Lady Gaga Rubs her Feet Together
Put aside for a moment that she often appears in public with no pants on, or that she performs part of her show covered in blood, or that she screams like Sam Kinison onstage, or that she says the F-word with metronomic consistency. In person, she is unfailingly polite and surprisingly dignified.
She speaks in the clipped, proper diction that is often mistaken for a Madonna-like pretension but is in fact born of twelve years of attending Convent of the Sacred Heart, the oldest private girls’ school in Manhattan, where Gloria Vanderbilt matriculated, an institution known for turning out self-possessed young ladies who speak perfect French and have the vocabularies of William F. Buckley, Jr. Indeed, what surprises me most during the time I spend embedded with the pop star—inside the giant plastic bubble, so to speak—while she is on tour in London and Paris at the end of December is how effortlessly she switches back and forth between “lady” and “gaga.”
It is a few hours before the start of the Monster Ball, the last of five sold-out shows at London’s O2 arena, and I am sitting in an empty lounge backstage, waiting for Gaga to arrive. The room—the contents of which travel with the tour (28 trucks and fourteen buses; 140 people) from city to city—is outfitted like a VIP area in a nightclub: low black leather sectionals, silver floor lamps, a stocked bar, a huge stereo system, and little black cocktail tables set with bowls of miniature candy bars. She is an hour late.
Suddenly the curtains part and Lady Gaga makes her entrance, mincing into the room holding a porcelain teacup and saucer in one hand and a wineglass for me in the other. (Like fainting on command or dropping a glove, the long-lost art of making an entrance, which Gaga seems to have single-handedly revived, is a remarkably effective way to shift the conversation.) “I don’t like the idea of you having to drink wine out of a plastic cup,” she says as she makes her way toward me, one tiny step at a time.
She proffers her powdered cheeks for a kiss-kiss as a bottle of Sancerre is opened, which she insists on serving to me herself. “Pouring your own wine is bad luck,” she says.
She is still in her day look: a slinky black-and-white striped dress—a gown, really—with a four-foot train and shoes that—do I even need mention?—make her feet look as if they are screwed on backward. The heels bring her nearly up to my height of six feet.
She has a Bride of Frankenstein updo, with a brooch perched on top. Gaga glances down at the bowl of candy on the coffee table in front of us, shoots me a look over the top of her granny glasses, and deadpans, “What, the Mars bars aren’t doing it for you?” I have eaten three of them, I tell her, and she apologizes profusely for making me wait. She then asks an assistant to bring us a proper spread, which arrives moments later and consists of enough filet mignon to feed twelve people.
Lady Gaga may be behaving as if she were a member of Marie Antoinette’s coterie—the powdered wig, the binding costume, the impeccable courtliness—but it’s a far cry from what I witnessed the night before. After catching her performance, I was ushered backstage to her dressing room and found a scene that seemed entirely unhinged. Gaga herself looked like a lunatic: Barefoot, still covered in fake blood, mascara running down her face, she was careening around the room in a robe made of red feathers like a cross between Alice Cooper and Big Bird.
There were dancers running in and out, mixing and spilling drinks, and a peanut gallery of strangely bedazzled gay men sitting on the sofas singing “Adelaide’s Lament,” from Guys and Dolls, which Gaga joined in on when she wasn’t bouncing off the walls.
Gaga stumbled up to me to say hello and then introduced me to the guy she was hanging all over: a tall, boyishly cute heavy metal–looking dude with a mullet, wearing a sleeveless black leather vest. “This is Luc,” she said proudly. “He’s my boyfriend.” He looked down at her for a moment, and a knowing grin crossed his face. “OK, Bette Midler,” he said.
Moments later I was ushered out of the room by Wendi Morris, Gaga’s road manager—in an effort, it seemed to me, to protect Gaga from herself. As I was walking through the curtains I looked back, and Gaga was in Luc’s lap. “Jonathan, wait,” she whined like a teenage girl in need of attention. “Don’t you want to stay and ask me some questions?” Obvious to everyone but herself: not the time for an interview.
What a difference a day makes. Back in the arena not 24 hours later, she is serene, sober, and sipping tea out of her fancy cup. What did you do today? I ask, and the answer is probably not what her millions of adoring fans would expect. “I stayed in bed all day,” she says. “I do this very strange thing with my foot when I am feeling lonely. I rub my left foot with the right foot. Is that weird?”
No, I tell her. It’s called self-soothing. A lot of people do it.
“OK, then. So I soothed all day.” She pauses for a moment. “In this hair. Because I actually wore this hairpiece out last night and then I fell asleep in it.”
And then you just got up and went about your day?
“Well, no,” she says, batting her eyelashes. “She had to be fluffed up first.”
Gaga can be forgiven for being wiped out. She has been on tour for three years without a real break, and on the road with the Monster Ball since February 2009. “Let’s call a spade a spade here,” she says. “I am really fucking tired. I am at that last mile of the marathon when your fingers and your toes are numb and you can’t feel your body, and I am just going on adrenaline. But in the overarching objective of my life, I am really only at mile two. I try to keep that in mind.”
If you have not seen Lady Gaga live, you do not know from Lady Gaga. In an arena, her music, which has often been dismissed as run-of-the-mill Euro-pop—somehow not edgy or deep enough—takes flight. It is as if each song were written for the express purpose of being belted—roared—in front of 20,000 people on an extravagant stage set with ten dancers taking up the rear.
She manages to go from insane, over-the-top rock opera to syncopated dance routine to intimate, boozy piano ballad and then back again, through thirteen costume changes, without ever losing her total command of the stage. The fact that she has a huge voice, plays the piano and the stand-up bass, and wrote every lyric and melody herself adds to the sense that you are in the presence of a true artist who has only just begun to show what she’s made of.
Of course she’s comfortable onstage. She has been playing the piano since she was four and by eleven was performing in big recitals. As she puts it, “I was a strange, loud little kid who could sit at the piano and kill a Beethoven piece.” Still showing no false modesty, Lady Gaga says of herself now, “Speaking purely from a musical standpoint, I think I am a great performer. I am a talented entertainer.
I consider myself to have one of the greatest voices in the industry. I consider myself to be one of the greatest songwriters. I wouldn’t say that I am one of the greatest dancers, but I am really quite good at what I do.” Big words from someone who’s only been around for three years. “I think it’s OK to be confident in yourself,” she says.
Her fans couldn’t agree more. They hang on her every word, scream when she screams, and dance throughout the entire two-hour-long extravaganza. At one show, I stood in the wings and watched as at least a dozen women were pulled out of the crush in front of the barricades and taken away on stretchers because they were overcome and near collapse.