Gaga over Lady GaGa

Lady GaGa heralds a new generation of club divas raised on the fame game

“I’m a bit of a con artist.”

So says Lady GaGa, the 22 year-old performance-artist-cum-club-diva about to drop her debut record The Fame, buoyed by lead single “Just Dance,” on Interscope Records.

Con artist? It’s not the kind of title most would wear with pride. In fact, it’s the kind of title most would wear with an orange jumpsuit and a court-appointed lawyer. And once upon a time, artists – especially recording artists, those singers of songs who are expected to caress our collective ears with only the most authentically inspired personal poetry – were supposed to reject (not embrace!) any insinuation that portrayed their fame as a calculated career move.

But this is not Walden Pond; it’s New York City, circa 2008. And when you hail from a generation raised on paparazzi, Paris and Perez, fame isn’t an accident. It’s a performance.

“I tricked people for years into believing I was famous,” says GaGa of her big hoax, one that would make Thomas Crown envious. “Walking down the street, going to nightclubs, and waiting in line: It’s con art.”

Indeed, despite the fact that she’s been singing, playing piano and writing songs since childhood (not to mention earning herself early admission to NYU’s prestigious Tisch School for the Arts), GaGa says that her greatest strengths have been her attitude, perseverance, and the aforementioned manipulation of the media and masses.

“You don’t need to have the background that I do,” says GaGa of acquiring her seat on the road to stardom. The Fame, she says—in all of its electro-pop, disco-frenzied, synth-cyclone giddiness—is her personal tribute to the sense of “inner fame” that she says is inherent in everyone, lying latent, and just waiting for the right moment of self-empowerment and self-entitlement to burst out.

“It’s a basic human right to feel good about yourself,” says GaGa. Speaking by phone, her voice has the husky sleepiness of a hot chick with bed head; but it’s also filled with the same kind of assertive, petulant self-assuredness as a certain other Italian-American girl in the city who, once upon a time (before Kabbalah and fake British accents took over) similarly declared herself heir apparent to the universal spotlight and the throne of dance-pop stardom.

“Anybody can do it. It’s about valuing your own thoughts more than you would ever believe. It’s not about being arrogant, but it’s about being sure and opinionated… and knowing who you are down to the sneakers you wear.”

“Anybody can do it,” says GaGa of acquiring fame, her (presumably) fake eyelashes nearly batting their way through the phone. “It’s about valuing your own thoughts more than you would ever believe. It’s not about being arrogant, but it’s about being sure and opinionated… and knowing who you are down to the sneakers you wear.”

Not that GaGa would ever be caught dead in something as pedestrian as sneakers. She’s not exactly the kind of gal who blends in to the crowd, after all: the fashionista designs her own stage clothes, which usually involve the sensibility of a drag queen, the retro-rock theatricality of Ziggy Stardust, and copious amounts of skin, eyeliner and sequins.

GaGa made an early name for herself doing “shock art” performances on the Lower East Side club scene; singing while lighting cans of hairspray on fire, things like that. For GaGa, the synthesis of music, fashion and performance is the intersection where she differentiates herself from the rest of pop music’s increasingly banal traffic.

“Everything I do, the music and the stage performance… all those things are conceived through one another,” says GaGa. “I’m always thinking about the fashion on stage… the performance art… the music bursts out of a vision in my head of what the song would look like, how I would perform it and how I would move. What it really means.”

“It’s pop performance art,” she adds. “Super theatrical.”

That theatre is staffed in part by Haus of GaGa, the entourage and creative team who are responsible for conceptualizing, implementing, and executing the diva’s ultimate creative vision. Much of it is inspired by the Vogue houses of NYC’s 80s, another stylization that harks back to the pioneering trail blazed by earlier dance-pop acts like Madonna.

But GaGa’s music on The Fame—a collection of ebullient ditties that celebrate self-indulgence, self-absorption, and yes, self-awareness in their midst—have more in common with the Material Girl’s more recent fittings for leotards and mirrorballs. There’s a disco-era theatricality that GaGa, who nicked her own name from a Queen song (“Radio Gaga”), brings to her art.

“It’s luminosity,” says GaGa of that aura she hopes to cast with her music. “I want people to shine. I want people to feel… I want people to love, and to be passionate about something. I don’t care if you wear L.L Bean and Polo every day. It’s not about judging somebody’s fashion sense, it’s about judging somebody’s opinions. I’m saying to the world, ‘Please, be passionate about something.’”

“I want to make a contribution,” she says. “This isn’t about me jacking off to my own record.”

But what, exactly, does GaGa hope to inspire passion for? If it wasn’t for her surprisingly generous opinion of media-whoring celebutards like Paris Hilton (“She does that gawky, coked-out thing with her arm… I love her dearly,” says GaGa), the media con job upon which she prides her rise to fame might be considered a form of performance art irony in itself: a flippant middle finger to an easily duped media.

And if it wasn’t for her talent, her career itself might seem like a novelty act. But the fact remains that, when the couture fashion goes back on wire hangers and the shock rock posturing loses its allure, there’s something that remains undeniably surprising about GaGa: Her music is really, really good, she knows it, she’s glad.

“I’m not trying to make something that only twelve people think is great,” says GaGa, who cites a favorite artist like Andy Warhol as evidence that pop art need not be dismissed as lowbrow. “I want to make something that the whole world thinks is great and inspiring.”

“I want to make a contribution,” she says. “This isn’t about me jacking off to my own record.”

And yet, if it was, there’s reason to believe that GaGa would get over it pretty quick. “I don’t really give a fuck at the end of the day,” she says of haters.

Ah, from the mouths of babes.

Words: Scott Kearnan