Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta (born March 28, 1986), better known by her stage name Lady Gaga, is an American singer and songwriter. Born and raised in New York City, Lady Gaga primarily studied at the Convent of the Sacred Heart and briefly attended New York University's Tisch School of the Arts before withdrawing to focus on her musical career. Lady Gaga began performing in the rock music scene of Manhattan's Lower East Side, and by the end of 2007, was signed with Streamline Records. Employed as a songwriter for the record company, her vocal abilities captured the attention of recording artist Akon, who signed her to his label Kon Live Distribution.
Lady Gaga came to prominence as a recording artist following the release of her debut album The Fame (2008), which was a critical and commercial success that topped charts around the world and included the international number-one singles "Just Dance" and "Poker Face". After embarking on the Fame Ball Tour, she followed the album with The Fame Monster (2009), which spawned the worldwide hit singles "Bad Romance", "Telephone" and "Alejandro" and allowed her to embark on the eighteen-month long Monster Ball Tour, which later became one of the highest-grossing concert tours of all time. Her most recent album Born This Way (2011) topped the charts of most major markets and generated more international chart-topping singles that include "Born This Way", "Judas" and "The Edge of Glory". Beside her musical career, she involves herself with humanitarian causes and LGBT activism.
Influenced by such acts as David Bowie, Michael Jackson, Madonna and Queen, Lady Gaga is well recognized for her flamboyant, diverse and outré contributions to the music industry through fashion, performance and music videos. She has sold an estimated 23 million albums and 64 million singles worldwide, making her one of the best-selling music artists of all time and her singles some of the best-selling worldwide. Her achievements include four Guinness World Records, five Grammy Awards and thirteen MTV Video Music Awards. Lady Gaga has consecutively appeared on Billboard magazine's Artists of the Year (scoring the definitive title in 2010), is regularly placed on lists composed by Forbes magazine, and was named one of the most influential people in the world by Time magazine.
Lady Gaga was born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta on March 28, 1986, in New York City. Brought up in the family home in Manhattan's Upper West Side, Lady Gaga is of Italian and more distant French-Canadian descent, and is the daughter of Cynthia (née Bissett) and Joseph Germanotta, an internet entrepreneur. The elder of two children, Lady Gaga has one sister, Natali, a fashion student, who was born in 1992. Lady Gaga has stressed that – despite her seemingly affluent upbringing – she did not come from a wealthy background, stating that her parents "both came from lower-class families, so we've worked for everything—my mother worked eight to eight out of the house, in telecommunications, and so did my father."
From the age of 11, Lady Gaga – who was raised Roman Catholic – attended the Convent of the Sacred Heart, a private all-girls Roman Catholic school on Manhattan's Upper East Side. She described her academic life in high school as "very dedicated, very studious, very disciplined" but also "a bit insecure" as she told in an interview, "I used to get made fun of for being either too provocative or too eccentric, so I started to tone it down. I didn't fit in, and I felt like a freak." Acquaintances dispute that she did not fit in at school. "She had a core group of friends; she was a good student. She liked boys a lot, but singing was No. 1," recalled a former high school classmate.
A keen musician, left-handed Lady Gaga began playing the piano at the age of four, went on to write her first piano ballad at 13, and started to perform at open mike nights by the age of 14. Her passion for musical theatre brought her lead roles in high school productions, including Adelaide in Guys and Dolls and Philia in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. She also appeared in a very small role as a mischievous classmate in the television drama series The Sopranos in a 2001 episode titled "The Telltale Moozadell" in addition to unsuccessfully auditioning for parts in New York shows. When her time at the Convent of the Sacred Heart came to an end, her mother encouraged her to apply for the Collaborative Arts Project 21 (CAP21), a musical theatre training conservatory at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. After gaining early admission at 17, she eventually lived in an NYU dorm on 11th Street.
