick on the planet of the gay community. Every time I go to cities to play, even in arenas, I always make sure I play a second show at a gay club.
MT: Recently you dropped the news that you identify as bisexual, which is a really ballsy move for someone in the pop music industry. Why did you make the choice to come out about it?
LG: It’s actually something I don’t really like to talk about anymore. I’m kind of disappointed by it all. I don’t like to be seen as somebody who is using the gay community to look edgy. I’m a free sexual woman and I like what I like. I don’t want people to write that about me because I feel like it looks like I’m saying it because I’m trying to be edgy or underground.
MT: It’s weird that honesty sometimes backfires like that. I guess you’re trying to avoid the lesbian-chic transparency of someone like the hotly contested Ms Katy Perry.
LG: I mean, look, I know Katy and she’s super nice and I don’t want to say anything bad about her music or her. I’ll just say not in terms of Katy but just in general, I’m very careful about the way I write about sexuality. I push boundaries in everything I do, I have a lot of girl on girl in my short films, there’s a lot of boy on boy onstage. I do all kinds of stuff like that I do not want to make anyone feel used. I’m not trying to use my gay fans to get a fan base, I really genuinely love them and that’s why I made the decision very early on to not play “Boys, Boys, Boys” in the clubs right away. I didn’t want it to be seen like I was trying to promote a song that was like a gay club anthem.
Not because I don’t wanna have a gay club anthem. I want all my songs to be gay club anthems — I want the whole show to be one giant gay club anthem — but I just didn’t want to be seen as the girl who is just using her gay songs to get out there.
Anybody that writes music that touches on sexuality or gay anything is setting themselves up to be a target for questioning and interrogation. But I appreciate when people ask me those kinds of questions so I can tell it how it is.
MT: You take a lot of inspiration from queer icons like Freddie Mercury and David Bowie. What about them gets you off?
LG: Freddie Mercury and David Bowie are both extremely theatrical. I just love the androgyny, the fashion, the visuals and the theatrical aspects. They have so much passion and so much vision; I really look to them as a template. I always said to myself they did it so I’m going to do it too.
MT: So you went from underground clubs to having a bunch of number one hits. When did you have your first “holy shit I’m hitting it big” moment?
LG: I played a show in Halifax a while ago and it was when “Just Dance” just had hit on the radio big and there were like 15,000 screaming fans that knew every word and that’s when I knew. I was like, “Here we go Canada.” I love my Canadian fans.
My other big moment was playing San Francisco Pride. It was right after gay marriage was legalized and before all this nonsense started going on and I was the headliner closing the whole Pride weekend. I remember I got out on stage and the audience was screaming and crying. It was just this really amazing moment.
Actually, the whole show was running behind so the city shut me off during “Just Dance” because it’s like $10,000 a minute if they don’t shut you off. They shut me off during the last minute of “Just Dance.” My mic went out, the music went off and all my gay boyfriends just sang it back to me. It was the sweetest, most amazing moment.
MT: What is it like knowing there are drag queens out there working it out to Lady Gaga?
LG: Having queens do my stuff is a fucking dream come true. But I haven’t seen it live yet, just on YouTube.
MT: Any advice for aspiring Lady Gaga queens?
LG: My advice to them is purple shampoo in the hair to get all the yellow out of their hair. Using purple shampoo makes it white like mine. Style-wise you definitely need shoulder pads, like for sure. Lighting bolts are a must, then you need the bangs — that’s like my whole thing — and maybe a cat suit if you really wanna go for it. Choreography should be super futuristic and very Fosse.
MT: What is Christina Aguilera’s deal? She told the LA Times when asked about people accusing her of copying your look: “This person [Lady Gaga] was just brought to my attention not too long ago. I’m not quite sure who this person is, to be honest. I don’t know if it is a man or a woman. I just wasn’t sure. I really don’t spend any time on the internet, so I guess I live a little under a rock in that respect.” Does she not have anything better to do than be a bitch?
LG: I talk endlessly in my interviews about Bowie, Grace Jones and androgyny in fashion. It’s a creative intention of mine to be androgynous in all of my work. If you watch anything that I’ve ever done it’s very sexy but there’s an androgyny to it and it makes some people slightly uncomfortable.
I’m a big fan of Andy Warhol and his crew, you know, and that’s something I really want to portray. In a way I was not at all offended because I feel like she was just picking up on something that I’m trying to do with my work. What’s so bad about being a tranny?
I happen to think Christina is extremely talented and I was always a big fan of hers when I was little. When someone calls you up and says that Christina Aguilera said something about you in the press you gotta be like, “What is going on?” (Laughs)
MT: Do you think it was a bit transphobic that she was trying to dis you that way?
LG: I don’t know if she’s trannyphobic, but I’m not. I love trannies. Whenever I look really crazy and I’m trying to explain it to people, I tell them I’m looking like a hot tranny mess today and that means I’m looking fabulous.
MT: What’s the craziest place you’ve ever had sex?
LG: In the back of a taxi in New York. It was fun. I would do it again, fuck yeah. It’s always fun to do things that are sneaky. Sneaky in sex is good.
MT: Any personal goals, resolutions for 2009?
LG: Personally, I just want to keep making art and keep being healthy. It’s not my job, it’s my life. I enjoy doing this stuff. Sometimes I meet artists who are like, “Oh my god, I can’t wait to go on vacation” and I’m thinking to myself: My life is on the road. I’m not on the road waiting to go home and live my life. I’m on the road living my life, having a fucking great time, making art, staying inspired, calling the Haus of Gaga back in California and telling them, “Hey, I saw this amazing piece in a museum and I wanna do this and I took a photo, let’s do this.”
I’m so in it for the work, I just love it. I just wanna keep upping the ante for myself as creator and keep getting better and better. In the next 10 years I want to have a museum installation.
MT: You’ve written songs for Akon, New Kids on the Block and Britney Spears. Is there anyone you’re dying to collaborate with musically?
LG: I would love to collaborate with David Bowie, Marilyn Manson, The Scissor Sisters and Mika. Those are good people. I would love to work with Quentin Tarantino or like a weird porn director to make a cool short film or something.
MT: What was it like writing for Britney Spears?
LG: It was awesome seeing the song change when she put her touches on it. I’m just really grateful that she loves the music and she’s so supportive of me. She’s a fan of my stuff and to write a song that she loves and to know she loves me as an artist, you can’t ask for anything better than that. Britney’s a real class act in terms of the way she handles herself in the media and embraces new artists. She’s always really kind. I’ve always admired that about her.
MT: People are curious about whether or not she’s back on track. What do you think?
LG: I think so for sure. Britney’s full out, are you kidding me? She’s gonna kick everybody’s ass. She’s awesome. As far as I’m concerned Britney never left.
MT: What’s it like touring and writing for New Kids on the Block?
LG: They are so kind and sweet and I’m sad it’s almost over.
MT: Did you ever have a crush on any of them when you were a kid?
LG: Of course I did.
MT: Did you ever bring it up?
LG: (Giggles) I dunno, they know. Everybody has crushes on them, they’re the New Kids! I try to be professional when I’m writing music with people and not be like, “Oh I have a huge crush on you.” But yeah I used to have a crush on Donny.
MT: Ha, me too.
LG: The bad boy, always gotta go for the bad boy.