Lady Gaga's Next Act
Lady Gaga is fully aware that our topsy-turvy world could use a bit of sonic relief — and if she’s being totally honest, she could too. Case in point: A few days after the release of "Stupid Love," the first single off her new album, Chromatica, every other news story was about the coronavirus crisis. But a clip of a somber press conference in Italy went viral when an attendee’s ringtone set to the song accidentally went off and produced a few much-needed laughs. Gaga retweeted the link with the comment, "And this is why I make music."
For true-blue Gaga fans Chromatica is worth the wait. The album was originally set to be released on April 10, but when the novel coronavirus became a pandemic, the star put those plans on hold to focus on an even bigger mission: partnering with the international advocacy organization Global Citizen to raise $35 million (and counting) for the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund. She also curated a lineup of her fellow musicians for a two-hour special, One World: Together at Home, which will be broadcast on all major television stations on April 18.
As of now, Gaga still intends to follow through with her plans to support the album with a six-city tour, The Chromatica Ball, kicking off at the end of July. Should the concerts come to pass, plan to wear your dancing shoes. Whereas her previous release, Joanne, was a folk-tinged album for dive bars, Chromatica is a return to Gaga in her purest pop form. At a preview listening, the swell of the first few notes was an instant stress reliever, as if long-lost tracks from the "Paparazzi" era had just been found, polished up, and newly released. It’s her original sound with a grown-up twist. She’s even brought along a few of her famous friends for guest spots. Co-produced by 29-year-old whiz BloodPop®, who has previously worked with Grimes, Justin Bieber, Madonna, and Britney Spears, Chromatica speaks to the prismatic range of experiences that have informed Gaga’s life.
"I feel very grateful for what I've been a part of and what I've been invited to be a part of," Gaga says. "All these artistic experiences made me who I am today. It's like when people get married and say, 'Through thick and thin.' That's how I feel about myself. I feel like, 'You know what, Gaga? You know what, Stefani? In sickness and in health, I'm with you, and I'm going to hold your hand whatever the outcome.'"
When she was a child, Gaga says, she probably would have copped to wanting to become a singer, but little Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta from New York City couldn't have predicted the extent of her impact: that she would become a living legend in her late 20s with five studio albums all reaching No. 1 on the Billboard charts with songs that would be streamed 32 billion times. Nor did she probably imagine that she'd win 11 Grammys and make history as the first person to take home two Grammys, a Golden Globe, a BAFTA, and an Academy Award in the same year (in 2019 for "Shallow," the main track from A Star Is Born; she also earned a best-actress Oscar nomination for her starring role in the film). Or that by the end of 2019, she would have launched her own beauty company, Haus Laboratories, and broken ticket-sale records in Las Vegas with her residency at the Park MGM Resort.
The 34-year-old Gaga seems to be at the top of her game leading into Chromatica's release, but getting to this place has been a thorny process. She has been to hell and back and has lived to tell the tale through her music. Stratospheric fame is overwhelming enough, but for years Gaga was suffering from PTSD from having been raped when she was 19. As she told Oprah Winfrey in January during her 2020 Vision tour in front of hundreds of people, a "psychotic breakdown" forced her to address what had happened to her. Gaga, who has always been upfront about her mental-health issues, said the psychological anguish led to intense, chronic physical pain that was eventually diagnosed as fibromyalgia. Her current treatment cycle of medication, meditation, radical-acceptance therapy, and self-care is helping her to feel the best she has in years.
"I think it took me some time to grieve about the things that have happened to me, and I couldn't be angry with myself for how long it took," she says, admitting that her glittery façade was often just that. "I've been depressed and been at the grocery store and seen photos of myself and gone, 'Well, I look like everything is good.' But I was secretly freaking out, and the world had no idea. Or some people in the world. I hate using that phrase 'the world.' It's so egocentric to assume the whole world thinks about or knows about me. It doesn't."
