Billboard recently named Lady Gaga Woman of the Year (while at the same time polarizing critics — as they surely predicted — by naming Lana Del Rey “Trailblazer of the Year”). Yesterday, they featured an immense discussion with Gaga on the state of her career — now that she’s changed it up with her well-received starring role on Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story: Hotel, and following highly successful tours with Tony Bennett — and how she’s transformed in the past year.
2015 was a fascinating year for Gaga — especially insomuch as up until her turn as The Countess in AHS, she seemed to expressly be resisting the ways she’d theretofore been expected to fascinate. The flop of 2013’s Artpop saw the artist reaching a strained extreme in overstating her alignment with commercialized and/or widely disliked stars of the art world (for instance, “One second I’m a Koons/ Then suddenly the Koons is me,” or the Terry Richardson/Gaga/R. Kelly “Do What You Want” video that never was). It was pretty pretentious, pretty silly, and not that pleasant a listen, but was also just that: a pretty bad album by an artist who’d begun with such momentum that the media — and the industry — had a field day using the slip-up to dismiss her as a “fallen star.”
Instead of diving deeper into overwrought imagery declaring herself a bridge (which of course already existed) between “high art” and pop, Gaga toned it down, seemingly connecting with herself as a performer more than a mediatized symbol, and using her friendships with veteran musicians as guidance in a climate where the media enjoyed questioning her every move. She said in the Billboard feature (which you can read here in full), “this is the year I did what I wanted instead of trying to keep up with what I thought everyone else wanted from me.”
This year, with her Sound of Music performance at the Oscars and her Cheek to Cheek tour with Tony Bennett, she decidedly visited a form of expression that veered (but wasn’t completely separate) from her earlier, ornate grotesquerie: musical theater nerdom. She told Billboard:
I love being the annoying girl. I was a theater kid. I was in jazz band. I went to the Renaissance Faire. I was that girl who got made fun of, that nerdy girl. I believe in that girl. I believe in the integrity, intelligence and power of people like her, and I want to ignite it.
She also spoke of the expectation of consistency in the personas of pop stars, implying that at one point she felt like a “fashionable robot.” She asks, “Is talent ever the thing?” and mentions that she thinks both Bruno Mars and Adele have managed to avoid the aforementioned trap, and get by purely on their talent.
She directly addressed how the “the whole industry turned their back on [her] during Artpop,” and said it was Elton John and Tony Bennett who told her, “Hey, this is a blip. It’s going to go away.’” But she also emphasized how this treatment — a discourse of sudden, early obsolescence of stars — is quite gendered. She said:
My birthday is in March, so these are the last moments of my 20s. I already mourned that in a way, and now I’m really excited about showing girls, and even men, what it can mean to be a woman in her 30s. Why is it that we’re disposing of people once they pass that mark? It’s suddenly, ‘You’re an old woman.’ I’m not f—ing old. I’m more sexual and powerful and intelligent and on my shit than I’ve ever been.