- Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta
March 28, 1986 (age 34)
Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta (born March 28, 1986), known professionally as Lady Gaga, is an American singer, songwriter, and actress. She performed initially in theater, appearing in high school plays, and studied at CAP21 through New York University's Tisch School of the Arts before dropping out to pursue a musical career. After leaving a rock band, participating in the Lower East Side's avant garde performance art circuit, and being dropped from a contract with Def Jam Recordings, Gaga worked as a songwriter for Sony/ATV Music Publishing. From there, recording artist Akon noticed her vocal abilities and helped her to sign a joint deal with Interscope Records and his own KonLive Distribution.
Her debut album The Fame (2008) was a critical and commercial success that produced global chart-topping singles such as "Just Dance" and "Poker Face". A follow-up extended play (EP), The Fame Monster (2009), was met with a similar reception and "Bad Romance", "Telephone", and "Alejandro" were released becoming successful singles. Her second full-length album Born This Way was released in 2011, topping the charts in more than 20 countries, including the United States, where it sold over one million copies in its first week. The album produced the number-one single "Born This Way". Her third album Artpop, released in 2013, topped the US charts and included the successful single "Applause". In 2014, Gaga released a collaborative jazz album with Tony Bennett titled Cheek to Cheek, which became her third consecutive number one in the United States. For her work in the television series American Horror Story: Hotel, Gaga won a Golden Globe Award in 2016.
With global album and single sales of 27 million and 146 million respectively, as of January 2016, she is one of the best-selling musicians of all time. Her achievements include twelve Guinness World Records, three Brit Awards, and six Grammy Awards. She is also the first artist to win the Songwriters Hall of Fame's Contemporary Icon Award. Other accolades include a Fashion Icon lifetime achievement award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America (2011), regular appearances on Billboard's Artists of the Year lists and Forbes's power and earnings rankings. In 2013, Gaga finished second on Time's readers' poll of the most influential people of the past ten years, while in 2015, she was named Billboard's Woman of the Year. She is known for her philanthropic work and social activism, including LGBT rights and the Born This Way Foundation.
Life and career
1986–2004: Early life
Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta was born on March 28, 1986, at the Lenox Hill Hospital on Manhattan's Upper East Side to a Catholic family. She is the elder daughter of Cynthia Louise "Cindy" (Bissett) and Internet entrepreneur Joseph Anthony "Joe" Germanotta, Jr. Gaga is of 75 percent Italian descent, and also has French Canadian ancestry. Gaga's sister Natali is a fashion student. Despite her affluent upbringing on Manhattan's Upper West Side, she says 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 age eleven, she 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". "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." Gaga began playing the piano at the age of four, wrote her first piano ballad at thirteen, and started to perform at open mic nights by the age of fourteen. She performed 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". She auditioned for New York shows without success. She also studied method acting at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute for ten years.
After high school, her mother encouraged her to apply for the Collaborative Arts Project 21 (CAP21), a musical theater training conservatory at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. One of 20 students to gain early admission, she, aged 17, lived in an NYU dorm on 11th Street. In addition to sharpening her songwriting skills, she composed essays and analytical papers on art, religion, social issues, and politics, including a thesis on pop artists Spencer Tunick and Damien Hirst. She also auditioned for various roles and won the part of an unsuspecting diner customer for MTV's Boiling Points, a prank reality television show.
2005–07: Career beginnings
At age 19, Gaga withdrew from CAP21 in the second semester of her sophomore year, deciding to focus on her musical career. In the mid-2005, Gaga recorded a couple of songs with hip-hop singer Grandmaster Melle Mel, for an audio book accompanying Cricket Casey's children's book The Portal in the Park. She also formed a band called the Stefani Germanotta Band (SGBand) with some friends from NYU. The band played at gigs around New York becoming a local fixture of the downtown Lower East Side club scene. After the 2006 Songwriters Hall of Fame New Songwriters Showcase at The Cutting Room in June, Gaga was recommended to music producer Rob Fusari by talent scout Wendy Starland. Fusari collaborated with Gaga, who traveled daily to New Jersey, to work on songs she had written and to compose new material with him. According to the producer, they began dating in May 2006, and he claimed to have created the "Lady Gaga" moniker after the Queen song "Radio Ga Ga". The singer 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'". The text message was the result of a predictive text glitch that changed "radio" to "lady". Fusari said she texted back, "That's it", and declared, "Don't ever call me Stefani again."
