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Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta (born March 28, 1986), better known by her stage name Lady Gaga, is an American pop singer-songwriter. She began performing in the rock music scene of New York City's Lower East Side in 2003 and enrolled at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. She soon signed with Streamline Records, an imprint of Interscope Records. During her early time at Interscope, she worked as a songwriter for fellow label artists and captured the attention of Akon, who recognized her vocal abilities, and signed her to his own label, Kon Live Distribution.
Gaga came to prominence following the release of her debut studio album The Fame (2008), which was a commercial success and achieved international popularity with the singles " Just Dance" and " Poker Face". The album reached number one on the record charts of six countries, accomplished positions within the top-ten worldwide, and topped the Billboard Dance/Electronic Albums chart while simultaneously peaking at number two on the Billboard 200 chart in the United States. Achieving similar worldwide success, her follow-up album The Fame Monster (2009), an extension of her debut, produced a further two global chart-topping singles " Bad Romance" and " Telephone" and allowed her to embark on a second global headlining concert tour, The Monster Ball Tour, just months after having finished her first, The Fame Ball Tour. Her second studio album, Born This Way, is scheduled for release in 2011.
Inspired by glam rock artists like David Bowie and Queen, as well as pop singers such as Madonna and Michael Jackson, Gaga is well-recognized for her outré sense of style as a recording artist, in fashion, in performance and in her music videos. Her contributions to the music industry have garnered her numerous achievements including two Grammy Awards, amongst twelve nominations; two Guinness World Records; and the estimated sale of fifteen million albums and fifty-one million singles worldwide. Billboard named her as the Artist of the Year in 2010 and ranked her as the 73rd Artist of the 2000s decade. Gaga has been included in Time magazine's annual Time 100 list of the most influential people in the world as well as Forbes' list of the 100 Most Powerful and Influential celebrities in the world. Forbes also placed her at number seven on their annual list of the World's 100 Most Powerful Women.
Life and career
1986–2004: Early life
Lady Gaga was born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta in New York City on March 28, 1986, the eldest child of Joseph Germanotta, an internet entrepreneur, and Cynthia (née Bissett). She learned to play piano from the age of four, went on to write her first piano ballad at 13 and began performing at open mike nights by age 14. Gaga was raised a Roman Catholic. At the age of 11, Gaga attended Convent of the Sacred Heart, a private all-girls Roman Catholic school on Manhattan's Upper East Side, but has stressed that she does not come from a wealthy background, saying 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."
An avid thespian in high school musicals, Gaga portrayed lead roles as Adelaide in Guys and Dolls and Philia in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. 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 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. Referring to her "expressive, free spirit", Gaga told Elle magazine "I'm left-handed!"
At age 17, Gaga gained early admission to the New York University's Tisch School of the Arts and lived in a NYU dorm on 11th Street. There she studied music and improved her songwriting skills by composing essays and analytical papers focusing on topics such as art, religion, social issues and politics. 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. 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 for Tisch if she was unsuccessful. "I left my entire family, got the cheapest apartment I could find until somebody would listen," she said.
2005–07: Career beginnings
Gaga had initially signed with Def Jam Recordings at the age of 19, although she was dropped by the label after only three months. Shortly after, 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." She moved into an apartment on the Lower East Side and 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 started the Stefani Germanotta Band with some friends from NYU. They recorded an extended play of their ballads at a studio underneath a liquor store in New Jersey, becoming a local fixture at the downtown Lower East Side club scene. She began experimenting with drugs soon after, while performing at neo-burlesque shows. Her father did not understand the reason behind her drug intake and could not look at her for several months. Music producer Rob Fusari, who helped her write some of her earlier songs, compared some of her vocal harmonies to that of Freddie Mercury. Fusari helped create 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."
She was known thereafter as Lady Gaga. The New York Post, however, has reported that this story is incorrect, and that the name resulted from a marketing meeting. Throughout 2007, Gaga collaborated with performance artist Lady Starlight, who helped create her on-stage fashions. The pair began playing gigs at downtown club venues like the Mercury Lounge, The Bitter End, and the Rockwood Music Hall, with their live performance art piece known as "Lady Gaga and the Starlight Revue." Billed as "The Ultimate Pop Burlesque Rockshow", their act was a low-fi tribute to 1970s variety acts. In August 2007, Gaga and Starlight were invited to play at the American Lollapalooza music festival. The show was critically acclaimed, and their performance received positive reviews. Having initially focused on avant-garde electronic dance music, Gaga found her musical niche when she began to incorporate pop melodies and the glam rock of David Bowie and Queen into her music.
