On a recent morning, Lady Gaga, the 23-year-old synth-pop musician, is making radio-station rounds to promote her Top 10 album The Fame in Los Angeles. Such on-air occasions are usually a time for an artist to reveal herself as personable and friendly, but Gaga doesn’t let anyone get close, with her eyes hidden behind dark wraparound sunglasses and her five-foot frame encased in a sharp-shouldered lilac suit with matching zippered gloves. “The biggest misconception about me is that I am not a real person,” she says before her radio spot, in a robotic, faux-English monotone. “The assumption is that my eccentricity is not who I really am, but it is.” She leans in, to clarify things. “I have lost my mind,” she says.
Mystery is part of the performance for Gaga, whose post-camp persona is a riff on disco-diva glam and a recession-age, downmarket, satirist-wannabe Britney Spears, and who is channeling no less than Madonna, patron saint of glitter, media manipulation, and Britspeak. Like the Divine Miss M, the Lady was also once a nice Catholic girl: In real life, she is Stefani Germanotta, who grew up in the West Seventies, an area that she refers to archly as “Manhattan’s theater and opera district.” (The name Gaga is a tribute to Queen’s “Radio Ga Ga,” bestowed by her music producer, who goes by Dada.) In 2004, she graduated from the Convent of the Sacred Heart, a private girls school near the Guggenheim with a dress code of kilt skirts. “We were good girls, but we weren’t nerdy like the girls at Chapin,” she says. “We were the girls that guys still wanted to date junior year of high school, because we hadn’t had sex or given blow jobs yet.” Things are different for her now, as a bisexual adult who idolizes transvestite fashion. (A tabloid recently quoted Christina Aguilera dissing her—“I don’t know if it is a man or a woman”; Gaga ate it up.) “I love sex,” she says, tipping her sunglasses down a bit and leering. “You know, sense memory is a powerful thing. I can give myself an orgasm just by thinking about it.”
At 19, Gaga dropped out of Tisch, told her parents she didn’t need their money, and moved to Clinton Street to “become an artist,” waitressing at the Cornelia Street Café, go-go dancing at burlesque bars like the Slipper Room, and performing at clubs like the Knitting Factory in a seventies-style revue with glitter-rock D.J. Lady Starlight—all while snorting her fair share of cocaine. “I wasn’t a lazy drug addict,” she says. “I would make demo tapes and send them around; then I would jump on my bike and pretend to be Lady Gaga’s manager. I’d make $300 at work and spend it all on Xeroxes to make posters.” Wrapped up in nostalgia, she drops the English accent. “Lady Starlight and I would spin vinyl in my apartment, sewing our bikinis for the show and listening to David Bowie and the New York Dolls.” She laughs. “We thought, ‘What could we do to make everybody so jealous?’ We did it, and everybody was so jealous. And they still are.” But fame has its price, and resettling from the Lower East Side to Los Angeles, as she did last year, is one of them. “What am I supposed to do, canoodle with celebrities at a nightclub, with a lemon-drop Midori in my hand? It’s not the same as being in a bar that smells like urine with all your really smart New York friends.”
Around noon, Lady Gaga’s manager, a large man in a pink sweater—“you know you’re a kindred spirit when you both arrive in pastels,” she says—shepherds her into a recording studio at KIIS-FM, where 50 lucky callers are waiting for her to descend. She delicately unzips her lilac gloves, then pounds ferociously on her keyboard for an acoustic, bluesy version of her song “Poker Face,” which recently hit number three on the Billboard singles chart (“When it’s love, if it’s not rough it isn’t fun”). The hair-gelled crowd goes wild, cameraphones raised high in the air. Then Jojo, the station’s spastic, redheaded D.J., attacks with a speed-round of questions. Strangest thing she’s ever signed? “A dick, at a gay club.” Is she ever going to record an album with Paris Hilton? “Never.” Least-favorite food? “I’m a pop singer. I don’t like food at all.” Favorite book? “I read Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet every day.” Favorite Sidekick or other type of technology? “Ugh,” she says. “I’m not answering that.”
“You can say ‘pass’ if you don’t want to answer,” Jojo says. “You can go pfffft.”
“Oh, no,” says Gaga, beginning to zip up her gloves. “I’m a lady. I don’t make noises like that.”