Being part of such a prestigious performance course, Lady Gaga sharpened her songwriting skills while composing essays and analytical papers on art, religion, social issues and politics including a thesis on pop artists Spencer Tunick and Damien Hirst; such research prepared her for her future career focus in "music, art, sex and celebrity." She also tried out for and won auditions while at CAP21, including the part of an unsuspecting diner customer where MTV's Boiling Points – a prank reality television show – was being filmed. Notwithstanding these achievements, she felt that she was more creative than some of her classmates. "Once you learn how to think about art, you can teach yourself," she said. By the second semester of her sophomore year, she withdrew from the school to focus on her musical career. Her father agreed to pay her rent for a year, on the condition that she re-enroll at Tisch if unsuccessful. "I left my entire family, got the cheapest apartment I could find, and ate shit until somebody would listen," she remembers.
Settled in a small apartment on Rivington Street towards the summer of 2005, Lady Gaga recorded a couple of songs with hip-hop singer Grandmaster Melle Mel, for an audio book accompanying the children's book The Portal in the Park, by Cricket Casey. She also began a band called the Stefani Germanotta Band (SGBand) with some friends from NYU – guitarist Calvin Pia, bassist Eli Silverman, drummer Alex Beckham and booking manager Frank Fredericks – in September of that year. The band played a mixture of songs: some self-penned alongside classic rock numbers like Led Zeppelin's "D'yer Mak'er". Playing in bars like the Greenwich Village's The Bitter End and the Lower East Side's the Mercury Lounge, the band developed a small fan base and caught the eye of music producer Joe Vulpis. Soon after arranging time in Vulpis' studio in the months that followed, SGBand were selling their extended plays Words and Red and Blue at gigs around New York while becoming a local fixture of the downtown Lower East Side club scene.
SGBand reached their career peak at the 2006 Songwriters Hall of Fame New Songwriters Showcase at The Cutting Room in June where Wendy Starland, a singer and model, appeared as a talent scout for music producer Rob Fusari. Starland informed Fusari – who was searching for a female singer to front a new band – of Lady Gaga's ability and contacted her. With SGBand disbanded, Lady Gaga traveled daily to New Jersey to work on songs she had written and compose new material with the music producer. While in collaboration, Fusari compared some of her vocal harmonies to those of Freddie Mercury, lead singer of Queen. It was Fusari who helped create the moniker Gaga after the Queen song "Radio Ga Ga". Lady Gaga was in the process of trying to come up with a stage name when she received a text message from Fusari that read "Lady Gaga." He explained, "Every day, when Stef came to the studio, instead of saying hello, I would start singing 'Radio Ga Ga'. That was her entrance song" and that the text message was the result of a predictive text glitch that changed "radio" to "lady". She texted back, "That's it," and declared, "Don't ever call me Stefani again." The New York Post, however, has reported that this story is incorrect, and that the name resulted from a marketing meeting.
Although the musical relationship between Fusari and Lady Gaga was unsuccessful at first, the pair soon set up a company titled Team Lovechild in which they recorded and produced electropop tracks and sent them to music industry bosses. Joshua Sarubin, the head of A&R at Def Jam Recordings, responded positively and vied for the record company to take a chance on her "unusual and provocative" performance. After having his boss Antonio "L.A." Reid in agreement, Lady Gaga was signed to Def Jam in September 2006 with the intention of having an album ready in nine months. However, she was dropped by the label after only three months – an unfortunate period of her life that would later inspire her treatment for the music video for her 2011 single "Marry the Night". Devastated, Lady Gaga returned to the solace of the family home for Christmas and the nightlife culture of the Lower East Side. She became increasingly experimental: fascinating herself with emerging neo-burlesque shows, go-go dancing at bars dressed in little more than a bikini in addition to experimenting with drugs. Her father, however, did not understand the reason behind her drug intake and could not look at her for several months. "I was onstage in a thong, with a fringe hanging over my ass thinking that had covered it, lighting hairsprays on fire, go-go dancing to Black Sabbath and singing songs about oral sex. The kids would scream and cheer and then we'd all go grab a beer. It represented freedom to me. I went to a Catholic school but it was on the New York underground that I found myself." It was then when she became romantically involved with a heavy metal drummer in a relationship and break-up she likened to the musical film Grease: "I was his Sandy, and he was my Danny, and I just broke." He later became an inspiration behind some of her later songs.
