Lady Gaga: The Power of Talent
Lady Gaga’s versatility was once only thought of across genres of music, as she bounced between octaves in creating chart-topping soundscapes on both sides of the Atlantic.
The fact she is now capturing that same variation on the big screen – consider the profound differences in playing Lady Gucci (Patrizia Reggiani) in House of Gucci, versus the reticent, uncertain Ally Maine in A Star is Born, opposite Bradley Cooper – makes the performer’s swaying between creative modes almost flawless, as Global Woman discovers.
It is an ability to adapt makes Lady Gaga – real name Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta – another perfect case study in the ascent of ‘celebrity’. There was a time when an actress was just that… an actress. When someone may have had the talent to cross over into another field – music, politics, fashion – convention told them ‘no’.
The fact that, in the modern era, our sportspeople are our designers, are our activists, are our authors, and whatever else, is somewhat problematic. Firstly, it gives added weight, credence, exposure and kudos to those who don’t deserve it; and secondly, it taints the impact of those who genuinely are ubiquitously brilliant at whatever specialism they lay claim to… and that’s where Lady Gaga comes back in.
From the moment Gaga first leapt on the scene in 2008 as this confident, confrontational star whose brand of self-importance was, for once, endearing, and with an energy that roused both sexes, there was a bruising confidence that accompanied every move.
Perhaps the messaging from her early hits Just Dance, Poker Face and Paparazzi pushed the narrative that the breakthrough star was a tour de force and someone not to be messed with. And maybe Gaga found that image easy to reinforce through the succession of chart hits, which then were accompanied by diversions into modelling, philanthropy, LGBT rights and a push for youth empowerment (notably through her Born This Way Foundation).
Yet the clever thing about the New York-born icon, is that just when we felt we knew everything there was to know, she deconstructed our entire understanding when taking on the role of Ally Maine. “I think to truly discover yourself, you have to move outside of yourself,” she begins. “As an artist, as a creative, as a person, there is no worse place than your comfort zone. I am always of the mind that if I find myself there, I need to get out of it as quickly as I can. The longer I stay in the same place, mentally, the longer it takes me to pull away from it, and that’s something I have discovered more and more, as my career has progressed.”
Perhaps that explains her decision to revert somewhere a little closer to type in Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci, in which Gaga plays Patrizia Reggiani.
The highly-anticipated biopic details the incredible twists and turns in the business and personal relationships of Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver), Paolo Gucci (Jared Leto) – whose body transformation is worth the cinema entrance fee alone – and Aldo Gucci (Al Pacino), amidst a backdrop of glamour, excess, arrogance and anger, which in many places is as sickly as it is stylish. It’s a red-hot biopic that has to be handled impeccably, and is.
“This project that resonated with me on so many different levels, and it’s the kind of movie where you know it has the potential to become something really elegant and special,” she says.
“The reality is, probably only one in 10 of these projects end up coming out in the way you imagine. There will be a handful that simply fail, another few that work in places but overall leave you feeling a bit cheated. However, once in a while you will get something that matches up to the promise, and when I saw the rest of the cast, I just knew it was going to be one of those occasions.”
Filming had been long delayed because of Covid, and even when it began in earnest in February 2021, the crew had to substitute Italian fashion finesse with a bevy of health and safety rules and regulations.
“Making movies is never as it looks like on screen – it’s a really false environment; very disjointed, very unglamorous. However, the Covid situation made it all the more that way. At least usually on set you can relax back into yourself and have interactions as would a normal person. This time, we couldn’t even do that – it was very strange, but we got through it.”
For someone who has devoted so much of her time to the mechanics and the madness of the catwalk, it might be supposed House of Gucci represents something of a Busman’s holiday for the performer. The invitation to immerse herself in a perfectly designed role – she beat Scarlett Johansson to the tape – puts her right back in the mode and the mindset so familiar to her as a recording artist… glitz, grace and guile.
