Recently, New York magazine asked 18 different artists -- from Pulitzer-winning editorial cartoonist Mike Keefe to couturiers The Blonds -- to re-imagine Lady Gaga.
Each of the 18 designs -- from costume designer William Ivey Long's Louise Bourgeois-indebted spider-Gaga, to DC Comic's Jim Lee's X-Men design -- reflects not only Gaga's immense cultural sway, but also the means by which she gained it.
Each design portrays a presence that is powerful and futuristic , but one that also has a sense of humour. A presence that knows not only what it wants, but what it wants the viewer to want.
By the time that this article is published, Lady Gaga will have released two new tracks from her upcoming album Born This Way -- to sit alongside current single Judas, and the album title track. Edge of Glory premiered on iTunes -- available for download as a kind of teaser for the album.
The other track Hair is due to be released a week later -- possibly through a collaboration with online games platform Zynga (home to Farmville et al). The album artwork and track-listing for Born This Way were released through Gaga's own Twitter page.
Snippets for album tracks Government Hooker and Americano can be heard in her YouTube show -- Transmission Gagavision. Currently the most followed person on Twitter, ever, Gaga harnessed the marketing power of the internet, attached it to an insatiable fan base, cannily combined it with pop-art philosophy and some killer hooks, and in doing so became the biggest star of the 21st century.
"I told so many people for so long that I was a superstar, and I wasn't. And then one morning I woke up and the delusion was real." Lady Gaga
While Gaga is as fond of self-mythologising as the next star, there's a version of her past that's pretty clear. The eldest daughter of an internet entrepreneur, she was born in New York City in 1985. A self-confessed 'band geek', she began playing piano aged four, and attended secondary school with classmate Nicky (sister of Paris) Hilton.
At the age of 17, Gaga was one of 20 people in the world to have gained early admission to the New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, where she studied music and theatre at the Undergraduate Department of Drama. She dropped out after a year, and recorded a few Alanis Morissette-esque piano-led EPs under the name 'Stefani'. She hooked up with then-manager Rob Fusari (who, as the story goes, christened her 'Gaga' after the Queen track) and signed a dud deal with Island Records.
"She's pretty much retired me... She was definitely a blessing. She came at the right moment. I'm glad I believed in her, boy. That goes to show you, if you believe in something strong enough, it will pay off." Akon
Mutual management brought her and producer RedOne together, and rapper Akon spotted her when she was laying down a vocal during a songwriting session. With the help of Akon, Gaga signed to Interscope at the end of 2007. Three years later, she was the first artist to have five number ones from a debut album.
"I think that's how you lose focus -- if you forget how you got to the top. And when you forget how you got to the top, you forget everybody that helped you. And you forget everything that inspires you. And then you wake up one morning, and that's when creativity gives you one old middle finger and says 'you forgot me'." Lady Gaga
She didn't do it alone, however. As soon as Gaga had any kind of money in her pocket, she set about employing her friends, thereby bringing the Haus of Gaga into being. In the liner notes of The Fame Monster, the members are listed as -- Lady Gaga, Troy Cater (Manager), Vincent Herbert (A&R), Laurie-Ann Gibson (Choreographer), Nicola Formichetti (Stylist), Wendi Morris (Road Management), Josh Thomas (Creative Team) and Dancers.
The Haus acts as Gaga's version of Warhol's Factory -- they're her creative team and her closest friends. They're also responsible for some of Gaga's most iconic looks -- from the cigarette sunglasses in Telephone to 'The Orbit' (a rotating metal sphere) from Bad Romance and Gaga's light-up Disco Stick.
They've also created instruments for Gaga to play -- including 2010's 'Emma', a combination bass guitar, two octave keyboard, and an Akai MPC1000 sampler with a violin-like scroll and extra decorations. They've been paid back tenfold for their time and effort -- in the beginning Formichetti (also fashion director for Vogue Hommes Japan) had to use his name to secure clothes for Gaga at the beginning. In turn, she modelled for his debut catwalk show for Thierry Mugler last season.
"When I wake up in the morning, I feel like any other insecure 24-year-old girl. Then I say, 'Bitch, you're Lady Gaga, you get up and walk the walk today'." Lady Gaga
Ever since Gaga came to the fore, there have been countless pieces declaring her replacement. However, none of the contenders could ever get it quite right. Ke$ha, with her Just Dance-era party girl schtick didn't take things seriously enough. Natalia Kills, conversely, took things too seriously -- po-facedly producing a Noir-ish YouTube series based on her music named Love Kills. Nicki Minaj had the outfits and the street savvy, but would never achieve mainstream pop appeal in the same way as Gaga. Willow Smith was touted, but come on -- she's nine years old.
What they lack is the neediness -- the mad glint in the eye that you can see when Gaga performs, or when she chucks out a $9m stage show in favour of a new one for a new continent -- at her own expense.
A key moment to keep in mind is the February 18, 2009 at the BRIT awards. The Pet Shop Boys are closing the show, and Gaga and Brandon Flowers of the Killers come out to perform West End Girls. Wearing the Haus's teacup-printed moulded top, with matching hat and arm-plate, Gaga determinedly performed with one hand jutting out at an angle for the song -- to complete the teapot look.
Not unlike a child who is hell-bent on being the best sheep in the yearly school Nativity play, it's the willingness to go not just a bit but a mile further to dementedly make a point that could only be important to her, that is what makes Gaga special. And well she knows it.
Born This Way is out on Monday, May 23
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