Fusari and Gaga established a company called Team Lovechild LLC to promote her career. They recorded and produced electropop tracks and sent them to music industry executives. Joshua Sarubin, the head of A&R at Def Jam Recordings, responded positively and after agreement from his boss, Antonio "L.A." Reid, Gaga was signed to Def Jam in September 2006. However, she was dropped by the label after only three months – a period of her life that later inspired the music video of her 2011 single "Marry the Night". Devastated, 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. Gaga explained her antics represented freedom: "I went to a Catholic school but it was on the New York underground that I found myself." Her relationship with Fusari ended in January 2007 following which she became romantically involved with a heavy metal drummer. She compared this relationship and the subsequent breakup to the musical film Grease: "I was his Sandy, and he was my Danny, and I just broke."
During this time, she met performance artist Lady Starlight, who helped mold her onstage persona. 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. Their performance at the 2007 Lollapalooza music festival was critically acclaimed.
Having initially focused on avant-garde electronic dance music, Gaga found her musical niche when she began to incorporate pop melodies and the glam rock of David Bowie and Queen into her music. While Gaga and Starlight were busy performing, Fusari continued to work on the songs he had created with Gaga. He sent these songs to his friend, producer and record executive Vincent Herbert. The latter was quick to sign her to his label Streamline Records, an imprint of Interscope Records, established in 2007. 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 served as an apprentice songwriter during an internship at Famous Music Publishing, (later acquired by Sony/ATV Music Publishing), Gaga subsequently struck a music publishing deal with Sony/ATV. As a result, she was hired to write songs for Britney Spears and label mates New Kids on the Block, Fergie, and The Pussycat Dolls. At Interscope, singer-songwriter Akon recognized her vocal abilities when she sang a reference vocal for one of his tracks in studio. Akon 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, making her his "franchise player".
Towards the end of 2007, Gaga met with songwriter and producer RedOne. Gaga collaborated with him in the recording studio for a week on her debut album, and also joined the roster of Cherrytree Records, an Interscope imprint established by producer and songwriter Martin Kierszenbaum; she also wrote four songs with Kierszenbaum. Despite her secure record deal, she admitted that there was fear about her being too "racy", "dance-oriented" and "underground" for the mainstream market. Her 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."
2008–10: The Fame and The Fame Monster
By 2008, Gaga relocated to Los Angeles in order to work extensively with her record label to complete her debut album, The Fame, and set up her own creative team called the Haus of Gaga, modeled on Andy Warhol's Factory. The Fame was released on August 19, 2008, with positive reception. Critics noted the album's combination of genres, "from Def Leppard drums and hand claps to metal drums on urban tracks", the inspiration drawn from 1980s synthpop and incorporation of dance music. The Fame went to number one in Austria, Canada, Germany, Ireland, Switzerland and the UK and appeared in the top five in Australia, the US and 15 other countries. Its first two singles, "Just Dance" and "Poker Face", became worldwide commercial successes. "Poker Face" won the award for Best Dance Recording at the 52nd Annual Grammy Awards while The Fame won Best Dance/Electronica Album at the same ceremony. Three other successful singles were released from the album—"Eh, Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say)", "LoveGame", and "Paparazzi".
Following her opening act on The Pussycat Dolls' 2009 Doll Domination Tour in Europe and Oceania, Gaga embarked on her own worldwide The Fame Ball Tour, which ran from March to September 2009. While she traveled the globe, Gaga released The Fame Monster, an EP of eight songs, in November 2009. Each song dealt with the darker side of fame from personal experience, expressed through a monster metaphor. Lead single "Bad Romance" topped the charts in 18 countries and reached number two in the US, Australia and New Zealand; it won the Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and Best Short Form Music Video. Two other singles were released from the EP, "Telephone" (featuring Beyoncé) and "Alejandro". The former became Gaga's fourth UK number one single, while the latter faced controversy for its music video, which was deemed blasphemous by the Catholic League. Despite the controversy surrounding her music videos, Gaga became the first artist to gain over one billion viral views on video-sharing website YouTube. At the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards, Gaga won 8 of her 13 nominations, including Video of the Year for "Bad Romance". In addition, The Fame Monster won the Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Album. Gaga also released, The Remix, which became her final record with Cherrytree Records. Forbes first listed Gaga on their 2010 Celebrity 100 and World's Most Powerful Women lists ranking her fourth and seventh, respectively.
