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Growing Up Gaga

Now, Gaga thought of herself not only as a superstar—she channeled Andy himself. She adopted his round black glasses and his wigs and spouted his wisdom. “It’s as if I’ve been shouting at everyone, and now I’m whispering and everybody’s leaning in to hear me,” she says. “I’ve had to shout for so long because I was only given five minutes, but now I’ve got fifteen. Andy said you only needed fifteen minutes.” She even started her own Factory, or the “Haus of Gaga,” as she likes to call her entourage. There’s Åkerlund; Gibson; her manager, Troy Carter; and the core team of stylist Nicola Formichetti and her primary collaborator Matt Williams, an art-school graduate whom she calls “Dada” (they have dated on and off during the past couple years). In May 2009, after she released “Paparazzi,” a seven-minute video—thrown off the top of her mansion by her boyfriend, she’s reborn as the robot from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis—she became the haute-fashion world’s pet. “Gaga had some archival pieces from Thierry Mugler, but after ‘Paparazzi,’ everything changed,” says a former member of the Haus. “It happened in the blink of an eye. Suddenly, every fashion designer in the world was e-mailing her images.”

Like Warhol at the Factory, when Gaga likes someone, he works; when she’s done with him creatively, the door is closed. When Fusari sued her for $30 million in mid-March, over recording and merchandise fees, she immediately responded through her lawyers, saying that he acted as an unlicensed employment agent in his introduction to Herbert. “I developed an artist to grow with that artist,” says Fusari, his voice pained. She’s changed her cell number, and most of her old friends can’t reach her anymore. “You know, she used to send texts out in New York inviting everyone on the Lower East Side to her shows, and not too many people would come,” says Sullivan. “And after the vocal coach, dieting, exercising, and all the rest, now everyone wants to go. She has gotten annoyed by that: ‘Why didn’t they come before?’ ” He pauses. “You know, once she blew up, and everyone wanted a piece of her, we stopped calling her Gaga. We started calling her Stef again.”

This summer, Gaga will come to the United States with her arena tour, one of the only pop stars who can fill a venue that large today. She spent a lot to get here—her tour has been losing about $3 million, according to music-industry sources, because she refuses to compromise on any aspect of the stage show. “I spent my entire publishing advance on my first tour,” she told me. “I’ve had grand pianos that are more expensive than, like, a year’s worth of rent.” But profits are on their way soon. “Gaga’s camp knows the exact date this summer that she will turn it around and get way into the black,” says a source. With her 360 deal, Lady Gaga doesn’t own as much of Lady Gaga as one would think. Essentially, this is a joint venture among Iovine, Universal Music CEO Doug Morris, and Sony/ATV publishing head Marty Bandier. It’s a good formula for the business: Hot looks and hot singles are the new monster albums.

These days, Gaga doesn’t talk about Warhol much anymore—she’s fully inhabiting the role she created. “She wants to be crazy, to make statements, make art, channel the past, experiment with performance art, try everything,” says David LaChapelle, a collaborator and friend. “In Paris, she took four hours out of four days to visit museums. That’s just not done by a pop star at the beginning of a career—not when you’re in the bubble, when it’s all about you.” She’s still overly dramatic—talking about monsters, or archly trying to presage her fall by covering herself in blood and hanging from a noose at the VMAs. “I feel that if I can show my demise artistically to the public, I can somehow cure my own legend,” she explained recently. She turns down most interview requests, uninterested in combating misperceptions about her work. “Andy said that the critics were right,” she says, with a shrug.

It’s an unlikely rise, and an unlikely name, and a totally unreal image. But what’s reality? “I believe that everyone can do what I’m doing,” says Gaga, spreading her arms wide. “Everyone can access the parts of themselves that are great. I’m just a girl from New York City who decided to do this, after all. Rule the world! What’s life worth living if you don’t rule it?”

Additional reporting by Jillian Goodman.