During this time, she met performance artist Lady Starlight, who helped mold her on-stage persona. Starlight explained that, upon their first meeting, Lady Gaga wanted to perform with her to songs she had recorded with Fusari. Like SGBand, the pair soon began performing at many of the downtown club venues like the Mercury Lounge, The Bitter End, and the Rockwood Music Hall. Their live performance art piece was known as "Lady Gaga and the Starlight Revue" and, billed as "The Ultimate Pop Burlesque Rockshow", was a low-fi tribute to 1970s variety acts. Soon after, the two were invited to play at the 2007 Lollapalooza music festival in August that year. The show was critically acclaimed, and their performance received positive reviews. Having initially focused on avant-garde electronic dance music, Lady Gaga had found her musical niche when she began to incorporate pop melodies and the glam rock of David Bowie and Queen into her music.
While Lady Gaga and Lady Starlight were busy performing, producer Rob Fusari continued to work on the songs he had created with Lady Gaga. Fusari sent these songs to his friend, producer and record executive Vincent Herbert. Herbert was quick to sign her to his label Streamline Records, an imprint of Interscope Records, upon its establishment in 2007. Lady Gaga later credited Herbert as the man who discovered her, adding "I really feel like we made pop history, and we're gonna keep going." Having already served as an apprentice songwriter under an internship at Famous Music Publishing, which was later acquired by Sony/ATV Music Publishing, Lady Gaga subsequently struck a music publishing deal with Sony/ATV. As a result, she was hired to write songs for Britney Spears and labelmates New Kids on the Block, Fergie, and the Pussycat Dolls. While Lady Gaga was writing at Interscope, singer-songwriter Akon recognized her vocal abilities when she sang a reference vocal for one of his tracks in studio. He then convinced Interscope-Geffen-A&M Chairman and CEO Jimmy Iovine to form a joint deal by having her also sign with his own label Kon Live Distribution, making her his "franchise player." As 2007 came to a close, her former management company introduced her to songwriter and producer RedOne, whom they also managed. The first song she produced with RedOne was "Boys Boys Boys", a mash-up inspired by Mötley Crüe's "Girls, Girls, Girls" and AC/DC's "T.N.T.". Lady Gaga continued her collaboration with RedOne in the recording studio for a week on her debut album; making the chart-topping singles "Just Dance", "Poker Face" and "LoveGame" together. Lady Gaga also joined the roster of Cherrytree Records, an Interscope imprint established by producer and songwriter Martin Kierszenbaum, after co-writing four songs with Kierszenbaum including the singles "Christmas Tree" and "Eh, Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say)". Despite her secure record deal, she admitted that there was fear about her being too "racy", "dance-orientated" and "underground" for the mainstream market. She responded, "My name is Lady Gaga, I've been on the music scene for years, and I'm telling you, this is what's next."
By 2008, Lady Gaga had relocated to Los Angeles, where she worked extensively with her record label to complete her debut album in addition to setting up her own creative team – modeled on Andy Warhol's Factory – Haus of Gaga. Intensive work continued on the album, combining genres "from Def Leppard drums and hand claps to metal drums on urban tracks" while drawing inspiration from 1980s synthpop and incorporating dance music with clear hooks. The Fame, described as an exploration of her obsession with fame and the intricacies of a rich and famous lifestyle, was first released on August 19, 2008, preceded by lead single "Just Dance" four months earlier. Due to radio play being slow, Lady Gaga supported the releases by performing in the backwaters of Malta and Vietnam in addition to small gay clubs around the United States. She was also billed as a supporting artist on the North American leg of New Kids on the Block's reunion concert tour.
A sleeper hit, "Just Dance" hit the summit of the charts in six countries – Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and the United States – in January 2009. The Grammy Award-nominated song provoked the instant success of The Fame. Receiving positive reviews from contemporary critics who commended Lady Gaga's ability to discover a melodious hook and compared her vocal abilities to those of Gwen Stefani, the album went to number-one in countries like the United Kingdom, Canada, Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Ireland while appearing in the top-five in Australia, the United States and fifteen other countries. On Billboard's Dance/Electronic Albums chart, it stayed at the top spot 106 non-consecutive weeks. Since its release, The Fame has sold over 12 million copies worldwide. Lady Gaga achieved an even greater unexpected success when "Poker Face", another sleeper hit, reached number-one in almost all major music markets in the world including the United Kingdom and the United States in early 2009. The follow-up single won the award for Best Dance Recording at the 52nd Grammy Awards over nominations for Song of the Year and Record of the Year, while The Fame was nominated for Album of the Year and won the Grammy Award for Best Dance/Electronica Album. Lady Gaga was the recipient of many other honors in 2009 including the accumulation of 3 of 9 MTV Video Music Awards nominations – she won Best New Artist while the video for her single "Paparazzi" gained the awards for Best Art Direction and Best Special Effects – and Billboard magazine's Rising Star award. In addition to being an opening act on the Pussycat Dolls' Doll Domination Tour during the first half of 2009 on their legs in Europe and Oceania, she also embarked on her own six-month critically appreciated worldwide concert tour The Fame Ball Tour which ran from March to September 2009.