The success of The Fame and The Fame Monster allowed Gaga to start her second worldwide concert tour, The Monster Ball Tour, just weeks after finishing The Fame Ball Tour. Critically and commercially successful, the tour began in November 2009 and ended in May 2011, and grossed $227.4 million, making it the highest-grossing for a debut headlining artist. Concerts performed at Madison Square Garden in New York City were filmed for an HBO television special titled Lady Gaga Presents the Monster Ball Tour: At Madison Square Garden. Gaga also performed songs from the albums at international events such as the 2009 Royal Variety Performance, 52nd Annual Grammy Awards, and the 2010 BRIT Awards. Other performances might have included her participation in Michael Jackson's This Is It concert series at London's O2 Arena had he not died of a drug overdose. Gaga clarified that she was: "actually asked to open for Michael on his tour... 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."
During this era Gaga ventured into business, collaborating with consumer electronics company Monster Cable Products to create a pair of in-ear, jewel-encrusted, headphones titled Heartbeats. "They are designed to be the first ever fashion accessories that double as the absolute best sonically sounding headphones in the world," she commented. Gaga also partnered with Polaroid in January 2010 as their Creative Director and revealed a trio of new photo capturing products called Grey Label. But her collaboration with past producer, and ex-boyfriend, Rob Fusari led to her production team, Mermaid Music LLC, being sued in March 2010 when he claimed that he was entitled to a 20% share of the company's earnings. The New York Supreme Court dismissed both the lawsuit and a countersuit by Gaga. In addition to such strife, Gaga was tested borderline positive for lupus, but claimed not to be affected by the symptoms. The singer addressed the matter in an interview with Larry King, saying she hopes to avoid symptoms by maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Continually experimenting with new musical ideas and images, Gaga's musical and performance style is the subject of much analysis and scrutiny from critics. She professes that she is "liberating" herself by constantly reinventing her sound and image, insisting that she has been drawn to such a practice since her childhood. Refusing to lip sync, Gaga – whose range is frequently compared to those of Madonna and Gwen Stefani – has manipulated her vocal style over the course of her career yet considers Born This Way (2011) "much more vocally up to par with what I've always been capable of." In summation of her voice, Entertainment Weekly wrote: "There's an immense emotional intelligence behind the way she uses her voice. Almost never does she overwhelm a song with her vocal ability, recognizing instead that artistry is to be found in nuance rather than lung power."
Although her early lyrics have been criticized for lacking intellectual stimulation, "[Gaga] does manage to get you moving and grooving at an almost effortless pace." Gaga believes that "all good music can be played on a piano and still sound like a hit." She has covered a wide variety of topics in her songs: while The Fame (2008) meditates on the lust for stardom, The Fame Monster (2009) expresses fame's dark side through monster metaphors. Born This Way (2011) is sung in English, French, German, and Spanish and includes common themes in Gaga's controversial songwriting such as: sex, love, religion, money, drugs, identity, liberation, sexuality, freedom, and individualism.
Her music style has been described as electropop and as dance-pop and the structure of her music is said to be influenced by classic 1980s pop and 1990s Europop. Her debut album The Fame (2008) provoked The Sunday Times to assert "in combining music, fashion, art and technology, [Gaga] evokes Madonna, Gwen Stefani circa 'Hollaback Girl', Kylie Minogue 2001 or Grace Jones right now", and a critic from The Boston Globe to comment that she draws: "obvious inspirations from Madonna to Gwen Stefani... in [her] girlish but sturdy pipes and bubbly beats." Music critic Simon Reynolds wrote that: "Everything about Gaga came from electroclash, except the music, which wasn't particularly 1980s, just ruthlessly catchy naughties pop glazed with Auto-Tune and undergirded with R&B-ish beats." The follow-up The Fame Monster (2009), saw Gaga's taste for pastiche, drawing on "Seventies arena glam, perky ABBA disco, and sugary throwbacks like Stacey Q" while Born This Way (2011) also draws on the records of her childhood and still has the "electro-sleaze beats and Eurodisco chorus chants" of its predecessor but includes genres as diverse as opera, heavy metal, disco, and rock and roll. "There isn't a subtle moment on the album, but even at its nuttiest, the music is full of wide-awake emotional details," wrote Rolling Stone, which concluded: "The more excessive Gaga gets, the more honest she sounds." With 2014's Cheek to Cheek, Gaga dabbled in the jazz genre. Although critically appreciated for her love of the music, and the songs she recorded on the album, it was noted that Gaga's attempt to switch genres, with "her rhythmically square, shouty delivery", left her vocals sounding more like a Broadway singer than a real jazz musician.
