The Lady Is a Vamp

8.9.2009

By Out.com Editors

Pop's newest—and gayest—superstar pulls back the curtain to reveal all is allusion in the art and artifice of fame.

Gaga is in complete control of her music's industrial complex. She writes and coproduces all of her tracks; serves as dramaturge, choreographer, and star of her performances; and conducts a core group of coconspirators dubbed the Haus of Gaga -- a nod to both Paris Is Burning and Walter Gropius -- among them, stylist Nicola Formichetti; Anna Trevelyan, Formichetti's assistant; and most important, Matthew Williams, aka Matty Dada, Gaga's right-hand man. 'They don't do anything but live and breathe their art,' she says. The Haus of Gaga ensures there are no loose ends to Gaga, just a lot of her. Every appearance and every utterance is a tightly choreographed performance. 'I'm a method actress,' she says proudly. 'I studied Stanislavski for six years.'

If every second is a scene, every outfit is worth a dissertation. At a recent press conference in Malta, Gaga wore a deconstructed bondage mask/hijab by the Danish design duo Vilsbol de Arce, as bewildering a display as Dylan in his Cate Blanchett years. In a now famous appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, she wore an orbiting headpiece by London designer Nasir Mazhar. During another appearance in Tokyo in July, Gaga channeled Harajuku 'cosplay' (costume role-playing) culture, dressing up as a Hello Kitty ingenue, simultaneously embodying and parroting the Japanese national obsession. She's the Michelle Obama of pop; her fashion is the constitution for a new utopia. 'I believe in living a glamorous life and I believe in a glamorous lifestyle,' says Gaga. 'What that means is not money or fame or prestige. It's a sense of vanity and glamour and subculture that is rooted in a sense of self. I am completely 100,000% devoted to a life of glamour.' Rule number two of Gagaland: Thou shalt be glamorous.

A life of glamour is an ethos to which every gay -- from the 17-year-old Dominican tranny voguing in his bedroom to the tanorexic middle-aged Miami circuit queen -- can relate. It's one reason we love Gaga. Another, of course, is that Gaga loves us back. Gayness is in Gaga's DNA. A little brunette lighting bolt of energy born in Manhattan to Joseph and Cynthia Germanotta -- Catholics with a healthy appreciation for the arts and the good sense to recognize a star when they bore one -- Gaga began playing piano at 4 and composing at 13 under the tutelage of several gay mentors. 'I had a few gay piano teachers. I was in acting class and ballet from a very young age, and I remember being around a lot of gay boys in dance class. I feel intrinsically inclined toward a more gay lifestyle.' She did Ellen before Leno, performed in gay clubs before straight ones, and plugs the gays constantly in interviews, even those with straight publications. Despite a lesbian subtext to 'Poker Face' -- the song is about, among other things, a woman lusting after a woman while dating a man -- Gaga says, 'I myself am not a gay woman -- I am a free-spirited woman: I have had boyfriends, and I have hooked up with women, but it's never been like 'I discovered gayness when I was dot dot dot.' '

Her devotion to gay culture is unparalleled by any other artist operating at her level of visibility or success. 'When I started in the mainstream it was the gays that lifted me up,' she says. 'I committed myself to them and they committed themselves to me, and because of the gay community I'm where I am today.' Earlier this year, in her acceptance speech for her MuchMusic award for best international video, Lady Gaga thanked 'God and the gays.' Before agreeing to tour with Kanye West this fall, Gaga told the rapper, 'I just want to be clear before we decide to do this together: I'm gay. My music is gay. My show is gay. And I love that it's gay. And I love my gay fans and they're all going to be coming to our show. And it's going to remain gay.' That's another clause in the Gagaland constitution: Gay culture shall gush undiluted into the rapids of society. It shall not be co-opted, fancified, dolled up, or Uncle Tommed. 'I very much want to inject gay culture into the mainstream,' she says, 'It's not an underground tool for me. It's my whole life. So I always sort of joke the real motivation is to just turn the world gay.'

If glamour and vanity and music are the sparks that animate Gaga, she relies on a vast reference library to give herself a body. She regularly plunders her predecessors, finding time in her whirlwind schedule to make stops at museums. The '80s synthesizers of The Fame are just part of Lady Gaga; she herself is synthesis. She's been compared to and compares herself to Christina Aguilera (who thought she was a tranny), Madonna, Debbie Harry, David Bowie, and Grace Jones, but her reading list is more Patti Smith (Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet is one of Gaga's favorite books) and her frank sex talk is straight out of blueswoman Bessie Smith's 1920s catalog. 'I need a little hot dog on my roll' isn't so different from 'I'm bluffin' with my muffin.'

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