Lady Gaga interview
January 27, 2009 by Beatweek
It seems there are only two types of people: those familiar with Lady GaGa, and those who are asking “who is this Lady GaGa I keep hearing about?” Her hit single “Just Dance” is simultaneously at #1 on six different Billboard charts, and yet her seeming meteoric rise to fame over the past few months belies the years she spent working as a hired songwriter for everyone from Britney Spears to the Pussycat Dolls while trying to break in as a performer but being told by record labels that she was “too theater” and by theater people that she was “too pop.” When I caught up with Lady GaGa she explained that “The Fame” she named her record after is very different from the kind of fame that landed her on the cover of this magazine – and during our conversation she went out of her way to be overly complimentary to everyone from Freddie Mercury to New Kids on the Block to yours truly. If Lady GaGa’s newfound fame is going to her head, she sure isn’t showing it…
How were you influenced musically by growing up in and around New York City and going to school in Manhattan and having that kind of childhood?
I studied classical music and I grew up hanging out in jazz clubs, and being in jazz bands and choirs and rock and roll and stuff. So I was just surrounded by it growing up. I wasn’t the girl that was hanging out with boys after school, you know? I was always doing something artistic.
When you sit down to write a pop song, what’s your approach for writing a song and trying to make sure it fits into pop music?
It’s got to have that undeniable melodic big chorus. It’s something that I’ll really, really look at, and I don’t know how to explain it, it’s like the song comes on and that thing kicks in, and you just know it’s a hit record. It’s not really explainable. I always say that the best songs ever written kind of write themselves. You start writing the melody and then you get the lyrics real quick and then it just kind of goes. If it takes you longer than, like, ten to thirty minutes to write a song, it’s probably not a good song.
Is your approach different when you’re writing for someone else as opposed to writing a song you know you’re going to be performing yourself?
Sometimes when I do something for myself I’ll be a little bit more risk-taking. I’ll just think about something that I could maybe handle that nobody else could. But I pretty much approach them the same way. Writing a pop song and a big chorus, it’s like it’s kind of just special for each song. And sometimes I’ll tailor-make something for a particular artist and use them as my muse, but in terms of melody and stuff I always sort of come from the same soul place.
Just Dance is your big hit single right now. Is there a deeper message behind that song, or is the message really “Just Dance”?
There’s a couple messages. The song is really an ode to New York and being out in the clubs, getting too drunk and you really should go home, but instead of going home you just dance through it and get yourself through the night. But I think on a deeper level, the song is about pushing through in general. I was at a time in my life when I was writing record after record after record, looking for that undeniable first single, and Just Dance was my hit.
Your album is called The Fame, which seems like a self-fulfilling prophecy because you’re at the top of the charts now. Do you consider yourself to be famous at this point?
I always thought I was famous, even when I wasn’t (laughs). So I don’t really consider it now. I mean if anything I’ve grown up a lot making this record. The fame for me is something that really comes from within and is really deep inside me and my work, and it’s something that has infected me and my group of friends in the downtown scene for a really long time. Fame, which I’m experiencing now, is very different from the fame. The fame is when nobody knows who you are but everybody wants to know who you are. I still experience a lot of that. As big as Just Dance is getting, and The Fame climbing the charts, because people are still discovering me.
That kind of fame, to me, is the kind of fame that everybody knows about, and the kind of fame that I write about is a very special kind of fame that I think is really positive and can affect people’s lives in a really, really amazing way. And I think that that other kind of fame that you’re talking about is much more ego-centric and has to do with making sure that people are recognizing me for my work. If anything I really love it when I see that my music and my fashion is affecting pop culture. That makes me feel famous.
