Words Hannah May-Lee Wong
Lady Gaga has a reputation. She’s eccentric, enigmatic and perhaps excessively bold; you’ll never know what to expect from her. A chameleon in her personal style and music, she stuns us with her face-covering head pieces and surprises us with her male alter-ego, Jo Calderone. And we haven’t even talked about her meat dress. Much like her influences Madonna, David Bowie and Michael Jackson, her artistry is a blend of music and visuals, which explains her myriad red carpet styles. Music-wise, she is just as diverse, dabbling in techno pop, jazz and lately, country.
Her first album in 2008, a dance odyssey titled The Fame, was an instant hit, winning multiple Grammy Awards and launching her into (ironically) fame — the singer became a household name and has not slowed down since. Recently, her style and music has mellowed as she opens up more about her family and health struggles. Gaga in the past has spoken about suffering PTSD but in 2017, she had to cancel part of her tour due to fibromyalgia. Touching base with her fans about her family history, her latest album Joanne is named after her father’s late sister. She even collaborated with her loved ones in creating a family cookbook. Having said all this, we’ve only scratched the surface of what this busy woman has been up to (she’s got a few more surprises up her sleeve).
When Lady was A Girl
Lady Gaga was born Stefani Joanne Angeline Germanotta in 1986 to parents Cynthia Louise and Joseph Germanotta. Raised in the upper west side of Manhattan, she learnt to play the piano from as early as four years of age. In a 2012 interview with Oprah Winfrey, she recalls asking for a grand piano for her 13th birthday. Her wish was granted after learning to master a difficult Beethoven piece in order to prove her seriousness in music to her parents. By her early teens, her parents were accompanying her to open mic sessions in clubs – going all out to support young Gaga in chasing her dreams. But underlying the fearless persona on stage, Gaga says she wasn’t all that popular in school, even recalling being thrown into a trashcan – an event which inspired her to initiate the Born This Way Foundation, a cause supporting bravery and kindness among youths.
She shares that starting the Born This Way Foundation came naturally to her, being someone who struggles with insecurity and mental health. She says in an interview on Oprah’s Next Chapter, “No matter all the fame and fortune, the praise that you receive, something inside of you is always scarred by those experiences. I work every day to become a more confident human being… when you experience the feeling of being picked up and thrown into the trash in public, something like that can really stay with you for life, and it really stayed with me.”
Born This Way Foundation
It started as a song. Lady Gaga released her third studio album Born This Way in 2011, which included the hit single of the same name. The song topped charts all over the world, staying put for weeks. At the launch of the foundation held at Harvard University, Lady Gaga explains, “The song (Born This Way) came about as a dialogue that existed between myself and my fans. After I wrote the song and put the album out, the conversation ignited even further… I was sent messages, emails, letters saying ‘I want to help, I want to be brave. I want there to be more tolerance in the universe, more acceptance.’ What I realized more than anything was that I’d never want this dialogue to end. And I thought, how can I keep this conversation going and how can I do the research and become an expert of this field so that I can genuinely have an impact on empowering young people?” Thus, the Born This Way Foundation was created in 2012. Gaga has also said that the foundation is not an anti-bullying campaign but a movement in promoting environments for youths that are safe and tolerant, filled with kindness and love.
The foundation, co-founded with Gaga’s mother, supports research in partnership with various organisations and hosts evidence-based programmes in youth communities. It also provides resources for those suffering mental health issues.
Battle with PTSD
In 2016, the singer took part in the #sharekindness campaign. Through the initiative, she took the opportunity to raise awareness and talk about a mental health issue she had been personally dealing with – PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). She paid a visit to a centre for the homeless, bearing gifts and the message of hope. She tells NBC’s Today show: “These kids are not just homeless or in need, many of them are trauma survivors. They’ve been rejected in some way. My own trauma in my life has helped me understand the trauma of others.”
Lady Gaga has shared that she was raped when she was 19. The experience has scarred her but also inspired her to write the Oscar-nominated song, Til it Happens to You. She has found that the reinforcement of positive thoughts and meditation helped her go through the dark times in her life. To those going through the same, she shared that they are not alone and they are loved. “The kindness that has been shown to me by doctors as well as family and my friends… it’s really saved my life.”
After keeping her silence on the matter for a period of time, Lady Gaga revealed in her Netflix original documentary (released late last year) that she had been dealing with a chronic and painful medical condition. The documentary, named Gaga: five foot two, follows the singer in preparing for a Super Bowl halftime show, making her upcoming album and coping with her health condition. Although it was not mentioned in the documentary what the illness was, she took to Twitter to say “…the chronic illness I deal with is fibromyalgia. I wish to help raise awareness and connect people who have it.”
Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder where its main symptom is widespread musculoskeletal pain. Those affected by the disease may also experience fatigue, increased sensitivity to pain, difficulty sleeping, headaches and trouble with memory. The cause of fibromyalgia remains unknown; thus it is a disorder that is difficult to explain and its victims are often misunderstood.
In September 2017, news broke that the European leg of Lady Gaga’s Joanne world tour would be cancelled. In a heartfelt apology to her fans, she posted on her Instagram, “I use the word suffer not only because trauma and chronic pain have changed my life, but because they are keeping me from living a normal life. They are also keeping me from what I love the most in the world: performing for my fans. I am looking forward to touring again soon, but I have to be with my doctors right now.” Gaga has reported that she is receiving medical treatment and hopes to get back to performing for years and years to come.
More Music and Making Movies
The singer’s most recent album, Joanne, released in 2016 was dedicated to her aunt Joanne on her paternal side. Joanne died of the autoimmune disease, lupus, at the age of 19 in 1974. Gaga’s middle name is named after her. On the album, Lady Gaga said on her Instagram, “I wrote Joanne to help understand my physical and emotional pain through my family’s history… to heal me and find the strength to power through everything, with the determination I learned from my Italian immigrant family.” The album’s lead singles, Joanne and Million Reasons, take a more toned-down acoustic, vocally rich performance. With heartfelt lyrics and a simple melody, the album is indicative of self-discovery, reflection, an outpouring of emotion to her fans and perhaps a reset of what we have come to expect from her as an artist.
Branching out from singing, we can expect to see Lady Gaga star in her first romantic film alongside Bradley Cooper later this year. The film, A Star Is Born, is also Bradley Cooper’s debut as a producer and director. A remake of the 1937 film of the same name, it follows successful country singer Jackson Maine who meets Ally, a singer struggling to get into the industry. They fall in love, but as Ally’s career begins to take off, their relationship takes a toll. Lady Gaga will be singing in the movie, but so will Bradley. Catch Lady Gaga in her movie debut in cinemas this October.
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