For Lady Gaga, all the world's a stage.
To hear her tell it, it's been that way since she started developing her blend of performance art, catchy pop and, at times, sophisticated musicality at clubs in her native New York, all the way up to this year's artRave: The Artpop Ball tour. It's a blend she's turned into a multi-platinum, arena-filling concern during the past six years, as provocative as it is popular, and Gaga defiantly relishes in courting controversy as much as she enjoys approval.
"I will stop, I will quit, I will retire from the commercial market if I have to do something where I can't be myself," Gaga, 28 -- who was born Stefani Germanotta -- explained during her keynote session at this year's South By Southwest Music Conference & Festival in Austin, Texas, where she dressed like the Ice Queen from "Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe."
"If I find I can't be myself, then everything I've told my fans from the beginning will be a total lie. I'll be myself until I've made money to sustain a luxurious lifestyle and then I change? No. My talent matters tome more than money does. I'll be myself until they...close the coffin."
Gaga has been able to have it both ways, of course. She's sold more than 27 million copies of her three albums and other releases worldwide and notched 12 Top 10 singles on the Billboard Hot 100, winning five Grammy Awards in the process. Her admirers include Elton John, who made a guest appearance on 2011's "Born This Way," and Tony Bennett, who recorded a duets set with Gaga, "Cheek To Cheek," that's due out later this year and calls her "a great singer, much better than I think a lot of people realize, and this album will prove that."
Gaga, for her part, claims to not take any of the success for granted. In Austin she noted that, "If I had a second chance, I really wouldn't do anything differently. I really wouldn't. Every day I wake up and pinch myself; I can't believe I get to make music and travel the world, and I get to have so many people who love it." But she also has harsh words for those who don't -- especially those who slam last year's "Artpop" album, which debuted at No. 1 but has yet to sell platinum in the U.S., as a failure.
"We've sold over two and a half million copies of 'Artpop' all over the world," she said. "I'm sorry I didn't sell a million records the first week; I have before. I've sold 27 million albums. I'm very proud of what we did. I've sold as much as everybody else sells. I'm held to such an insane standard; It's almost like everybody forgets -- which is maybe a compliment -- where the music business is now.
"It's, like, completely mental, right? You have this completely passionate experience with music or whatever you're creating...I make music; the second I put it out into the world it gets eaten by a computer and gets assigned all these numbers and rankings, and it's terrifying."
The message of "Artpop," Gaga said, is intended as the antidote to that sales-fixated environment.
"Really what it's about is freeing yourself from the expectations of the music industry and the expectations of the status quo," explained Gaga, who wrote and recorded the album while recuperating from hip surgery that forced her to cancel a chunk of her 2012 Born This Way Ball tour, including a scheduled Feb. 16 show at the Palace of Auburn Hills. "I never liked having my skirt measured for me at school or told how to do things or the rules to play by. And as you become more and more successful they start to push the rule book closer and closer to you; 'Now you're here, so how are you going to maintain it.'
"And really what 'Artpop' is all about is how the truest way for us to maintain the music industry is to put all of the power back into the hands of the artists -- What are we as an industry if we are not telling our artists to be creative? What are we? What are we doing? What's happening? Why is it a prison, and why are we allowing it to be a prison?"
Don't ever expect Gaga to get locked in, though. And rest assured, she promises, that there's a lot more where "Artpop" came from -- including, she said, "a whole second act of 'Artpop'."
"I love 'Artpop' so much," she said. "That album got me through the hardest time. Making that record, it healed my soul every single night.
"And there's many volumes of work over a long period of time that have just not been released to the public because I've chosen to not put it into the system," she said. "Sometimes it's just fun to have records that me and my friends listen to. We love it; we don't care what everybody else thinks."
Lady Gaga and Hutsune Miku perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 17, at Joe Louis Arena, 19 Steve Yzerman Drive, Detroit. Tickets are $38-$203. Call 313-471-6606 or visit www.olympiaentertainment.com.
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