Fall Preview 2018: How Lady Gaga Conquered Music, Fashion and Film in Just a Decade

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As a child attending an all-girls Roman Catholic school in New York, Lady Gaga was reportedly teased for being “too provocative or too eccentric.” Yet today, 10 years since she burst onto the scene with her debut album, The Fame, the 32-year-old artist’s wild creativity and offbeat flair continue to drive her unstoppable ventures into music, fashion, philanthropy and acting. Now, she’s set to expand her legacy by making her feature film acting debut in the highly anticipated remake of A Star Is Born, directed by and co-starring Bradley Cooper.

Adding a dream movie role to her impressive showbiz reel seems only fitting for the girl who honed her performance skills with lead roles in school plays like Guys and Dolls while growing up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Music had already made an impact by then -- her mom Cynthia is said to have had her learning piano from the age of 4, while her father Joseph was an internet entrepreneur, unaware his eldest daughter (whose real name is Stefani Germanotta) would one day be one of the most followed people on social media.

Gaga’s well-established passion for performance landed her at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, but it was away from the classroom where she started building her fan base with her college band, SGBand. She eventually dropped out of college and was signed by Island Def Jam records, only to be dumped within months.

The story goes that music producer Rob Fusari -- whom she worked with and dated at the time -- coined the nickname “Lady Gaga,” derived from the Queen hit “Radio Ga Ga.” Soon enough, the eclectic persona that’s now synonymous with the infamous name started shining brighter as Gaga began exploring burlesque and was taken under the wing of dancer Lady Starlight. The two created a pop burlesque show and even performed at Lollapalooza.

Meanwhile, she was hired by Sony/ATV to write tracks for the likes of New Kids on the Block, Britney Spears and The Pussycat Dolls. Rapper Akon reportedly encountered the young musician and was so impressed he engineered a joint deal for her with Interscope Records and his own label, KonLive Distribution, in 2007.

By the next year, her debut electric pop album, The Fame, and its singles “Just Dance” and “Poker Face,” firmly cemented Lady Gaga’s arrival on the music scene. Soon, she was off on tour with New Kids on the Block, opening for the group on select dates of their comeback tour. She also appeared on the boy band’s album The Block, singing on “Big Girl Now” and co-writing “Full Service.”

As Gaga’s success continued to grow, The Fame was reissued in 2009 as The Fame Monster, a double LP featuring “Bad Romance,” “Telephone” and “Alejandro.” She reflected on her exploration of fame during a 2011 interview with NME.

“There’s a lot of people who want to see me fail,” she said. “The minute they see something to shoot at, they shoot, and the bigger I become, the bigger target I am. I think back in those times the internet and the press and the paparazzi were not privy to the demise of the celebrity and now they are.”

Haters aside, by 2011, Gaga seemed determined to elevate her impact, starting with her second full-length album, Born This Way. "I thought I was the cultural sh**-storm," she told NME. "I walk into a room, people write about me. It wasn't until I released [the single] 'Born This Way' that I realized how completely vacuous everything had been. I realize now what a small impact I've really had, and how massive the impact is that I'm about to have."

The electronic rock and techno album sold more than 1 million copies in its first week in the U.S. alone, and while filming the music video for the album’s fourth single, “You and I,” she met Chicago Fire hunk Taylor Kinney, who became her love interest both on- and offscreen. The cute couple got engaged on Valentine’s Day in 2015, but announced their split in July 2016.

“Me and Taylor are fighting, so that sucks,” she shared in the opening scene of her MTV Movie & TV Award-winning Netflix documentary Gaga: Five Foot Two, which was released last September. “I’m just in a different time of my life now [and] I feel like my threshold for bulls*** with men -- I just don’t have one anymore. I don’t know if it’s because I’m 30 and I feel better than ever. All the insecurities are gone -- I don’t feel insecure about who I am as a woman, I’m not embarrassed or ashamed of what I have, I just feel more sexy and sexual and all of that sh**’s better. I think what happens in relationships [is] you have to move together as much as you can.”

