Lady Gaga is a living legend. Only a little over a decade since the release of her 2008 debut album, The Fame, Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta has cemented her place among the best of the best — not only in music, but entertainment itself.
Critical acclaim, a legion of fans, and a slew of awards (including tough Grammy and Oscar victories toward an eventual EGOT) are just the shallow end of Gaga’s dominion. Her versatility, her creativity, her skill, and her work ethic all make her a standout from her contemporaries — far more than any of her much-publicized outfits.
More than anything, though, Gaga is an artist who’s not afraid to fail, and any past failures have only made her stronger. Looking back, they’ve become an extension of her idiosyncrasies, the likes of which she’s shared to the world from day one. And that transparency that has helped foster one of the most ardent fanbases in pop culture.
Chromatica, her highly anticipated sixth studio album, is only an extension of this legend (and certainly one of her catchiest chapters yet). In celebration of its release, two of Consequence’s biggest Little Monsters — Emmy Potter and Carrie Wittmer — evaluate Gaga’s titanic rise, from her outrageous fashion to her burgeoning film career.
When did you first hear about Lady Gaga?
Emmy: It feels like she just appeared out of nowhere or maybe outer space. All of a sudden, she was just everywhere. Carrie, you and I were in college at the same time — different schools — and I don’t know about you, but I just remember sometime in our sophomore or junior year, it felt like you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing Lady Gaga.
The soundtrack for every party I went to was Ke$ha (when she still had the dollar sign and “Tik Tok” was a song and not an app for the teens), Katy Perry, and Lady Gaga. Now, I went to school for musical theatre, so most of my friends were LGBTQ artists and played better music at parties, but still it’s hard to overstate Lady Gaga’s impact when she arrived.
She felt monumental. Weird, wild, and monumental. I didn’t know what to think at first and then I just loved her.
Carrie: I remember the first time I heard Lady Gaga, because I was, of course, an avid watcher of The Hills, and would download every song I heard on the show off Limewire. It embarrasses me to admit that when Lady Gaga suddenly became popular because of “Just Dance”, I went out of my way to brag that I discovered her on The Hills. I don’t remember what she sang on The Hills, but I will never forget her outfit. The first Gaga song I remember hearing is “Just Dance”, for sure.
Emmy: This is so consistent with your personality. The only way it could be more perfect is if she’d been around during The O.C.
Carrie: Well … I watched Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County because I watched The O.C., and I watched The Hills because of Laguna Beach. Full circle.
Do you have a favorite Gaga persona/outfit?
Carrie: My favorite Gaga persona is absolutely her entire “Bad Romance”/The Fame Monster persona. It’s glam, but dangerous, which is the vibe I was going for at the time, and the vibe I am absolutely going for to this day. I want to be alluring, but I also want people to be scared of me. And this whole mood is what got me into her.
I love all of the outfits in the “Bad Romance” video. I was obsessed with those Alexander McQueen heels. But my favorite outfit Lady Gaga has ever worn is the Ally Maine “Shallow” outfit: the band tee tied in a knot, the pinstripe navy pants, the chain belt. I love it so much because it’s exactly what I wear.
Emmy: Didn’t you almost buy those pants?
Carrie: Yes, but they cost $400. I’m not on a pop star salary over here. Instead, I bought a pair of navy pinstripe trousers for $40 from ASOS. I wore them yesterday; they are secretly comfortable, in a way the $400 pair definitely wasn’t. But do I regret not buying them? Absolutely. I should have done it,
Emmy: For me, the Meat Dress is obviously memorable, but I still really love the whole Kermit the Frog ensemble because it combined so many of my favorite things: Muppets, pop stars, awkward talk show interviews!
But I, too, am just such a forever fan of the “Bad Romance” era because she had this edgy, mysterious performance artist thing going on. The Scorpio in me felt so seen.
More recently, I loved that Elizabethan-style dress she wore to the UK premiere of A Star is Born. Classic, show-stopping Gaga, but more subdued. Well, as subdued as you can be in a stiff, ruffled collar in 2018.
Carrie: Although I do, of course, love Gaga for wearing a meat dress and a red lace crown that completely covers her face, she’s most memorable and special to me when she’s a little more accessible and wearing wearable stuff. But those more accessible looks wouldn’t work so well for me if she never wore those meat dresses and kermits.
Emmy: Completely agree. She’s not only a versatile performer, but she can wear anything! She’s fearless. The contrast between all these sides of herself is part of what I think makes her so interesting.
Let’s talk Joanne…
Emmy: Best album for sure and certainly her most personal in a lot of ways, though I don’t like the notion that a female artist has to make a certain kind of music to be taken seriously or deemed more “authentic.” I think because pop music is fun and accessible (and its main target demo is young women and teen girls), it’s still not taken seriously as a legitimate form of personal expression the way sad boy rock is or pure confessional singer-songwriter fare.