Gaga, though, is not without criticism. While she has proved herself to be as adept in drama as she is music, the Gucci family were less than impressed with the portrayal, even though Patrizia, now 73, initially labelled Gaga a “genius”. By March 2021 though, she had become “annoyed” that Gaga had not contacted her to meet and claimed that “it is not an economic question. I won’t get a cent from the film. It is a question of good sense and respect.”
A joint statement by the Guccis added, “Our family has an identity, privacy. We can talk about everything, but there is a borderline that cannot be crossed.”
Gaga insisted the decision not to meet the central character was out of fear of her sullying or interfering with an interpretation that director Ridley Scott wanted to keep pure. That is said to have frustrated the original Lady Gucci, and the wider family, though for the actress, integrity without interference once again comes to the fore – in this case, it is in drama, though previously the same modus operandum has been played out with music, with the singer/songwriter retaining an almost inconceivable level of control over the creation, curation and promotion of her work.
“I see so many people in so many industries have the individuality and spark beaten out of them, and I don’t want to be that way. I don’t want any part of it. To retain who we are is to focus on what comes from the creative heart and soul. It’s the only way.”
Such intellectual poise and precision plays a major part in this being arguably the best period of Gaga’s career. Both personally and professionally she has progressed, excelled, and taken an already potent powder keg forward into an explosive 2021.
That’s not to say there aren’t occasional chinks in the armoury, however. The artist underwent a period of deep personal reflection that saw her open up about the “horrific things” she experienced while working her way up in the music business. Revelations of sexual abuse made her appearance at the Oscars in 2016 all the more poignant when she delivered the most dramatic moment of perhaps any awards show. Little did she foresee the storm that was to follow in a movie world she was only just stepping foot into.
Yet Gaga is never one to dwell, neither on regrets and negative experiences from the past, nor, in the same breath, on her successes. “Moving forward means compartmentalising every experience,” she says. “For all the plaudits and awards” – and that’s 29 Grammy nominations and 12 wins at the last count – “I always feel I have something to prove. I always feel there is another task waiting ahead for me.”
As for what inspires her to keep moving forward, the notion of love is certainly something that has emerged and risen to the fore across recent projects. It’s in stark contrast to the party-themed approach that patterned her early work, and certainly echoes the mood of a maturing soul.
“Love is now always a determining emotion in anything I do,” she says. “I would agree that it’s something I’m relying on more than ever, and perhaps that’s because I’ve found it and I can truly experience it for what it is.”
Her reference to partner Michael Polanski is touching. The couple got together in 2020, and the investor and CEO appears to offer balance and sense for the singer, from a career that often lacks escapism.
“I think for a while I was deceived by what I thought was love – I think we can all fall into that trap from time to time. You have to look at things very hard and not be taken in by false appearances and images, and things people do to present a version of themselves which may not be real. It’s not easy. Love can be such an overpowering emotion that it can prevent us from seeing that a relationship is not real. It’s a struggle to get past the illusions sometimes.”
While her words echo the experiences of someone who has fallen foul of emotion in the past, she offers an interesting diversion into fallibility that previously we would never have been exposed to. “In all my songs I try to be honest and open, but much of the inspiration these days comes in me wanting each song to say something in it about myself. Each song has a personal connection.
“I’m not saying that in a showy or boastful way – I just think we should all express ourselves, for ourselves. Fame can actually be a very lonely place and that was something I found very confusing in the past. It’s not something anyone can prepare you, for but it’s very real. You are surrounded by press and paparazzi yet still feel desperately alone. I’ve accepted this is my life, and when I did that, I actually found myself welcoming in people and opportunities rather than hiding away and refusing them.”
As for the future, the year 2022 offers the chance for her delayed Chromatica Ball tour to finally realise its potential. Another collaboration with crooner Tony Bennett has recently moved the singer back to familiar easy-listening territory, and there are all the usual engagements across fashion and philanthropy that make Gaga such an important cultural symbol.
“In everything, it’s about being you. It’s about being unique and inventing your own ‘you’. Don’t follow the crowd, looking like your favourite celebrity or even looking like the girls who you are friends with. Feel the way that you feel and be the person that you want to be. And it’s not getting things right first time, either, because no-one ever can. Have fun and enjoy creating that new you.”