For me it’s much more important to see young girls wearing shoulder pads, you know what I mean? Or having their hair in a different way or speaking differently or using new words or listening to music in a genre that they’ve never maybe tapped into before, that to me is what fame is. And it’s inspiring music to be less lazy. When I first started out people, I used to notice on blogs, they would say “We can’t tell if she’s the real deal or if she’s trying too hard.” But it’s kind of a mixture of both. It’s like I work so, so hard and I work tirelessly and endlessly on the fashion and the show and the music, and it’s because that’s what I love, that’s what I do. I don’t wake up in the morning and I’m too good to do an interview, or too good to write a new song, or too cool to play a show for a small stage. I do anything and everything because I really, really love what I do.
A couple of your songs have been featured on Gossip Girl. Do you watch that show?
Yeah, I like Gossip Girl. It’s very entertaining.
Have you ever been watching and one of your songs randomly comes on and you didn’t know it was going to happen?
That happens all the time, and I call the record label and I’m like “oh my god, I didn’t know that song was on that show.” There have been so many licenses recently that I don’t even hear about all of them. But that makes me feel great because it tells me that my goal, which was to analyze and reckon and struggle with ideas about pop culture, it’s really working because all of these shows that are so emblematic of modern television and modern film and modern movies and modern club shows, it’s like they’re all gravitating towards my stuff, because I guess it’s speaking to something that’s very today.
I have to ask you about the name Lady GaGa. I’ve heard different stories about how you got the name.
It came from the Queen song Radio Ga Ga. I used to perform at the piano doing these really theatrical stage performances where I would do hand choreography and then slam my fingers back down on the piano, and I would wear lingerie and it was kind of like this pop burlesque show, and he just told me “you’re so Ga Ga, you’re so Freddie Mercury.” And I was like, “you mean Radio Ga Ga?” I just thought the name was fitting, so I kept it. He kept calling me that in the studio, so it kind of stuck.
It’s almost like you’re a female version of Freddie Mercury then.
Yeah I think so. I think it’s part of me and what I do, there’s like an androgyny to my stage show. I’m super-feminine and sexy, but then again I sort of carry myself like a dude. You know, the music is a reflection of who I am, and I grew up as a theater kid and studying musical theater and auditioning in New York. I was a dancer, I was a singer, I was an actress. So doing theatrical pop music was a way for me to blend all of those worlds together. And Freddie Mercury was an inspiration for me when I was at a record label and they’d say “you’re too theater” and I’d be at an audition for a musical and they’d say “you’re too pop,” you know? I was able to bring both worlds together.
You’ve been touring with New Kids on the Block. What’s it like being on the road with them? Were you listening to them when you were a kid?
Oh yeah, they’re really really amazing, and I was a huge fan of theirs when I was younger. And they’re the ultimate in pop, in boy-band pop. It’s like they were the test kids, and I’m really inspired by them. If anything I’m so, so humbled by what they have achieved as a band that’s been around for so long, and how humble they are. As a new artist, for opening acts they usually hand you a microphone and an amp and they say “go, you’ve got five feet of stage.” But these guys, they really gave me a lot of creative freedom, and they knew how much my stage performance was an integral part of who I am, and they let me do the show of my dreams.
I’m looking at your tour schedule and it looks really packed. Do you have that workaholic vibe, like you need to be out there doing as many shows as possible?
Sometimes my tour manager and I will book shows on the fly. We’ll say “well we get off at nine tonight, why don’t we see if the gay club around the corner wants Lady GaGa to come.” And they’ll almost always say yes, and then we’ll do a show for free. I love to play and make music. It’s funny when you ask me about fame, because it’s like I’m not on the road right now working towards some ultimate orgasmic explosion of fame that I have in head. I’m living my dream right now. I’m on the road, I’m making music, I’m making art, I’m performing at arenas and in nightclubs and people know my lyrics, they know my fashion and they know what I’m trying to say and it’s affecting them. This is great. This exactly what I’ve always wanted.
What else should the world know about Lady GaGa?
I’d just like to stress that I wrote, obviously, the whole album and that I have a really heavy hand in all of the creative content and the videos and the films and the TV, and I just really care about what I do. So I actually really appreciate your interview. You asked some really poignant, amazing questions.
interview by Bill Palmer