Lady Gaga has some advice for the millions of fans who have glommed on to her rocket of a career.
“It’s almost like I grow more rapidly as an artist than people can keep up with, if that makes any sense,” says the 23-year-old pop provocateur. “So by the time you’re reading an interview or you’re watching a television performance, I’m already, like, years beyond, creatively, in the world somewhere.
“That can be confusing for people, I think. There can be a slight disconnect from what I proclaim about my music and what people are hearing and seeing. But that’s OK; I’d rather be ahead than behind, and people seem to be keeping up, which I’m very grateful for.”
There’s no question Gaga — who ranked No. 3 on Billboard’s list of top artists for 2009 — has been in the front car of a nonstop thrill ride for the past year-and-a-half.
Her debut album, “The Fame,” has sold more than 8 million copies worldwide — just more than 2 million of those in the U.S. — since its August 2008 release and launched a pair of No. 1 singles, “Just Dance” and “Poker Face.” The latter was the most downloaded song in Great Britain since the Official UK Charts Company began measuring five years ago. Meanwhile, Gaga’s “The Fame Monster,” a re-release of “The Fame” with eight new tracks, debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 chart in November.
She won three MTV Video Music Awards in September, including Best New Artist, received a Rising Star prize from Billboard and was among Barbara Walters’ “10 Most Fascinating People of 2009.” And though blanked at the American Music Awards, Gaga is nominated for five Grammys, including Album, Record and Song of the Year.
She also recently signed on as creative director for a speciality product line with Polaroid Imaging.
The success makes her feel “a little bit like a pop music miracle,” but Gaga isn’t necessarily shocked that things have gone so well. “I’m very, very grateful,” she notes, “but I’m not surprised, ’cause it’s a good album.”
The Gaga phenomenon is about more than just the music, however.
Her notoriety comes from both what she does and how she does it. Like Madonna and other chameleonesque pop culture heroes before her, Gaga specializes in creating mystery and sensation, with a parameter-pushing fashion sensibility (which landed her on People magazine’s Best and Worst Dressed lists) and an avant garde performing style.
Gaga — who was born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta in New York and started playing piano when she was 4 years old — studied theater and music but was really educated in the club scene on New York’s Lower East Side, where she made a name for herself with self-designed hot pants, bikini tops and face paint, lit hairspray cans on fire and rode on disco balls hanging from club ceilings.
More recently, Gaga titillated by bringing Kermit the Frog as her “date” to the Video Music Awards and performing a medley of “Poker Face” and “Papparazi” that culminated in a faux “suicide scene” complete with fake blood dripping from her ribcage.
“What I’ve learned is that you really don’t need to be a celebrity or have money or have the papparazzi following you around to be famous — you just declare your own fame and go with it,” explains Gaga, who wrote songs for Britney Spears, Fergie, the Pussycat Dolls and New Kids on the Block before releasing “The Fame.”
“I think that’s always what drew people to me. I think what made it difficult for people to get and still makes it difficult for people to get is the theatrical nature of the work and the fact that, truthfully, my music doesn’t exist without the performance art element — and performance art is notoriously nerdy and uncomfortable, but it makes people pay attention.”
She doesn’t deny her sources in that regard, either.
“It’s always been a result of people around me saying, ‘Oh, that’s so very (David) Bowie of you. That’s very Queen of you. That’s very Warhol of you. That’s quite Madonna of you,’ ” acknowledges Gaga, who’s also parried away a slew of rumors, including one that she’s a hermaphrodite. “Then I say, ‘Ah, Warhol ... ’ and I go into my Warhol file and I do research and then I make more music and I design more shows.
“It’s like a constantly feeding your brain kind of thing and using that to get new ideas.”
Gaga’s current “Monster Ball Tour” is a culmination of that process. Built after her planned “Fame Kills” tour with Kanye West was canceled after the rapper bailed out, the 90-minute show features five segments with different costumes — designed by her own Haus of Gaga studio — video interludes and choreography and includes the suicide sequence, a “rebirth” during the song “Eh, Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say)” and a finale, “Bad Romance,” that Gaga sings from inside a giant gyroscope dubbed The Orbit.
She calls it “the first ever pop electro opera” but quickly adds that her ambition is to take things even beyond this point in the future.
“I look at music-making and becoming an artist the same way an infant becomes a toddler,” Gaga explains. “A baby learns to refine its abilities and get older and mature, and so does an artist.
“And at some point, I thought that the smartest way to think about writing music and designing a stage show is to say to myself a) What do I want to listen to? and, second, What would I go out and see or hear that would make me really jealous if I didn’t think of it first? Those are the two paramount questions that I follow.”
The future is on Gaga’s mind these days, too. She’s been writing songs for the next album — “It’s not smart to wait until the world is hovering with breath that is bated and you feel the pressure,” she says — but there are ventures beyond music that are commanding her attention, too.
“I would move into directing at some point, and more fashion design,” says Gaga, who now resides in Los Angeles because “the music industry’s dead in New York. I know that Hollywood was the place where I could really move mountains.” But the mountains will stay in place for the time being.
“I’m really focused on this (tour) right now,” Gaga says. “But I’m always thinking of things and hatching crazy ideas, so I’m sure I’ll come up with something that pushes the envelope again. You can count on it.”
GAGA FAST FACTS
* Her real name is Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta.
* She was raised in New York by "nerdy, technological" parents. She attended Convent of the Sacred Heart parochial school and studied briefly at New YOrk University's Tisch School of the Arts.
* She was signed to the hip-hop label Def Jam Music Group at age 19, but the deal did not work out.
* Before releasing "The Fame" in 2008, Gaga wrote songs for Britney Spears, Fergie, the Pussycat Dolls and New KIds on the Block. She also toured as an opening act for the latter two.
* She's nominated for five Grammy Awards this year ad will perform at the Jan. 31 broadcast.
* Gaga has her own Haus of Gaga fashion company and was recently hired by Polaroid Imaging as creative director for a specialty line of products.
Lady Gaga, Jason Derulo and Semi Precious Weapons perform at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday (Jan. 12-13) at Joe Louis Arena, 600 Civic Center Drive, Detroit. Tickets are $35 and $45. Tickets for the Fox Theatre shows will not be honored and must be exchanged for new tickets at the point of purchase. Call (313) 983-6606 or visit www.livenation.com.
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