While Lady Gaga traveled the world on tour, she wrote The Fame Monster, a collection of eight songs, which was released in November 2009. Each song, dealing with the darker side of fame from personal experience, is expressed through a monster metaphor. Its first single "Bad Romance" topped the charts in eighteen countries, while reaching the top-two in the United States, Australia and New Zealand. It made Gaga the first artist in digital history to have three singles (along with "Just Dance" and "Poker Face") to pass the four million mark in digital sales and accrued the Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance while its accompanying music video won the Grammy Award for Best Short Form Music Video at the 53rd Grammy Awards The album's second single "Telephone", which features singer Beyoncé, was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals and became Lady Gaga's fourth UK number-one single while its accompanying music video, although controversial, received a more positive reception from contemporary critics: praising her for "the musicality and showmanship of Michael Jackson and the powerful sexuality and provocative instincts of Madonna." Her following single "Alejandro" paired Gaga with fashion photographer Steven Klein for a music video similarly as controversial – critics complimented its ideas and dark nature but the Catholic League attacked Gaga for her alleged use of blasphemy. Despite the controversy surrounding her music videos, they made Lady Gaga the first artist to gain over one billion viral views on video-sharing website YouTube. Musically, The Fame Monster has also received abundant success. Equating to the amount of Grammy nominations her debut received, The Fame Monster garnered a total of six nominations; the album won for Best Pop Vocal Album and earned her a second-consecutive nomination for Album of the Year at the 53rd annual awards ceremony.
The success of the album allowed Lady Gaga to start her second worldwide concert tour, The Monster Ball Tour, just weeks after the release of The Fame Monster and months after having finished The Fame Ball Tour. Upon finishing in May 2011, the critically acclaimed and commercially accomplished tour ran for over one and a half years and, according to Billboard, grossed $227.4 million, making it one of the highest-grossing concert tours of all time and the highest-grossing for a debut headlining artist. Lady Gaga also performed songs from the album at international events such as the 2009 Royal Variety Performance where she sang "Speechless", a power ballad, in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II; the 52nd Grammy Awards where her opening performance consisted of the song "Poker Face" and a piano duet of "Speechless" in a medley of "Your Song" with Elton John; and the 2010 BRIT Awards where a performance of an acoustic rendition of "Telephone" followed by "Dance in the Dark" dedicated to the late fashion designer and close friend, Alexander McQueen, supplemented her hat-trick win at the awards ceremony. Other performances may have included her participation in Michael Jackson's This Is It concert series at London's O2 Arena. "I was actually asked to open for Michael on his tour," she stated. "We were going to open for him at the O2 and we were working on making it happen. I believe there was some talk about us, lots of the openers, doing duets with Michael on stage." A realized collaboration with Polaroid started in January 2010. Excited about combining the company with the digital era, Lady Gaga was named Chief Creative Officer for a line of imaging products for the international optic company with the intent of creating fashion, technology and photography products.