What I like about Joanne is that Gaga combines all of those things and does it her own way. There’s still music you can dance to, but the focus is on her voice above everything else. The production is very stripped down in terms of instrumentation, which matches the tone of the album. I really love it. The whole album feels and sounds like it came straight from her heart.
Carrie: I’m delighted that we both agree that Joanne is Lady Gaga’s best album. Because it is! I hope Lady Gaga didn’t feel like she had to make a more “serious” album to be taken seriously after the disaster that was ARTPOP, but I think she did. But the album is so good that I am, in a way, grateful for ARTPOP being such a failure because it got her to where she needed to go personally and creatively.
I’ve already said this about Gaga, but I think her music is at its best when she’s the most exposed personally. Even songs on The Fame and The Fame Monster, because she was so new, feel more personal than songs on Born This Way and ARTPOP, despite the fact she was hiding her face behind excessive makeup and hiding her body behind outrageous garments.
Joanne is the first time Lady Gaga combined exposing her mind and her face, really. It’s the most normal she’s ever been and that’s why it works so well. She’s not hiding anything anymore. And doing Joanne is why the songs from A Star is Born feel so personal, too.
Emmy: You’re right. A lot of her songs for A Star is Born feel like an extension of the Joanne era, which makes sense, because they’re both Lady Gaga at her most bare. No hiding behind personas. This is as close to Stefani Germanotta as we’ve gotten so far in Gaga’s career.
And speaking of A Star Is Born…
Emmy: Carrie, was there a greater film trailer moment in history than the one where she just sings “AAAAHHH AAAAAHHHHH AAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH” from the bridge of “Shallow” into a mic? I think not! Even now, I get goosebumps.
Carrie: No. Not even Robert Pattinson talking about how big a plane is in the Tenet trailer is better than this, and you know how much that moment means to me specifically, considering my husband Robert Pattinson is heating up pasta covered in tin foil in the microwave in my kitchen as we write this. A lot of people criticized A Star Is Born because the narrative gradually deviates from Ally’s perspective. While this criticism is certainly true, I interpreted it so differently. In Bradley Cooper’s version of this story, Ally’s internal story and her relationship with Jackson is told in the songs. If you really pay attention to the lyrics and to Ally’s performances in the films, you know exactly what she’s going through. The music is her story, because that’s how that character expresses herself.
Emmy: A Star is Born struggles narratively where it always has, which is that the film doesn’t quite know what to do after the Ally character becomes famous. It’s true of every film iteration of the story, but I do think this version is not just the best of all the versions but the most successful at its climax and denouement. So much obvious love and care went into making it. Bradley Cooper gave the performance of his career alongside Lady Gaga, and I’m still kind of upset he didn’t win Best Actor for it. They really brought out the best in each other onscreen. Her work was so real and truthful and grounded. And who the hell knew B Coops (that is what I call him because I feel like we are best friends in my head since I’ve been a fan of his since his Alias days) could sing like that?! Wowowow. Have I listened to him singing “Digging My Grave” and “Maybe It’s Time” on repeat and lost my whole mind over it and had sexy thoughts? Maybe.
Carrie: It’s extremely important to note that Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga bonded over pasta. Also, I never get any texts saying “Carrie are you okay?” whenever I’m listening to “I’ll Never Love Again — Film Version” on repeat on Spotify. I know people can see it!
Emmy: I, for one, am always concerned when I see you listening to it on Spotify, but I respect your privacy, because I know you must be going through something even if it’s just sadness that Bradley Cooper cut his Jackson Maine hair. Also all bonding should be done over plates full of hot carbs, I agree. I’m honestly shocked no one has asked me why I am almost exclusively listening to Ally’s supposedly “trashy” pop songs like “Hair Body Face” and “Why Did You Do That” on repeat these days in quarantine. “Why do you look so good in those jeans?” The trick, Lady Gaga, is that I am not wearing jeans in quarantine!!! Okay, but quick question: do we think her single “The Cure” was actually a cut track from A Star is Born? Because I do!
Carrie: “The Cure” was absolutely supposed to be an Ally song. I assume it was cut because the song is so good that there’d be too much audience bias toward Jackson when he turns on her pop music. “I’ll fix you with my love” is also a little too on-the-nose given the context of Ally and Jackson’s relationship. Sad it was cut from the soundtrack, but it makes sense that it was.
Emmy: I’ll say it: A Star is Born 2018 will be remembered as one of the greatest movie soundtracks of all-time. Also anytime B Coops wants to go on tour (and it’s safe for us to go to concerts again), I will shell out more money than I’d be willing to admit in print to see him play and sing his Jackson tracks live onstage alongside Gaga.