What does someone who has experienced so much really want out of life? "Marriage," says the star (who, according to her Instagram feed, is currently dating tech entrepreneur Michael Polansky). "More music, more movies, more charity with the Born This Way Foundation [a nonprofit dedicated to empowering youth and supporting mental health and wellness]. I want to do way more philanthropy. I want to help fund more research about fibromyalgia and neuropathic and chronic pain by putting a team of doctors together. I have a lot of dreams and hopes. What I will actually accomplish, I have no idea, but I know that I'll be doing it with the people I love."
Perhaps most important for the woman who calls herself Mother Monster is starting her own brood. "I will say I am very excited to have kids," Gaga admits. "I look forward to being a mom. Isn't it incredible what we can do? We can hold a human inside and grow it. Then it comes out, and it's our job to keep it alive. It's so funny — everyone works out of my house every day. When they come in, I always say, 'Welcome to the Womb!'"
Politics are also on her mind, although Gaga, who famously campaigned for Hillary Clinton in 2016, hasn't publicly gotten behind a candidate yet. (Our interview takes place a few days before former Vice President Joe Biden wins the South Carolina primary.) "I want to make an informed decision as a citizen on who to vote for in the election, but I do not obsess over figures who do not deserve to be obsessed over," she says. "I'm not going to hang my hat for humanity on one individual. It's also on us to run this country. Putting so much importance on the government as the overarching, all-knowing force that runs our lives — I just don't believe that to be true. I believe that we have the power to decide what the culture of this country looks like. We have the power to decide how we deal with one another socially. And we don't need to place too much power in anyone's hands. That said, I'm watching what happens. I think we all know who I will not be voting for."
Gaga knows the power of her sway, which can be both a blessing and a curse. She admits to having a love-hate relationship with social media. "I post some things from my personal life, I post some things from my business life, I post some things from my musical life," she says. "But I will say that I'm not super-obsessed with reading comments or counting likes or making sure everybody loves everything. Honestly, sometimes I wonder if the people who invented social media all got in a room and went, 'Let's start something where nobody has to be brave and everybody can hide and be mean.' It's not all bad, but a significant change has happened in culture as a result of it. This idea to socially network was supposed to bring us closer, but it built a bunch of walls and made it harder for us to be ourselves around each other."
Every so often she'll log on and tweet random things like the letter "f" or "I don't remember Artpop" (her third album). What gives? "I'm trying to crack the code that is the algorithm of the Internet, and I will do so in various ways," she says. "You may not always understand why an 'f' tweet gets that many likes. Who knows why? It was just a social experiment. I'm trying to understand people."
Given all the cultural and political dissonance, it's no coincidence that in the video for "Stupid Love," colorbased "Hauses" are — metaphor alert! — fighting through their differences. Gaga came up with the concept and revealed it to director Daniel Askill in a voice note. Her return to form included reuniting with her longtime friend and stylist Nicola Formichetti, who is responsible for some of the more resplendent looks of her early career (ahem, meat dress!). Formichetti moved from New York to L.A. to be a mere five minutes down the road from the Womb.
"The idea of these groups continues throughout the album cycle," he says, citing Gaga's "punk-rock core." He's also digging into the archives to unearth some familiar pieces and make them anew: "I want to bring back the sex and the edginess of her with materials like latex and leather and spikes and studs and mix them with couture."
So, yes, she may be looking and feeling her best, but Gaga hopes that Chromatica helps others heal too. "I made this music, and then I listened back to all of it, and it told the story of my life like a tapestry," she says. "I'm very proud of it because while it's fun and celebratory, if you listen to those lyrics, you really will know my heart. It's like the music is giving you permission to go on. Even if you've had the worst day ever, it's OK to dance."
Photographed by Nathaniel Goldberg. Creative direction by Nicoloa Formichetti. Styled by Sandra Amador and Tom Eerebout. Hair by Frederic Aspiras for The Only Agency. Makeup by Sarah Tanno for Forward Artists. Manicure by Miho Okawara. Production by Kelsey Stevens Productions.
For more stories like this, pick up the May issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download April 17.