‘I’m not interested in people positioning me next to other artists,’ announces the world famous singer, sitting in a recording studio with Time Out. ‘I just want to make my music.’
A bold claim from someone who has appeared in public dressed in numerous decapitated Kermits, a gas mask, a gyroscope, a large lampshade, a massive egg and a dress made entirely of meat. And these looks have been hard to miss, because for the last three years, Lady Gaga has dominated pop’s field of vision in a way other artists with comparable sales have not.
She is the internet age’s first true pop phenomenon, but mo’ Twitter followers (she recently hit the 10 million mark), mo’ problems. While no megastar in history has been able to connect with their audience so easily, nor has any been quite this easy to heckle. In February, Lady G’s much-trumpeted big comeback single, ‘Born This Way’, was loudly criticised for sounding too much like Madonna; its successor, ‘Judas’, was rounded upon for being too much like, er, Lady Gaga.
‘It’s part of the whole internet culture,’ she declares. ‘People want you to fail. People want to tear me down, they were going to knife me anyway. The good news it that when they look back they’ll all remember how brave I was: “She put out a record about being yourself, and we crucified her for it, but she soared on and sat at No 1 for six weeks!”’
A few months ago, with an album release looming, ‘Judas’ tumbling down the UK charts and the album’s artwork being widely derided, a miniature backlash seemed to be gathering pace. Then with little fanfare and no overhyped video, a song called ‘The Edge of Glory’ appeared on iTunes.
It was supposed to be an album teaser, and Gaga’s label didn’t even take it to radio. It hit No 1 on iTunes around the world. It was a reminder that all those outfits would have counted for nothing if her first single, ‘Just Dance’, hadn’t been a little bit special, or if subsequent releases such as ‘Bad Romance’ hadn’t been pretty listenable to boot. Perhaps this is why Gaga, as she sits in front of me now, flicking through her iPod and blasting out tunes from her album, is so excited. She is certain she has made a brilliant album.
Chat with Gaga and she’ll also talk about relationships, and her experiences meeting other artists. If you’re lucky, she’ll act out the time Liza Minnelli appeared in her dressing room, threw her jacket on the floor, froze in profile and demanded, ‘Shoot me from the left!’ (Gaga as Gaga: ‘That’s quite an entrance.’ Gaga as Minnelli: ‘I know!’).
Turn on a tape recorder and Lady Gaga has a habit of becoming quite serious. Conscious of the media’s relentless cynicism, she will end up protesting too much. It must be hard for her to make sense of critics who slam most popstars for thinking too little, then criticise this one for thinking too much.
If in doubt, she’ll talk about how everything she does is for her army of fans. Of critical acclaim, she says at one point that she’d ‘rather be critically acclaimed by my fans’. It’s interesting that she thinks her fans could, and should, be critical (they’re not), and it explains her slightly obsessive approach to that fanbase. Many acts take their fans for granted; Lady Gaga is worried they might start booing.
‘I never cancelled a single date,’ she says of the 201-date ‘Monster Ball’ tour that finished last month. ‘Anything that was ever cancelled was down to the weather, or in Paris when the government wouldn’t let us into the city. [Pulls a face] I had food poisoning during my last O2 show. It was a nightmare. I was so sick.’
I explain that the question I was trying not to ask, but must, is: ‘Did you s*** yourself on stage?’ Lady Gaga laughs at this question in a way her peers probably would not. ‘I was only vomiting!’ she says. And then she leans forward, her voice dropping to a whisper. ‘I don’t have a colon.’
I change the subject and ask what she doesn’t like about her own work. ‘I can’t even watch the “Telephone” video, I hate it so much,’ she reveals. ‘Beyoncé and I are great together. But there are so many ideas in that video and all I see is my brain throbbing, and I wish I had edited myself a little bit more. It’s funny because I know a lot of kids on the Popjustice [the interviewer’s music website] forum didn’t like the “Alejandro” video, but that was my favourite of all my videos. It’s not busy. But maybe that’s my own monster. People love the chaos in my brain, but I’m terrified of it.’
It seems, as she plays us song after song in the studio, that Gaga’s best may be on the album that has finally been released worldwide. ‘Americano’ is about Mexican immigrants (‘told in the metaphor of a love story between myself and a someone I meet in East LA’); ‘Marry the Night’, Gaga says, is ‘a very pure, unmediated love song’. She talks me through each track in extraordinary, passionate detail and seems frustrated when her manager suggests that it might be time to wrap up.
This has – we say – been an unusual sort of playback session from such an established artist. Most advance album listening opportunities tend to happen in airless label offices, any song descriptions courtesy of a few sanitised quotes on a photocopied press release. ‘You get everything you want today,’ Gaga says. She pauses for a beat, then roars dramatically: ‘Tomorrow… Nothing!’ Lady Gaga’s new album, Born This Way, is on sale now.