Growing up in New York, a parochial school girl with a precocious predilection for the arts, stardom seemed "an appropriate trajectory" for Lady Gaga.
"Everybody always knew I would end up doing something like this," the flamboyant singer and songwriter acknowledges. "They always knew I would arrive here."
"Here" is actually the rarefied summit of the pop world. After several years of struggle, including one botched record deal, Lady Gaga has made her mark with her 2008 debut album, "The Fame," and particularly with its first single, "Just Dance," which logged a three-week run atop the Billboard Hot 100 chart early this year and was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Dance Recording.
It's also been certified triple-platinum for sales of more than three million copies.
As she chats by phone from her apartment in Los Angeles, Gaga says she's "very, very grateful" for the success -- but adds that it's something she expected would happen at some point.
"I'm not surprised, 'cause it's a good album," says Gaga, who was born Joanne Stefani Germanotta in Yonkers, New York "But I've been told 'no' for so long. I considered 'Just Dance' and 'Pokerface' ('The Fame's' second single) hit records, but nobody wanted to play them.
"So I feel a little bit like a pop music miracle, too."
Gaga's creative road started early. The daughter of "nerdy, technological" parents -- her father was an Internet entrepreneur -- she started playing piano at four years old, wrote her song by the time she was 13 and was dropping in at New York City clubs at 14. She was also part of the theater crowd at the Convent of the Sacred Heart School, whose noted alumni also include Paris and Nicky Hilton.
"My parents were very supportive of anything creative I wanted to do," says Gaga, 23, "whether it was playing piano or being in plays or taking method acting, which I did when I was 11. They liked that I was a motivated young person."
That drive earned Gaga an early admission to New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, which she attended only briefly. Her real education came form the club scene, where she would travel with friends and take part in the odd burlesque show down in New York's Lower East Side -- a scene Gaga describes in her song "Beautiful Dirty Rich."
"What I learned was that you really don't need to be a celebrity or have money or have the paparazzi following you around to be famous," explains Gaga, who took her name from Queen's 1984 hit "Radio GaGa." "Me and my friends just simply declared fame on our own, and we made art and we said, 'This is the future' and we dressed in a way that we says, 'This is fashion.'
"It was our confidence and our conviction and our abilities -- and our vanity -- to be the litmus test of pop culture. And having that be in every fiber of our being...You can talk about it all day, but it's not true unless you do it."
Taking a few lessons from Andy Warhol, Gaga learned quickly how to succeed through provocation. She became a fashion vanguard with self-designed hot pants and bikini tops and face paint. She lit hairspray cans on fire and rode on disco balls during her performances. When one audience wasn't paying what she felt was appropriate attention to her, she even stripped down to her bra and fishnet stockings. "That quieted the room," she recalls.
Her sounds shocked as much as her sights. Amidst the hippest and cutting-edge cultural scenes in the world, Gaga dared to make pop -- even disco -- music, and persisted even though she took a little heat for being pedestrian and passe.
"It was the most provocative thing I could do in the underground scene," she notes. "There's nothing more provocative than making a genre of music that everybody hates and then making it cool. I think that's always what drew people to me."
It certainly lured Def Jam Records, the hip-hop label that signed Gaga to a deal when she was 19 years old. Three months later, however, she was dropped and, she acknowledges, a little desperate.
"When it happened, people said to me, 'You can't take it personally,' " Gaga recalls. "And I said, 'What's not...personal about this?!' "
She was back on her feet in short order, however. Vincent Herbert, one of Destiny's Child's producers, found Gaga's music on MySpace and took her to Interscope Records in 2007. She relocated to Los Angeles and started out writing songs for Britney Spears, Fergie, the Pussycat Dolls and New Kids on the Block, touring with the latter two. She also developed an association with Akon and has a song, "Fashion," on the soundtrack of the film "Confessions of a Shopaholic."
But when she came up with "Just Dance" -- "The Jesus record. The record that saved my live," Gaga says -- those around her declared that she was the only one who could record it. The move paid off; a quick hit in the clubs, it made a five-month climb to the top of the Billboard chart and also hit No. 1 in Great Britain and five other countries.
"I was in my bedroom when they called and said I was No. 1 in the U.S.," remembers Gaga, who returned to New York to record "Just Dance" with producer and songwriter RedOne. "I had just found out a few days before that it was No. 1 in the U.K., and I just cried in my room. It was a great moment."
With "Poker Face" making its own climb, Gaga is looking forward to more of those moments -- particularly on the road with her Fame Ball Tour, a theatrical, multi-media show she calls "the ultimate creative orgasm for me. No limitations. I'm free."
She's exercising that freedom offstage, too. She's started a design firm, Haus of GaGa, which makes clothing as well as props for her performances. Gaga has started making avant garde short films, and acting could be on the horizon as well. "It's all back to Warhol," she explains. "I admire his ability to make commercial art that was taken seriously as fine art. That's my duty, I feel."
Gaga also feels a responsibility to show "The Fame" was no fluke, however, and she's not wasting any time getting to that, either.
"I'm writing now while I've got two records ('Just Dance' and 'Poker Face') in the Top 10," she says. "It's good for my creativity...and I also think it's not smart to wait until the world is hovered with breath that is baited and you feel the pressure.
"I'd rather just write...while I'm only a couple singles deep into my album and still feeling creative. There's no reason I can't give a [i]lot[/i] of art to the world."
Lady Gaga and Red Jumpsuit Apparatus perform Wednesday (March 25) at the Royal Oak Music Theatre, 318 W. Fourth St., Royal Oak. Tickets are sold out; tickets for the originally announced Crofoot Ballroom concert will be honored. Call (248) 399-2980 or visit www.royaloakmusictheatre.com.
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