Fusari sent the songs he produced with Gaga 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." 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
By 2008, Gaga had relocated to Los Angeles, working closely with her record label to finalize her debut album The Fame. 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 Electronic/Dance 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 headlined her own worldwide concert tour, The Fame Ball Tour, which was critically appreciated and began in March 2009; culminating 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 US civil law in Washington, D.C.
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 travelled 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. The song received a Grammy nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance while its accompanying music video was nominated 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, was met mostly 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 use of blasphemy. Despite the controversy surrounding her music videos, they have made Gaga one of the first artists 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 – among them Best Pop Vocal Album and her second-consecutive nomination for Album of the Year. The success of the album allowed Gaga to embark on her second headlining worldwide concert tour, The Monster Ball Tour, just weeks after the release of The Fame Monster and months after having finished her first. Upon finishing in May 2011, the critically acclaimed and commercially accomplished concert tour will have ran for over one and a half years. Additionally, Gaga has performed other songs from the album at international events like 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.
Barbara Walters chose Gaga as one the "10 Most Fascinating People of 2009" for her annual ABC News special. When interviewed by the journalist, 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." 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, however, five months later, the New York Supreme Court dismissed the lawsuit. 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".
2010–present: Born This Way
Gaga's second studio album and third major release Born This Way, whose title was announced during her acceptance speech for Video of the Year at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards, will be released on May 23, 2011. Its arrival will follow the release of its lead single on February 13, 2011. These dates were tweeted by Gaga at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Day, 2011. Described as "a marriage of electronic music with major [...] metal or rock 'n' roll, pop, anthemic style melodies with really sledge-hammering dance beats", Born This Way will be Gaga's third release in three years. 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." With two tracks already confirmed by Gaga – one she has been performing during The Monster Ball Tour, she has referred to the album as "the greatest" of the decade about "what keeps us up at night and what makes us afraid." 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 meat dress" and upon hearing it, Akon remarked that she will take music to the "next level."
Lending her vocal talent elsewhere, Gaga also paired with Elton John to record an original duet for the soundtrack to the forthcoming animated Disney feature film Gnomeo and Juliet. The song, titled " Hello, Hello", is scheduled for release in February 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 influenced by glam rock artists such as David Bowie and Queen, as well as pop music artists such as Madonna, Britney Spears 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." In response to the comparisons between herself and Madonna, Gaga stated: "I don't want to sound presumptuous, but I've made it my goal to revolutionise pop music. The last revolution was launched by Madonna 25 years ago." Actress and singer Grace Jones was also cited as an inspiration, along with Blondie singer Debbie Harry.
Gaga's 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, Lady 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."
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 behaviour from a person named Gaga? Is this what you were expecting?" She later returned to the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards wearing a dress which was 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.
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."
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 whom she stated was her hero, and a curling German script on her left arm which quotes 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." 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.
Gaga's influence on modern culture and society has provoked the University of South Carolina into offering a full-time course titled "Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame" in the objective of unravelling "the sociologically relevant dimensions of the fame of Lady Gaga with respect to her music, videos, fashion, and other artistic endeavors".
Besides her career in music, Gaga has enhanced her repertoire as a philanthropist who has contributed to various charities and humanitarianism 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.
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."
Gaga attributes much of her early success as a mainstream artist to her gay fans and is considered to be a rising 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 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. In September 2010, she spoke at a rally in favour of repealing the US military's Don't ask, don't tell policy, which prohibits lesbian, gay and bisexual people from serving openly, and released an online video urging her fans to contact their Senators in an effort to get the policy overturned. Editors of The Advocate commented that she had become the "fierce advocate" for gays and lesbians that future president Barack Obama had promised to be during his campaign.
- The Fame (2008)
- The Fame Monster (2009)
- Born This Way (2011)
- The Fame Ball Tour (2009)
- The Monster Ball Tour (2009–11)