For perhaps obvious reasons, a Catholic school upbringing often seems to serve as the catalyst for unleashing the diva buried deep inside those predisposed to being possessed by pop music demons. It was true for Madonna, it was true for Cyndi Lauper, and it's true for Convent of the Sacred Heart alum Lady GaGa. When she wasn't at Mass with classmates Paris and Nicky Hilton, the burgeoning star was storming the clubs of New York City's Lower East Side. There she honed her skills as a singer and shock popster in the making by stripping down on stage to her bikini top and hot pants and lighting cans of hairspray on fire.
Inspired by an unlikely combination of Michael Jackson, David Bowie, Motley Cr'e, and Queen (she lifted her name from Queen's 'Radio GaGa,') the singer-songwriter was signed by her 20th birthday and already beginning to map out her plan for world domination. Unwilling to let career be controlled by anyone but herself, Lady GaGa writes her own lyrics and melodies, plays most of the synth work on her infectious debut album, The Fame, and acts as the creative director for all things GaGa -- no pair of sunglasses is chosen without her input, no shoulder is shimmied without her express approval.
Lady phoned us during a brief moment of downtime on her current gig opening for the New Kids on the Block to discuss what's it's like to be a gay man trapped in a woman's body, influencing Christina Aguilera's new look, and exactly what it takes for a drag queen to do her proud.
Out: You were barely a month old when the New Kids' first album dropped. Have they schooled you while you've been on tour with them?
Lady GaGa: I've learned a lot from them. They're so professional and so talented. Their determination and drive -- they could literally stand on stage in their underwear for two hours and those girls would just scream.
What is it like playing for an audience of 30-something women and their bored boyfriends and husbands? It must be a completely different than playing for a club full of gays.
It's totally different. There's nothing like playing for my gay fans. It's a hard act to follow. But it's still great. Women love the record. It's funny because the New Kids crowd that's coming -- they're not necessarily partiers. They may be only going to that show all year and they're going out to get fucked up to see the New Kids! Everybody is out to party. So I'm sort of the perfect opener because I'm the party starter. But truthfully there's nothing like playing for my gay fans. I was just in Vegas and we played a killer New Kids show and then I went down the hall to the House of Blues and played the White Party for Jeff Sanker and I was just in heaven.
Someone once said you're like a gay man trapped in a woman's body.
[Laughs] There's a lot of truth to that.
Do you like to have sex at the gym? Are you fastidious about grooming your body hair?
Both of those things. [Laughs] Hmm, what makes me a gay man? I think you hit the nail on the head -- the way I think about fashion, the way I think about sex, the way that I think about my individuality and my freedom and my pride as a woman. I'm a product of my environment. I grew up with a lot of gay friends and I was a dancer, I did a lot of acting, I was always in a show. It's just home for me.
One of the things required to gain diva status is a rival. Do you have anyone you'd like to rumble with?
So far I haven't really met another female artist that's been able to invade my space. So when they do, I'll be excited.
You'll be ready to throw down? It seems like you can handle yourself.
I am who I am. People have already tried to create rivalries between me and a few other artists, but I don't even think of it that way. The minute I take my eye off what I'm doing to check out the bitch next to me, I'm going to slow myself down.
But we have to talk about Christina Aguilera. Lately she's been looking an awful lot like a Lady GaGa knockoff. Is that flattering? Or does Xtina need to step off?
I feel even though yes, [Christina's] VMA performance did resemble my style in some ways, I wouldn't say that she is stealing from me. But it's very flattering to be compared to a superstar, and I love and appreciate how protective my fans are of me. You see, it's not a look -- fashion is my life and I have always dressed this way. It's in my blood. I think Christina is great, so was her performance. No enemies here.
You write your own music, you conceptualize your look, you call all the shots. Is it a struggle to prove that pop music is something that can be taken seriously and that can be artistic?
I wouldn't say it's a struggle, I'd say it's a mission. It's a vow. It's funny, when I did the So You Think You Can Dance performance and I put on my TV-shaped glasses [that read] Pop Music Will Never Be Low Brow, that was me taking a vow and saying 'Not on my stage.' I write the shit, I do the fashion, all the choreography is inspired by me and New York City and what I believe in and the show is completely 100,000 percent my vision. That's what makes my heart beat. I wouldn't be fulfilled as an artist if I was just a puppet.
