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Growing Up Gaga

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The story of Gaga is a story of being young in New York City. Stefani Germanotta grew up in a duplex on the Upper West Side, on one of the eclectic blocks between Columbus and Amsterdam in the West Seventies that are a mix of prewar brownstones, tenements, and modern condos. Her father ran a company that installed Wi-Fi in hotels, and her mother worked for a time as a V.P. at Verizon. They sent Gaga and her younger sister, Natali, 18, to Sacred Heart, a small Catholic girls’ school up the street from the Guggenheim. “Sacred Heart may have been prestigious, but there were lots of different kinds of girls,” says Gaga. “Some had extreme wealth, others were on welfare and scholarship, and some were in the middle, which was my family. All our money went into education and the house.” Her classmates say that her family was tight-knit. “When John Kerry was running for president, Stefani supported him and her father didn’t, so she joked about that,” says Daniela Abatelli, Sacred Heart ’05. Gaga was one of the only students with a job after school, as a waitress at a diner on the Upper West Side. With her early paychecks, she bought a Gucci purse. “I was so excited because all the girls at Sacred Heart always had their fancy purses, and I always had whatever,” she says. “My mom and dad were not buying me a $600 purse.”

Because her parents told her that they had sacrificed for her education, Gaga took school seriously from a young age. One of her favorite childhood memories is playing a piano concert at Sacred Heart at 8. “There was a line of twenty girls sitting in a row in our pretty dresses, and we each got up to play,” she says happily. “I did a really good job. I was quite good.” At 11, she began attending a full day of acting classes on Saturdays. “I remember the first time that I drank out of an imaginary coffee cup,” she says, closing her eyes. “That’s the very first thing they teach you. I can feel the rain, too, when it’s not raining.” Her lids pop open. “I don’t know if this is too much for your magazine, but I can actually mentally give myself an orgasm.” She hisses a little, like one of the deviant vampires in True Blood. “You know, sense memory is quite powerful.”

“Andy Warhol’s books became her bible,” says a friend. “She would highlight them with a pen.”

By eighth grade, she had also realized that acting was a way to meet boys and began auditioning for plays with Sacred Heart’s brother school, Regis High School, on 84th Street, near Park Avenue. She always landed the lead: Adelaide in Guys and Dolls, Philia in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Jealous older girls stuck in the chorus began calling her “the Germ.” “They always talked behind her back, like, ‘Gross, she’s the Germ! She’s dirty!’ ” says a classmate. Gaga has often mentioned that she was an outcast in high school, but other than adolescent shenanigans like these, her friends from this Pudding-like crowd do not share this recollection. “She was always popular,” says Julia Lindenthal, Marymount ’04. “I don’t remember her experiencing any social problems or awkwardness.”

At the time, she had a certain incipient Gaganess: She could be a little overdramatic, spoiled, brassy, but she was also a nice girl (not to say a good girl), recalled by many as kind and generous—a theater chick who was starting to express her own feelings through songwriting. A fan of Pink Floyd and the Beatles, she started a classic-rock cover band and began entering open-mike nights at the Songwriters Hall of Fame on the Upper West Side. She even cut a demo of her love ballads, and her parents gave out copies as favors at her large Sweet 16 party, at the Columbus Club. “Everyone was playing her demo, like, ‘Whoa, she’s going to be a star,’ ” says Justin Rodriguez, Regis ’03. “She was by far the most talented person in high school, but she’d do so many random acts of kindness, like saying, ‘Your singing has gotten so much better, you’re working hard and I’ve noticed.’ She wasn’t a diva at all.”

Like many private-school girls, by 15, Gaga had a fake Delaware I.D. purchased on Macdougal Street. She also started dating a 26-year-old Greek waiter from the restaurant. “That’s part of why I needed a job after school, too,” she says. “My dad wouldn’t give me money to go out on the weekends because he knew I was going downtown and being bad.” Soon, she had her first tattoo: a G clef on her lower back. (“Before I made my first big music video, I decided to turn that tattoo into a huge side piece,” she says. “I just couldn’t face the world with a tramp stamp.”) She was still a good girl at school, even if she got in trouble with the teachers once in a while: not for short kilts but inappropriate shirts. “I was fifteen to twenty pounds heavier than I am now,” says Gaga. “I would wear shirts that were low-cut, and the teachers would tell me I couldn’t wear them, and I’d point to another girl who was wearing the same thing. ‘Well, it looks different on her.’ It wasn’t fair.” She shimmies her shoulders a bit. “At that time, my breasts were much bigger, and firm, and delicious.” (Another high-school nickname: Big Boobs McGee.)


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