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“I had a boyfriend who told me I’d never succeed, never be nominated for a Grammy, never have a hit song, and that he hoped I’d fail. I said to him, ‘Someday, when we’re not together, you won’t be able to order a cup of coffee at the fucking deli without hearing or seeing me.” These powerful words were uttered by Lady Gaga in 2010 and seem all the more prophetic than ever some odd nine years later.
The GRAMMY Award–winning singer and songwriter, Academy Award–winning actress, philanthropist, and political activist has paved out a path for herself to become one of the most pivotal figures in pop music and culture as a whole. In light of a year that saw a slew of acclaim, from the Academy Awards, the GRAMMYs, and beyond, we reflect back on how Gaga, Mother Monster, known as Germ to her friends and Loopy to her father, rose from a girl who would supposedly “never succeed” to a household name who regularly makes history.
Photo: Evening Standard
Born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta in New York City, from a young age she was urged to pursue her creative inclinations, picking up the piano at age four at her mother’s behest that she become a “cultured young woman.” Performing at a host of open mic nights and in a series of plays growing up, Germanotta would follow her passion for creative arts for the entirety of her formative years, in spite of rejection. Though she did make a small appearance in an episode of The Sopranos when she was 14, Gaga unsuccessfully auditioned for a number of New York shows. With an Oscar under her belt now, we are sure it is all water under the bridge.
Earning early admission to Collaborative Arts Project 21, a musical theatre training conservatory partnered with New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, at the age 17, the distinctive nightlife of New York City would become a wellspring of creative influence for the soon-to-be Mother Monster. Dropping out of school in her sophomore year to fully focus on music, Germanotta would make her musical debut with Grandmaster Melle Mel on the audiobook accompaniment to the children’s book The Portal in The Park, but more importantly, it was during this time she would form The Stephanie Germanotta Band.
The Stephanie Germanotta Band, popularly shortened to The SGBand, would become a staple of the downtown Lower East Side club scene and the catalyst to Lady Gaga. Talent scout Wendy Starland would discover Germanotta at one of The SGBand’s shows, and subsequently introduced her to producer Rob Fusari, whom she would go on to date for a brief period and is purportedly the first one to call her by the name “Lady Gaga.” With a name taken from Queen’s song “Radio Ga Ga,” the music produced alongside Fusari would go on to catch the eye of Def Jam Records, and the rest was history, or so we would say if Def Jam Records did not go on to drop Gaga three short months after signing her.
Following the unfortunate turn of events, Gaga would return to her family home heartbroken yet resolute to make a name for herself. Immersing herself in New York’s growing underground neo-burlesque scene, she would come to befriend performance artist Lady Starlight. Taking inspiration from ‘70s tribute acts and glam rock, the pair would adopt the name Lady Gaga and the Starlight Revue and present ‘The Ultimate Pop Burlesque Rockshow’ at venues around New York, as well as a set at Lollapalooza in 2007. During their time performing together, which continues to this day, multiple people would see the promise in this experimental pop artist, the likes of which included record executive Vincent Herbert, Akon, and chairman and CEO of Interscope Records, Jimmy Iovine.
Akon, who had met Gaga during her time at Sony/ATV, where she wrote songs for Britney Spears, Fergie, and The Pussycat Dolls, persuaded Iovine to sign the then undiscovered artist to a joint deal record deal. This joint deal would produce The Fame. For those of you somehow unfamiliar with The Fame, it is Gaga’s landmark debut album and one of the important pieces of 21st-century pop. Yet, in spite of securing a record deal, some radio stations still refused to play her music, citing it as too provocative, dance-oriented, and underground. Gaga’s response? “My name is Lady Gaga, I’ve been on the music scene for years, and I’m telling you, this is what’s next.”
The Fame proved not to be just a successful debut for Gaga; it established Gaga as an artist fully capable of unapologetically doing things her own way and having the world applaud her for it. Preceded by the singles “Just Dance” and “Poker Face,” the latter of which would go on to become 2009’s best-selling single in the world, The Fame would also receive Gaga five GRAMMY nominations and two wins, officially proving that boyfriend all those years ago oh so wrong. Critical acclaim and record-breaking would become commonplace for Gaga.
“Poker Face” broke yet another record, spending 83 weeks on Billboard’s Digital Songs chart. “Bad Romance” become the most watched music video on YouTube in April of 2010, and in that same year, Gaga became the first person with more than a billion combined views on the platform. She was the most nominated artist for a single year at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards, as well as the first female artist to receive two nominations for “Video of the Year” during the same ceremony. She entered the Guinness Book of World Records as the most downloaded female act in a year in the US in 2008. In 2010, Gaga’s first headlining tour, ‘The Monster Ball Tour’ grossed over 227-million dollars, making it the highest grossing concert for a headlining artist ever. The list goes on.
It was difficult to imagine Gaga topping the astronomical success of her debut, but then she released “Born This Way” in 2011, the lead single from the eponymous sophomore album. Selling more than one million copies in a span of five days, it would net Gaga another page in the Guinness World Record book for the fastest selling single on iTunes. The acclaim and awards for Born This Way poured in in similar effect to The Fame, but what is most remarkable is not the fact that Gaga managed to do it twice, or even four times with the release of 2013’s Artpop and 2016’s Joanne, but that throughout it all she remained completely true to herself.
Photo: Candice Lawler
While vast sonic exploration exists throughout Gaga’s impressive catalogue, from the experimental aesthetic of her experimental underground club days to her sound in The Fame days to the more restrained poise of modern Gaga, her ethos has remained the same. It is an ethos centered around the idea that as long as you are true to yourself, you are beautiful and important, and it begins to explain just why so many people resonate with her as an artist. This is not pop selling you a perceived notion of beauty; this is Gaga telling you that “There’s nothing wrong with loving who you are.”
Beyond the realm of music, raising millions for charity and relief efforts, launching a nonprofit focused on empowering youth and community development, and advocating for LGBTQIA rights, Gaga has found the time to achieve another long-held dream of hers. Acting. Since first making that small appearance on The Sopranos in 2010, Gaga’s passion for the art form still burned all those years later.
While she would appear in a few small roles in films during her rise to fame, it was not until 2015 that Gaga would see this dream fully-realized, appearing in American Horror Story: Hotel. She would also go on to return to the anthology series the next year in American Horror Story: Roanoke. However, chances are it was not her role as a supreme witch that left an impression but her landmark lead role in A Star Is Born.
A Star Is Born was the movie that proved we could somehow fall even in more with Gaga. A remake of a 1937 film of the same name, it captured the hearts of the critics and the public alike. From the impeccable soundtrack, which featured a whole host of Gaga songs to swoon over and cry to, to the performance of a lifetime, A Star Is Born cemented Gaga as an artist capable of doing it all. Co-writing and producing most of the songs on A Star Is Born alongside fellow star Bradley Cooper, the film’s lead single, “Shallow,” would earn Gaga her first Academy Award win for “Best Original Song.”
There is no one else quite like Gaga, and there likely never will be. Through rejection, dismissal, criticism, Mother Monster has gifted the world with lasting pop that will stand the test of time and all while doing it entirely on her own terms. So, whether you first become a fan of her from Lady Gaga and the Starlight Revue, The Fame, A Star Is Born, or you are reading this after discovering her for the first time following the forthcoming release of her sixth studio album one thing is certain. There will always be a place for all of you little monsters.