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Fri, May 07, 2010
The Straits Times
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Gaga sleeps with... glamour
by Sumiko Tan

Lady Gaga does not wear clothes. She wears costumes. Her appearance is meant to shock, and she succeeds.

When you finally get to interview her after an hour's delay - because 'Lady Gaga wants to have lunch', you are told - you try not to look too surprised.

She is sitting on a cream sofa in her well-lit suite at the Grand Hyatt looking like Catwoman meets Goth meets Virgin Bride meets Suburban Housewife.

A white, sequinned, lace bodysuit encases her whole body. On her feet are frightening 8-inch-high black leather booties with no heels. A nude-coloured veil covers her face down to her chest.

Her hair - bleached an egg-yolk yellow, or is it a wig? - is teased into a beehive do. A hundred black and white bobby pins are artfully plastered at the front of her head to achieve an old-fashioned swimming cap effect.

She looks weird.

'Hello,' she drawls and stands up. You worry that she might topple on her boots-with-no-heels.

She is very petite. Some websites put her at just 1.55m tall. She has a tiny waist and flat stomach but her bottom and thighs are shapely.

She dutifully shakes hands with everyone. There are four of us, journalists from Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and China, and she remarks: 'It's funny how all of you introduce yourself by your country.'

She sits down, crosses her legs daintily and raises her head expectantly. It is at least her third interview for the day and she has a few more to go.

It is funny interviewing someone whose face is shrouded by a veil. You try to catch her eye in between the mesh of netting but cannot quite make contact.

She is in Japan as part of her Monster Ball Tour and also for charity.

Together with 1980s singer Cyndi Lauper, she is the latest spokesman for MAC Cosmetic's Viva Glam campaign to help Aids sufferers. All proceeds from lipsticks endorsed by the two women go to a fund to help those with the disease. The Lady Gaga lipstick is a blue-pink shade.

At just 24, she is one of the world's biggest pop stars and has sold more than 10 million albums and 35 million singles.

Her debut album in 2008, The Fame, reached No. 1 in a slew of countries, and its dance-electro pop songs such as Just Dance and Poker Face topped charts everywhere.

Her second studio album last year, The Fame Monster, brought her more hits such as Bad Romance and Telephone, the latter with Beyonce.

Her voice is strong, her songs (mostly self-penned) are catchy and likeable but edgy enough to give her street cred. The lyrics of Bad Romance go 'I want your ugly/I want your disease/I want your everything as long as it's free.'

She has won myriad awards including two Grammys and three Brit Awards. Her sexy, sometimes controversial videos on the Internet have hit one billion views.

She is on Time Magazine's latest list of the world's 100 most influential people and was chosen for the cover together with Chelsea footballer Didier Drogba and former American president Bill Clinton.

She looks almost ordinary in the photo with tai-tai blonde locks and a blue Armani Prive pant- suit, until you notice the fireshooting pyrotechnic bra and chastity belt thing she has on.

In a profile of her in Time written - coincidentally - by her Viva Glam colleague Lauper, the 56-year-old singer gushes about how 'Lady Gaga's art captures the period we're in right now... Most of the stuff on the radio is not very clever, but Gaga presents her ideas in a sophisticated manner. She has an incredible pop sensibility'.

Lauper, once famous herself for her kooky image, adds: 'She only has two albums out, but already she is inspiring other artists to go further in their own work... She isn't a pop act, she is a performance artist. She herself is the art.'

The 'art' bit is arguable but there is no doubting how Lady Gaga makes headlines for what she wears.

Some of her looks are derivative - the virginal bride veil and cone bras hark back to Madonna and there are clear influences from fashion eccentrics such as Isabella Blow, Anna Piaggi and Grace Jones. One senses too that she does not wear her outlandish get-ups with much sense of irony or even fun. She seems to take it all so seriously.

Clearly, image is something she cares about because when you ask her what makeup means to her, she gets animated.

She suddenly brushes her veil aside (phew!) and we get to see her face properly. She has a lot of make-up on, is not sweetie-pie pretty but has nice features in a long and narrow face; she looks like a blonde Amy Winehouse.

'Free,' she exclaims in reply. 'Free. Be yourself.'

She continues in a voice that is low and drawling: 'It took me a long time to be brave enough to be what I wanted to always be.

Got attitude and look

'It was through makeup and through courage and bravery over the years that I grew into my fashion skin. People say, 'What do you wear when you sleep?' I wear my glamour when I sleep. It's part of my life.'