Speaking of puppets, you were on MTV's The Hills a couple of weeks ago. Is it as fake as I keep reading it is?
Honestly it wasn't nearly as fake as I thought it would be. It's very beautifully done. It's shot like a soap opera -- they light the girls but it's not staged.
They didn't repeatedly make you redo your scenes?
Not when I was there. When I was there they just filmed us and the girls were really nice. I predicted they'd be snobby and really L.A. but they helped me out. My fucking cat suit was having a serious meltdown and I was freaking out, and they were yelling at me to go on stage, and the girls hooked me up. I think instead of knocking reality television we should look at it as a new art form. I think The Hills more than any other show is the most artistic reality show.
Would you ever do a reality TV show of your own?
I don't know. It'd have to be something really innovative and creative for me to be a part of it. But having cameras follow me all the time and document me as a human being? No thanks. So much of what I'm doing is performance art and I feel like it'd almost be unfair to my fans. They don't want to see me brushing my teeth. They don't care about that shit. They want to see me hanging from the ceiling, covered in ice, speaking poetry.
I did see your tour webisodes on YouTube. It's a nice added component to what you do on stage.
I think it gives my fans a way of connecting with me as a woman. But I also wanted to do it because I think there's this really strong misconception that Lady GaGa is a persona that I put on and that I'm not like this all the time and that I'm only like this on stage. And that is so not true. It's the farthest thing from the truth. My mom said something really sweet to me the other day -- something like, 'You know, GaGa, for you it's never been a costume.' It was such a powerful thing for my mother to say to me, because you watch me in the webisodes and I just dress like this all the time. I'm always in six inch heels. I always have a hood over my head or a pair of shades or an insane leather jacket or something that I've made or whatever -- this is who I am. I'm always talking about art, I'm always talking about music -- it's not something I put on for the camera. I'm not putting on my look for my performance. I'm like this all the time.
One of my favorite lines on the record is from 'Just Dance,' when you sing 'I love this record but I can't see straight anymore.' Who can't relate to being at a club at 3 a.m., drunk and tired and ready to leave -- but all of a sudden your favorite song comes on and gets you back on the dance floor?
Totally. I mean how many times have you been out the door and then you get sucked back in?
What songs get you to back on the dance floor?
I can remember numerous times I went back into the club to dance to [Kelis'] 'Milkshake.' That fucking record! [Imitates song's bass line] It's like, get it on! It's so good. Another one is [Gwen Stefani's] 'Hollaback Girl.' I couldn't stay sitting down when that song came on.
Is Gwen a big influence for you?
Oh yeah. I love Gwen. I think people compare me to her mostly because I'm blonde and I'm risk-taking. Other than that I don't think we have that much in common. I was a huge Tragic Kingdom fiend -- a huge No Doubt lover.
She's in a short line of women who paved the way for a lot of other female artists.
She's the only one since Blondie and Madonna. It was freakin' Gwen. What other songs? There's a song by AC/DC called 'TNT.' It's so good. Or AC/DC's album Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap. I hit a lot of rock and roll bars, so those records I love too. And Britney -- any Britney record [playing] and I'm on my fucking feet.
You wrote some songs for her new record, Circus, right?
Yes. We're positive that one is on it, but we're still waiting to hear about the last one.
You said in one of your webisodes that you wanted to find a drag queen who was doing Lady GaGa. Did you? What are the quintessential traits someone would need to pull off a killer Lady GaGa performance?
I did see somebody and it was so incredibly good I kind of got freaked out.
Where were you?
It wasn't live. Someone sent me a video. But I would say you've got to wash the blonde hair with purple shampoo. You've got to wear shoulder pads. You've got to have the lightning bolt. And a cat suit would be pretty in the ballpark.
Maybe we can get some fans to send in some videos of themselves doing Lady Gaga.
Oh my God. I will be on Out.com all night.
The Fame (Streamline/Interscope/KonLive) is in stores on October 28.