Moving forward is something Gaga has excelled at with her limitless artistic endeavors, having expanded her creativity into business projects like blinged-up headphones called Heartbeats by Lady Gaga, perfume and photo products.

She has also made an unarguably strong impact with her outlandish style. Having named Cher, Madonna, Alexander McQueen and Donatella Versace as her fashion influences, Gaga’s much-talked-about looks have proven the highlight of countless awards shows and red carpets, from the raw beef dress and accessories she wore to the 2010 MTV Video Music awards to the epic jacket made of Kermit the Frog dolls she donned during a German television interview in 2009. As guest editor for V fashion magazine’s 99th issue in 2016, she even nabbed the Editor of the Year award at the Fashion Los Angeles Awards.

Lady Gaga at 2010 GRAMMYs
Getty Images

But some of Gaga’s most valued impact has come from her philanthropic work and activism: She founded the Born This Way Foundation, focused on youth empowerment, and continues to be a strong advocate for the LGBT community. “The turning point for me was the gay community,” she told MTV while discussing her struggle to get airplay early in her career. She also pledged $1 million to the American Red Cross to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy, teamed up with Cyndi Lauper and MAC Cosmetics for a line of lipsticks raising funds for HIV and AIDS and supported the March for Our Lives gun control rally in Washington, D.C.

Meanwhile, Gaga has continued to reinvent herself with her music, swiveling into R&B and disco for 2013’s Artpop, then releasing a chart-topping jazz album, Cheek to Cheek, with Tony Bennett. In 2015, she sang the Hunting Ground theme “Til It Happens to You,” which earned songwriter Diane Warren an Oscar nomination. In 2016, her country-influenced album, Joanne, topped the charts (making Gaga the first woman to have four No. 1 albums during the 2010s) and a world tour followed.

During the recording process, she filmed Gaga: Five Foot Two, which also chronicled her struggle with chronic pain and preparation for her Super Bowl LI halftime performance in 2017. After killing it on stage at Houston’s NRG Stadium, she dedicated the career-defining moment to her fans while talking to ET after walking off the field.

"My fans mean everything to me," she said. "When I first started, everyone thought we were so different and so weird. We never changed who we were, and we stuck to our guns in terms of what we believe in, and now we got to perform on the biggest stage in the world with our beliefs and our diversity, and it made me really proud."

While her fans, aka “little monsters,” never fail to bring her joy, in Gaga: Five Foot Two, the star opened up about the loneliness that has shadowed her success and how such struggles are accentuated during milestones like the Super Bowl performance.

“It’s a sad day when I’m doing the Super Bowl and I’m so excited to do it, but I can’t help but realize that when I sold 10 million records I lost [ex] Matt. I sold 30 million, I lost [ex] Luc. I get the movie [A Star Is Born], I lost Taylor. It’s like a turnover,” the singer reflected. (She’s now dating Christian Carino.) “This is the third time I’ve had my heart broken like this. I’m alone every night -- all these people will leave. I go from everyone touching me all day and talking at me all day to total silence.”

While filming her documentary, Gaga also dove back into acting, a nod to her 10 years spent studying Method acting at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute. Back then, the biggest role she could get was a cameo on The Sopranos, but in 2016, she took home a Golden Globe award for her work on FX’s American Horror Story: Hotel, where she played Elizabeth Johnson, the bloodsucking owner of a landmark Los Angeles hotel.

Despite being a world-renowned pop star, there was plenty of pressure on Gaga’s official acting debut. "I threw up on the way [to set]," Gaga admitted to ET at the time, in between shooting scenes for Ryan Murphy’s popular FX anthology series. "In a Ziploc bag. In my Rolls-Royce."

But true to Gaga’s perseverance and tenacity for the unexpected, she turned that bag of bile into a good luck charm. "You'd better believe that I prepared my ass off to come in with these fantastically talented actors," Gaga said of the star-studded cast, which included Sarah Paulson, Matt Bomer and Kathy Bates. "All I have when I get in there is my discipline," she continued. "That's the thing that I've learned over the past couple of years is probably my biggest strength."

