Back in 2008, when Lady Gaga mania began, it often felt like you couldn’t avoid her. There were the hit records, of course — Poker Face, Telephone and Bad Romance to name just three. But in the space of a few years there were also the meat dresses, the Grammy performances in giant eggs and an almost regular stream of controversy. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the popstar, born Stefani Germanotta, was constantly thrusting herself into the public eye — but the reality, she says, was quite different.
“I hid in my house,” she explains matter-of-factly when I meet her before the opening night of the iTunes festival at the Roundhouse in north London. “I hid a lot ... to preserve my image as a superstar to my fans. I don’t mean I am a superstar, I mean that they only ever see me at my best. And it really drove me crazy. So I’ve really had to make more of an effort to go out more. I mean, can you imagine what it’s like not to feel real wind? Honestly, I hadn’t felt real wind for years!”
Gaga prides herself on putting her fans first, and in this instance it seems she didn’t want her fans to ever see her as a normal human being. “I would be indoors all day and then I’d get in a car in a garage and then drive to another garage and get out and rehearse and then do it again, from country to country, and never walk outside. I remember some of the longest walks I had were from the car to the aeroplane on the tarmac.”
During this performance Gaga will perform the title track from her forthcoming album ARTPOP and utter a line that sums up everything her fans love about her and her critics detest: “My art-pop could mean anything,” she coos over a lilting electronic throb. To her detractors — of which there seem to be a growing number — she’s the perfect example of the dichotomy of the globe-straddling megastar spouting empty signifiers with the meaning crowbarred in afterwards. To her hardcore fans (or “Little Monsters”), she’s not only the greatest pop star on the planet, but a sort of cult leader whose mantra of self-love, implemented on her last album Born This Way, acts as their Bible.
Perhaps aware of her Marmite appeal, today Gaga is immediately on the charm offensive, giving me a kiss on arrival and complementing me on my shoes (at one point she bends down to stroke the material). Her PR and manager, both lurking near the door, are instructed to sit down and “stay quiet.” Shuffled back on an armchair so that her giant heels swing off the ground, she has the mannerisms of a well-behaved toddler. But there’s also an ever-present strain of determination that underlines everything she says. You sense she’s aware that while 2011’s Born This Way album sold 6 million copies worldwide, many saw it as a the end of her imperial phase, with the album’s last single Marry the Night becoming her first to miss the US top 10. With only one single released so far — the 80s electropop of Applause — there’s a palpable feeling that the ARTPOP campaign is already stalling, with the single yet to reach the top three in either America or the UK.
A few weeks ago, Gaga tweeted a Michael Jackson quote that read: “The bigger the star, the bigger the target.” Does she feel persecuted? “Yeah, for sure I do,” she replies without hesitation, her skintight jumpsuit parping with her every movement. “Yes! I certainly feel that at this time it’s almost as if people are surprised they haven’t already destroyed me.”