Despite a successful debut, Mermaid Music LLC – her production team – was sued in March 2010 by past producer Rob Fusari who claimed that he was entitled to a 20% share of its earnings. Lady Gaga's lawyer, Charles Ortner, described the agreement with Fusari as "unlawful" and declined to comment. Five months later, the New York Supreme Court dismissed both the lawsuit and a countersuit by Lady Gaga. In addition to such strife, Lady Gaga has been tested borderline positive for lupus, but claims not to be affected by the symptoms. The revelations caused considerable dismay amongst her fans, leading to Lady Gaga addressing the matter in an interview with Larry King, saying she hopes to avoid symptoms by maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
2011–present: Born This Way
Lady Gaga's second studio album and third major release Born This Way was released on May 23, 2011. Described as "a marriage of electronic music with major metal or rock 'n' roll, pop, anthemic style melodies with really sledge-hammering dance beats" and referred to as an album "about what what keeps us up at night and what makes us afraid", she stated. Lady Gaga characterized her new music as "something so much deeper than a wig or lipstick or a fucking meat dress" and upon hearing it, Akon remarked that she is taking music to the "next level". Its arrival followed the release of its eponymous lead single "Born This Way" on February 11, 2011, which was performed live for the first time at the 53rd Grammy Awards two days after its release. The song, dealing with self-acceptance regardless of race or sexual orientation, debuted atop the Billboard Hot 100, becoming the 19th number-one debut and the 1,000th number-one single in the history of the charts, while selling more than 3 million digital copies in the United States by October 2011, becoming her eighth consecutive single to exceed the sales of two million. A music video was released for the song, showing Lady Gaga giving birth to a new race amidst surrealistic images; critics noted artistic and cultural references and praised its concept. Lady Gaga lent her vocals elsewhere, pairing with Elton John to record an original duet for the animated feature film Gnomeo & Juliet. The song, titled "Hello, Hello", was released on February 11, 2011, without Lady Gaga's vocals. The duet version was only featured in the film. In February, Lady Gaga's concerts of her then-ongoing tour at Madison Square Garden in New York City, were filmed for an HBO special aired in May. The special was nominated for five Emmy Awards.
Two other singles, "Judas" and "The Edge of Glory", as well as a promotional single, "Hair", were eventually released before the album. The music video for "Judas", in which Gaga portrays Mary Magdalene, and Biblical figures such as Jesus Christ and Judas Iscariot are also featured, was criticized for its religious references; the video, nonetheless, received acclaim for its overall delivery and praise from others who claimed that there was nothing offensive about it. "Judas" additionally peaked within the top ten in several major musical markets. "The Edge of Glory" was intended as a promotional single; nevertheless, due to commercial success in digital outlets, the song was released as a single to critical appreciation, accompanied by a music video. Gaga also undertook a job as a fashion columnist for V, where she wrote about her creative process, her studying of the world of pop culture, and her ability to tune into the evolution of pop-culture meme. Upon release, Born This Way sold 1.108 million copies in its first week in the United States, debuting atop the Billboard 200, and topping the charts in more than 20 other countries. The album received generally positive reviews from music critics, who praised its range of different styles as well as her vocals. Later, Lady Gaga went to Sydney to promote Born This Way with a one-of-a-kind concert at the Sydney Town Hall on July 13, 2011.
Lady Gaga continued her musical endeavors, releasing "You and I" and "Marry the Night" as succeeding singles from Born This Way, as well as recording songs with veteran artists like Cher and Tony Bennett. The song recorded with Bennett is a jazz version of "The Lady Is a Tramp", while Lady Gaga described her duet with Cher as a "massive" and "beautiful" track, which she "wrote a long time ago, and I've never put it on one of my own albums for, really, no particular reason." On August 28, at the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards, Lady Gaga won two awards out of four nominations, and attended the event dressed as Jo Calderone, her male alter-ego. For the 2012 edition of the Guinness World Records, Lady Gaga was listed for Most Followers on Twitter, with over 13 million followers, and "Poker Face" was listed for Most Weeks on US Digital Hot Songs, with 83 weeks. Lady Gaga continued her live appearances, and performed at the celebration of former US president Bill Clinton's 65th Birthday alongside Bono, Stevie Wonder and Usher, among others. She wore a blond wig as a nod to the famous performance of Marilyn Monroe for John F. Kennedy and changed the lyrics to her song "You and I" specifically for the performance. Later on, Lady Gaga won four awards out of six nominations in the main categories at the 2011 MTV Europe Music Awards in November, for Best Female, Biggest Fans, Best Song and Best Video; the latter two with "Born This Way". On November 14, 2011, Lady Gaga and her choreographer and creative director Laurieann Gibson parted ways, after working together for four years. Gibson's assistant Richard Jackson replaced her as Lady Gaga's choreographer.