Gaga's interview with The Times
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Oct 15 2014, 10:40 PM
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As her tour reaches Britain, the superstar reveals how marijuana and domineering men affected her career Lady Gaga is in Amsterdam, the latest pitstop on ArtRave: The ARTPOP Ball, this perennially ambitious pop star’s latest grandiloquent take on the arena concert. A year ago, arriving in the party capital of Holland would have had greater significance for the 28-year-old who, in one of her typically forthright confessions, admitted there was a period when she was smoking 15 joints a day. It was, she explained, a way of helping overcome her pain and distress after undergoing the hip surgery that confined her to a wheelchair and necessitated the cancellation of the remainder of her last megatour, 2012’s Born This Way Ball.
“I’m not in any way regretful [about] being honest about how much I was smoking during that time, because everybody goes through tough times,” she tells me from her hotel room, in a low, lightly-New York-accented voice. “And I also didn’t know that I was injured for a while. I just felt a lot of body pain, so this was my coping mechanism to get through it.
“And now that I’m healed, I don’t smoke all the time any more. And I’m very proud to say that today I’m more sober than I’ve ever been. I had a little puff the other day — nothing — just to have a nice massage in the afternoon. I can have it now and not need it, which is nice, but to be honest I don’t need it at all.”
The world tour, which reaches the UK tonight, kicked off in Florida in May, six months after the release of 2013’s ARTPOP, the album that placed the 5ft 1in New Yorker, born Stefani Germanotta, alongside Avril Lavigne and Susan Boyle in the small pantheon of female performers who have topped the British charts with all of their first three studio albums. She says that professionally she has been through the ringer during that time, but she currently finds herself in a good place, thanks to her ongoing relationship with the actor Taylor Kinney, the support of her mentor, the 88-year-old singer Tony Bennett, and mindfulness.
“I’ve been meditating, I’ve been focusing on writing songs,” she says. “And I’ve been focusing on my friendship with Tony and this new record.” She’s referring to Cheek to Cheek, completed with Bennett during a summer break in her tour, which also saw her tee up the release of a second perfume, the unisex Eau De Gaga. Then it was back on the road with her 12 dancers, five-piece backing band, dozens of crew and her five stage wigs. Last month the album entered the US charts at No 1 but only reached No 10 here. A significant chunk of her 42.5 million Twitter family — the devoted “Little Monsters” — were clearly not convinced by an album in which Gaga duets with the legendary crooner on interpretations of jazz standards. But Cheek to Cheek’s disappointing performance here also underlines how her status dipped during a period when by, her own admission, “I got really lost for a while — I didn’t even know who I was any more”.
Beyond the physical pain of her injury and her moment lost in a cloud of marijuana smoke, Gaga has also been dealing with major business upheavals. Around the time of the release of ARTPOP she severed ties with both her long-term manager and with the stylist with whom she dreamt up many a headline-rattling costume. In fact, she told Parade magazine recently that she felt so exhausted that “I didn’t even want to sing any more — I felt dead”, and that Bennett had “saved my life”.
When I met the two of them in a New York recording studio in June, the elder statesman looked on concernedly as Lady Gaga described how recording their album had been an act of rebellion against her own pop music, which she claimed had been literally distorted “after years of producers and record label people telling me to make my voice sound more radio-friendly. Since The Fame, The Fame Monster and Born This Way, they’ve been autotuning it more, or changing the timbre. They take the vibrato out so you sound like a robot.”
As she said this Gaga, resplendent in long black wig and a (for her) tasteful, modesty-covering gown, sat decorously in an easy chair. She held hands with Bennett and looked fondly at him while she spoke. The same body language was on display when I saw the pair give a press conference in Brussels four days prior to our Amsterdam conversation. They were in the Belgian capital to launch Cheek to Cheek with a free, open-air show. On stage and off it, when in the presence of Bennett, Gaga — the urdiva du jour — bows deferentially and, it’s clear, gratefully.
Yet her recent difficulties weren’t her first trials. Today, Lady Gaga tells me that she’s had to battle misogyny and sexism since trying to kickstart her music career in New York and Los Angeles. “Oh,” she sighs heavily, “I experienced a lot . . . I had really awful experiences with men in the studio. Made me very uncomfortable. I didn’t feel like I was being cherished for my vocal talents, but [was] seen more as someone to take advantage of.”
Did people try and “take advantage” of her physically as well?
“Yes. And I don’t have to elaborate. But I promise you that when women who are in the business that are young read this article, I hope [they understand] that you do not have to put up with that. And I hope to be an inspiration — that [if] you’re talented enough, you can work hard and achieve your dreams “It is very hard, this business. And there are a lot of sharks. And I wish to set a good example. That’s why I’m so honest about those things, ’cause I don’t want to give the impression that this was handed to me on a silver platter. It was certainly not like that,” she says with a snort.