In fact, she says this is the reason she finds Japan 'amazing'.

'It's wonderful, so wonderful, and I always leave so happy because my Japanese fans, they really understand me,' she says of her soulmates in this land of Cosplay dressers.

'The way I dress every day, the way my live show is, it's like normal for them - they just love what I do. No judgment, no questions, no why.

'This sense of the pop star in Japan is very different from the rest of the world. In America and in the UK now, I'm very fortunate to have many Gaga fans, but in the beginning it was 'Why is she so eccentric? Why is she dressed like this?' I guess the mystery in Japan is not as great. They just love it.'

You ask if she has something as ordinary as, gulp, jeans in her wardrobe.

Sure, she says, shooting back that they are 'skinny, black jeans'. 'I wear all sorts of things. It's just who I am.'

Lady Gaga is, of course, not her given name. She was born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta in New York City to what she has described as a 'good Italian New York family'.

She was something of a musical prodigy. She learnt how to play the piano by ear when she was four and wrote her first piano ballad at 13. She attended a private Catholic school in Manhattan and gained early admission to the Tisch School of the Arts when she was 17.

She quit to become a singer and began performing in the Lower East Side, doing drugs for a while too. Her website notes how she 'made her way in the music industry the old-fashioned/grassroots way by paying her dues with seedy club gigs and self-promotion'.

It adds: 'This is one rising pop star who hasn't been plucked from a model casting call, born into a famous family, won a reality TV singing contest, or emerged from a teen cable TV sitcom.'

She signed with Streamline Records and worked as a songwriter for fellow label artists. She captured the attention of singer Akon, who signed her to his own label. In March last year, she headlined the Fame Ball Tour.

The name Lady Gaga is in honour of Radio Gaga, the Queen hit. She cites the late Queen singer Freddie Mercury, Lauper, David Bowie, Michael Jackson, Blondie and Madonna as musical inspirations.

In the last two years, she has gone on a multimedia blitz with concerts, interviews, an elaborate website and Tweets to her fans.

Her ever-changing look has assured her media coverage. She cites Donatella Versace as her fashion muse and has her own creative production team that does many of her clothes, props and hairdos.

'It's not just about the music,' she once said. 'It's about the performance, the attitude, the look; it's everything.'

She told Barbara Walters that 'I do like women' although she has never been in love with a woman and has boyfriends. She has a big gay following too.

That is clear at a 20-minute concert she gives later that night at the Tabloid nightclub as part of the Viva Glam event.

The gig attracts fans who queue in the rain to get in. A contingent of Tokyo's transvestites arrives in a white stretch limousine. Among them are heavily made-up men who are topless and wearing boxer shorts (as in shorts that boxers wear), boxing headgear and tottering on stilettos and carrying Hermes Birkin bags.

Lady Gaga takes forever to appear and when she finally does, is led through the crowd onto the stage in a bizarre Japanese wedding-style procession.

She is wearing the white catsuit but is covered in a different veil. She goes onto a white rotating stage, plays on a white piano and does a haunting version of Speechless. Alejandro follows and she is twirled around by hunky semi-naked male dancers whose bodies are streaked with what looks like chalk or talcum powder. She finishes off with Bad Romance.

It is a performance that channels geisha, kabuki, Harajuku Cosplay and Shinto temple cultures - her tribute to the Land of the Rising Sun, no doubt.

At our interview earlier, she vows that she will 'keep coming and going' to Asia. She has been to Singapore - 'I love Singapore', she declares - twice for two small concerts.

We ask how she manages to do so much and she drawls: 'There're five of me.'

Her minder says our time is up. There is a queue waiting to talk to her.

We stand to go and she gets up too. There is a bit of awkwardness because we are wondering if we should shake her hand again and she is maybe thinking that too. We decide not to.

She says 'thank you' and gives us a little Japanese-inspired bow.

You walk past her hulking bodyguard sitting outside her door and wonder what else this 24-year-old is going to achieve. Where will she be when she's 34, 44, 54? Will she fall into oblivion like so many superstars before her, or be even more famous, if that is possible?

This much is clear: She has got talent, she works hard, she is polite, she is very serious about her craft and she is ambitious. Her calendar is packed with worldwide tours to the end of the year. Another album is in the works.

Lady Gaga is going to be around for some time yet.

This article was first published in The Straits Times.

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