Five Foot Two director Chris Moukarbe praised Gaga while reflecting on filming her during a tense moment of shooting AHS, during which she became frustrated on set about not being kept in the loop.

“I’ve seen real divas and she’s definitely not one,” he told Vulture in 2017. “I’ve seen people who are being really unreasonable or whose expectations are outside what their contributions are. With her, she’s giving so much and working so hard that when she occasionally has a moment like that, it never feels unprofessional or undeserved. She’s not demanding all the red M&Ms be removed from the bowl, you know? It’s something artistic [in the script] that she’s trying to work out, and if somebody isn’t doing their job the way she needs them to, and it’s inhibiting her job, she needs to correct it. But it feels in step with the amount of work she’s doing, at least from my perspective.”

Now, all eyes are on the big screen for Gaga’s performance in A Star Is Born, a remake of the 1937 film most recently remade in 1976 with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. Gaga plays Ally, whose relationship with Jackson Maine (Cooper) faces trouble when her career starts to overshadow his. The film will premiere at the Venice Film Festival on Aug. 31, then screen at the Toronto International Film Festival in September ahead of its theatrical release on Oct. 5.

Cooper asked her do the movie after he saw her perform a jazz set at a cancer research fundraiser. What he didn’t bargain for was her insistence that everyone who sings in the movie do so live. "She said right from the beginning that this was going to be a bargain," Cooper told Robert De Niro at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival in April. "[She said] 'I’m gonna rely on you to get a performance that’s honest out of me,' because she’d never done a film before, 'and I’m gonna make sure that you turn into a musician, because we’re going to sing everything live.' I thought, ‘Wait, what?’ She said, 'No, [this is] the only way this is going to work -- I can’t stand when I watch movies and you can tell when it’s pre-recorded and people are lip-syncing.’ And she’s right. So that was terrifying, but I really relied on her."

The film is already stirring Oscar buzz, but music remains at the forefront for the woman who has headlined Coachella, been named Billboard Woman of the Year and even inspired a course at the University of South Carolina, "Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame."

In December, she will also join the growing throng of iconic artists headlining musical residencies in Las Vegas, Nevada, with the launch of a two-year run of gigs at the MGM Park Theater. Beginning on Dec. 27, the venue -- also home to residencies by Stevie Wonder and Queen + Adam Lambert -- will host the hit-heavy Lady Gaga Enigma show, as well as four special Lady Gaga Jazz & Piano concerts, featuring stripped-down versions of her chart-toppers as well as songs from the Great American Songbook.  

"I can’t wait to share ENIGMA with all of my fans and with Las Vegas," she said in a press release announcing the residency details in August. "We’re creating a show unlike anything I’ve done before. It will be a celebration of all that is unique and different within us. The challenges of bravery can be overcome with creativity and courage that is grown out of adversity, love and music.”

Gaga has also supposedly been in the studio with producers Boys Noize, DJ White Shadow and Bloodpop while working on her next album. But the record will likely take shape at its own pace. “I get pitted against people who have been around for decades, and the expectation is for me to be as culturally important and successful as them,” she mused to NME. “I have to keep that in mind and not rush things or age myself as an artist.”

Reflecting on his time shadowing the songstress for her documentary, Moukarbe indicated that behind the meat dresses and fanfare, Gaga’s just a “modest” girl, perhaps still unaware of the enormous mark her once-teased eccentrics and individualism has made on the world.

“A lot of people think that she’s a much more over-the-top personality,” Moukarbe told Vulture. “She obviously is in her work, but behind closed doors, she’s really pretty modest. She’s constantly checking in with the people around her. She’s surrounded by her family because they travel with her, so she’s asking them and her friends, ‘How was that? Does that sound good? Is that OK?’ Sometimes they’re sort of surprised, like, ‘Does she even know who she is?’ She’ll ask things like, ‘Do you think they would want me to do that?’ Yes, you’re Lady Gaga, of course they would! She’s been in this Gaga bubble for so long that it’s hard sometimes for her to see herself.”


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