“This is an Everest. AC/DC said it best: it’s a long way to the top if you want to rock’n’roll!” Gaga concludes with a laugh.
It sounds like the answer would be obvious, but you never know with this compelling, contrary-Mary artist. So let’s ask the question: does Gaga call herself a feminist? And, if so, what does being a feminist mean to her?
“Yes,” she replies firmly and immediately. “I’m certainly a feminist. A feminist to me is somebody that wishes to protect the integrity of women who are ambitious. A feminist in my opinion is somebody that regards that women have a strong intelligence and wisdom. That we are just as great as men — and some of us can be even better.” She namechecks author/poet/civil rights campaigner Maya Angelou. “I can’t imagine that this woman wasn’t greater than some of the men of her time.
“I want to fight for the female performer, the female artist, the female musician,” she states firmly. “This is the type of feminist that I am: that women can be tremendous artists.”
Her support for the musical sisterhood, though, only goes far. Ask her about any kinship with seeming peers such as Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry, and her reply is distinctly cool. “I don’t think that I have anything to do with any of the artists that you just mentioned. I don’t mean that in a mean-intentioned way. However, I take a lot of pride in my musicianship and in the integrity behind my work. And I wish for, in the future, especially with this Tony Bennett album, for people to really see that I am much more than what has now become perceived as a marketing plan.
“All of the clothes that I’ve worn, all my big stage shows — this is not marketing. This is from my heart. This is from years of me reading books and obsessing over art, over music, with my friends in downtown New York. It is an authentic performance-art piece that I’ve been creating for a long time. So I don’t really care about gossip. But I certainly will not relegate myself to any of those artists.” Such a provocative statement, though, is more of a piece with the Lady Gaga — strident, bolshy, blazingly self-assured — who shook up the pop world six years ago. After a period of injury, doubt and stoned drifting, she seems invigorated by her collaboration with Bennett — and, in turn, that collaboration has energised her return to the stage. “There’s a part of me that has been quiet for a long time that is now being reawakened,” she told me in New York, and that much had been evident when I saw her perform in Antwerp, the day after her Brussels engagement with Bennett. Back in the ArtRave saddle, she and her arena-sized production had rolled into the Belgian city’s 23,000-capacity Sportpaleis, which is as windy and unlovely a concrete box as they come. Yet the singer was on fire, performing with lusty, wild-eyed theatricality the hit singles that have helped her sell over 200 million records since she burst on to the music scene with her 2008 debut album The Fame: Poker Face, Bad Romance, Paparazzi, Alejandro, Telephone (her duet with Beyoncé), Applause.
She sprinted up and down the long walkways that stretched into and over the crowd. She threw herself into knee slides and onstage costume changes. Choreographed dance routines mixed it up with looser moments of sweaty, snarling abandon from this tiny dynamo. You couldn’t fault her conviction, nor the reaction it catalysed in both singer and audience — she screamed at the crowd in French; they screamed right back. By show’s end there was a nasty and fresh-looking bruise just underneath her left buttock.
“Yeah, I have them all the time,” she tells me cheerfully. “I have a lot of aggression when I’m performing. I bang myself up all the time. But now my body is very physically fit, so I don’t have to worry about injuring myself.
“That’s a wild show,” she continues with reasonably justifiable self-satisfaction. “Sometimes when I’m running across the stage, sliding across on my knees, I don’t even realise that I’ve got a six-inch gash from my ankle to my knee and I’m bleeding! I get into the quick-change [area backstage] and my sister’s screaming, ‘Oh my God what happened!’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, leave me alone, I’m gonna miss my cue!’ I don’t even feel it when I’m up there. All I can feel is the love of the fans.”
And one fan whose love she feels above all others is that of Kinney. He’s an actor who appeared in Zero Dark Thirty and stars in US TV drama Chicago Fire, and with whom Gaga recently held a small “commitment ceremony”, apparently as a prelude to getting married next year. Where previously she was ultra-discreet about her relationship status, Gaga now mentions her boyfriend readily. “Neither of us care to be viewed as a celebrity couple,” she says airily. “Those sorts of things are not important to us.
“I think what has made me so happy with Taylor is that he fiercely loves me from the inside out. And he is completely blind to the way that I dress, my changes, my creative process as it is — he knows me as the Italian-American girl my mother and father gave birth to.
“He’s very supportive of everything that I do, and it means very much to me. He’s the first man that I have dated that, when I sing onstage, he cries,” Gaga claims, her voice cracking with emotion as she says it. “That means more to me than anything.”
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