Favorite album? Song? What accomplishment will come to represent Gaga as an artist years from now?
Carrie: Lady Gaga’s best album is Joanne, but my favorite album is The Fame Monster. Every time I listen to it, there is not one song I skip. It reminds me of a time when I was the most carefree, and when I was really becoming the person I am now. Lady Gaga’s spunky, stylish, but terrifying vibe for this album is exactly what I was going for at the time and I think I’ve perfected it.
My favorite song is “Alejandro”. I spent so many hours in college riding around Savannah, Georgia in my friend’s Jetta blasting Alejandro while we ate fried chicken from Publix. Every time I hear “Alejandro”, I can smell the humid sulfuric air, and I can taste the fried chicken.
I’m also a sucker for “Telephone”, and I can’t help but move my limbs in a disturbing way when I hear “Judas” (remember how she was going to drop the “controversial” video for that on Easter?). Then again, it would be irresponsible for me to ignore A Star Is Born here. It’s obviously a movie soundtrack and not a Lady Gaga album, but it contains some of her best work regardless.
Emmy: The Fame Monster is my nostalgic favorite as far as her albums go. You’re right. There is not one song on that sucker I want to skip. It’s just banger after banger of club-ready dance pop, and it reminds me of a lot of nights I barely remember from college. Haha. I’m really partial to the underrated “So Happy I Could Die” on that album.
But my favorite of all her songs is “Edge of Glory”, I think. Not only is it insanely catchy, and a great song for karaoke nights (much like “You and I”, which I also deeply love for this reason), but I think it’s so representative of what she does best: sick vocals, dance beats, dramatic videos, and pure exhilaration.
Whenever I hear it (and that 80s-sounding sax), I just want to dance ‘til I collapse on the floor.
Carrie: Lady Gaga cannot be defined by one thing. Years from now, she’ll be remembered most for her versatility and her intimate knowledge of music and songwriting. She can sing about taking a ride on a “disco stick.” She can sing every song from The Sound of Music. She can do a jazz album with Tony freaking Bennett. That’s more iconic than a meat dress.
Emmy: 1000% agree. She’s a true entertainer. She can do everything! She’s our generation’s version of a Streisand or a Cher (yet another icon who loves a good wig and outrageous outfit) — someone who is able to cross-genres and mediums and do it exceptionally well. She pours her heart and soul into everything she does. Looking back, I think she and Beyoncé probably have the two strongest work ethics of any live performer today and certainly of our generation.
What does Lady Gaga mean to you?
Carrie: Lady Gaga is the first and only pop star I’ve ever felt emotionally connected to. In the ’90s, I loved the Spice Girls. I loved Britney and Christina. And Mandy Moore, for obvious reasons. But I didn’t love those artists because I saw myself in them. For the most part, I loved them because everyone else did. Lady Gaga’s ability to separate her real self from her work while still being a little bit vulnerable allowed me to realize I could do the same.
Artists don’t have to fully show themselves in everything they do, but it’s important that they show something. Lady Gaga is weird, and right off the bat, she allowed herself to be free with who she is mentally, physically, and sexually. All of which allowed me to do a little bit of the same. When I was younger and the most into her, I wish I was a lot more like her than I was. And I wish I was little more like her now. It’s cheesy but it’s true: her versatility throughout the years also opened me up to being more versatile in my writing.
Also, she can sing anything.
Emmy: It’s her versatility that I think means so much to me. She’s never let people put her in a box, and she’s never put herself into one either. I remember seeing videos of her when she was just an NYU student with long dark hair at a piano, and I felt like I knew that girl. But she’s transformed herself so much in just 10-12 years and because we’re close in age (she’s 34 and I’m 31), I feel like I’ve also grown alongside her and transformed too.
She made me feel okay about being weird and spooky and cheeky and not having a singing voice that sounded like other people at my school. I could actually sing her pop because we had similar kinds of voices! At that time in my life, I felt really boxed in by school and musical theatre, and it felt like Gaga gave me permission to be myself and accept my own voice. Watching her go down different creative paths over the years has been a joy, because it’s also encouraged me to do the same in my own way! Lol baby we were born this way!
Carrie: Yes, Lady Gaga made me accept that I’m weird, that I have desires and dreams. Another thing I cannot forget to mention is that her songs prepared me for how shitty men are (“that boy is a monster,” etc). In hindsight, the ARTPOP era is the most boxed in she’s ever been — even compared to A Star is Born, when she’s writing from the perspective of a character — which is why I didn’t like it and no one else really did, either. But it makes sense that it happened when it did: I would have been burnt out creatively, too, to be honest.
Emmy: Then she went in a totally different direction and made a jazz album with a living legend, and it was brilliant. She intuitively seems to sense when she needs to free herself and reinvent herself again. I think that’s what you and I love so much about her. She goes her own way.