Gaga grew up listening to artists such as: The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Queen, Bruce Springsteen, Pink Floyd, Mariah Carey, The Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, Whitney Houston, Elton John, Blondie, and Garbage, who all influenced her. She has cited heavy metal bands as an influence, stating that Iron Maiden "changed my life" and describing herself as "the biggest Black Sabbath fan on Earth". Gaga's musical inspiration varies from dance-pop singers like Madonna and Michael Jackson to glam rock artists like David Bowie and Freddie Mercury, as well as the theatrics of the pop artist Andy Warhol and her own performance roots in musical theater. Gaga has often been compared to Madonna who admits that she sees herself reflected in Gaga. In response to the comparisons, Gaga stated in February 2011: "I don't want to sound presumptuous, but I've made it my goal to revolutionize pop music. The last revolution was launched by Madonna 25 years ago" in addition to commenting that: "there is really no one that is a more adoring and loving Madonna fan than me." Like Madonna, Gaga has continued to reinvent herself and has drawn inspiration from the music and performances of a diverse mix of artists including: Whitney Houston, Blondie frontwoman Debbie Harry, Lily Allen, Marilyn Manson, Yoko Ono, Beyoncé, Britney Spears, and Christina Aguilera.
Another spiritual influence on Gaga has been the Indian physician, public speaker, and writer Deepak Chopra. Labeling him a "true inspiration", she stated that "he's always reminded me to work in a life of service to my fans and to fulfill my vision and my destiny" in addition to thinking about Chopra when it comes to her work as a musician: "I want so much for it to go beyond the music for my fans." Gaga also lifted a quote from Osho's book Creativity on Twitter. When asked about her connection to him, Gaga said she was influenced by his work and that, for her, "the creativity is the greatest way of rebellion": "Equality", she concluded, "is one of the most important things in my life."
Gaga has identified fashion as a major influence and claimed that her interest in fashion came from her mother who was "always very well kept and beautiful." Her musical endeavors are directly linked with fashion with the singer explaining: "When I'm writing music, I'm thinking about the clothes I want to wear on stage. It's all about everything altogether—performance art, pop performance art, fashion." Gaga has been stylistically compared to Leigh Bowery, Isabella Blow, and Cher. She commented that as a child, she somehow absorbed Cher's out-there fashion sense and made it her own. Gaga considers Donatella Versace her muse, and the late English fashion designer and close friend Alexander McQueen as an inspiration, admitting that "I miss Lee every time I get dressed" while channeling him in some of her work. In turn, Versace calls Lady Gaga "the fresh Donatella". Modeled on Andy Warhol's Factory, Gaga has her own creative production team, which she handles personally, called the Haus of Gaga, who create many of her clothes, stage props, and hairdos. Other fashion influences came from Princess Diana: "I love Princess Diana so much. She was an enormous influence on me when I was younger because my mother worshiped her so much. When she died, I'll never forget, my mother was crying. It was this very powerful moment in my childhood watching my mother so connected to someone".
Gaga has been regarded as a trail blazer throughout several points in her career, sometimes utilizing controversy to bring attention to various issues. With the meteoric success of The Fame, Gaga is credited as being one of the frontrunners of the rise in the popularity of synthpop in the late 2000s and early 2010s. Writer Brian Solis says, "It's all about how you cultivate your community," Solis said. "Celebs have never shied away from causes and in many ways it's expected that they will use their celebrity to gain attention for those causes. But it's what (Gaga) does over time and how her community responds that starts the lean-over into the influence factor. Polaroid CEO, after working with Gaga, said: "she's a true artist who inspires her fans and the creative community. The relationship she has with her fans is exceptionally close and she is consistently in contact with them via social networks, making her messages accessible, authentic and far reaching." Named the "Queen of Pop" by Rolling Stone magazine, her work has influenced Miley Cyrus, Nicki Minaj, Ellie Goulding, Nick Jonas, Tyler Oakley, Lohanthony, Sam Smith, Greyson Chance, Debbie Harry of Blondie, and MGMT.
Gaga has been commemorated in the scientific names of several organisms. A new genus of ferns, Gaga, and two species, G. germanotta and G. monstraparva have been named in her honor. The name monstraparva alluded to Gaga's fans known as "little monsters" since their symbol is the outstretched "monster claw" hand, which resembles a tightly in-rolled young fern leaf prior to unfurling. Gaga also has an extinct mammal, Gagadon minimonstrum, and a parasitic wasp, Aleiodes gaga, named for her.