Lady Gaga: "My career is an answer to all the times I've been bullied" by Luciano Ferraro. Translation by LadyGagaNow Team
Trigger Warnings: Sexual Assault & Self-Harm. Please be mindful of these warnings as you read the following article.
"My career is an answer to all the bullying I've received. My life is hard work, respect, and love for my Italian family". Lady Gaga left the meat dress, the fire gun bra, the fake blood, and all the provocations she brought on stage for the last 12 years as queen of pop. And she goes back as "the catholic girl that knows how things work". That's how she describes herself. Her voice arrives from a warm morning in Los Angeles. She answers just in time for our phone appointment. A small group of agents, press workers, and stylists are listening. Among them, the Frenchs from Dom Pérignon, the champagne brand which Lady Gaga is sponsoring. Lady Gaga greets us in Italian. "Just a few questions", her staff say. But she answered (almost) everything.
Violence in School
Since the day she told the story of her sexual assault from 16 years ago to Oprah Winfrey, Gaga keeps showing us the other side of herself. The one of a rich, but tormented woman, worshipped but also suffering, who had to fight every day to find a good balance between her depression and her therapies, which consists of medical drugs, meditation, and physiotherapy. The old traumas that weakened her are back again. She doesn't hide anymore, Stefani Angelina Germanotta. She finds her safe space with her family, originally coming from Naso, near Messina (Sicily). The first trauma was bullying. The violence started in junior high. "Some girls used to take me and throw me into the trash bins. They used to say that it's where I belonged because I was trash” she answered to The Guardian. Her friends laughed, instead of defending her. She couldn't move, she felt "petrified, embarrassed, mortified and useless".
Her Traumas at 14
Her mother Cynthia resumed her daughter's teenage years in 3 words: "Mortified, laughed, and alone". She was 14 when they threw her in the trashcan. At that age she lost the joy of living, "from a happy girl she turned into a person full of doubts, unable to understand her value", recalls Cynthia Germanotta. The two became even closer since then, and now they're both ONU ambassadors for mental health awareness, and they created the "Born This Way Foundation", which helps young people fight mental health issues. Now that she has more than 49 million followers on Instagram, Lady Gaga has moved forward from the infamous post of one of her classmates on Facebook with just 12 likes "You'll never become famous". Now the first woman in history to win an Oscar, a Grammy, a BAFTA, and a Golden Globe in the same year, needs to go back to those memories, perhaps because it's the only way to fight her dark side and win the match.
How does Lady Gaga manage to heal the scars left from the school bullies?
"When you're bullied, especially when you're young", says the pop star with a calm but still voice, as if she's resuming the plot of a book she just read, “you go through very hard times. To me, in particular, left with a goal: prove that those who bullied me were wrong. And in some way, my career has been an answer to that social reject I felt." She spent her teenage years through bullies and violence, and it gave her away to freedom.
"Unfortunately it's not the same for everyone", Lady Gaga continues. "I deeply respect those who, even when bullied when they were young, managed to not feel overwhelmed. Today we live in times dominated by social media, and everything is different for the new generations. With the "Born This Way Foundation" we're working to change these dynamics. We want to celebrate the world for its diversity, whether it's culture or genres. This duty makes my life worthy."
Her latest album is titled Chromatica. The sixth studio album by Lady Gaga, climbed all the charts in the main markets worldwide. Among the sixteen tracks, we find features with Ariana Grande and Elton John. Lady Gaga launched Chromatica in Italy with an Interview with singer Tiziano Ferro, broadcasted by RTL 102.5. The album was born during a time where the singer was suffering from deep depression. At the home studio once owned by Frank Zappa, producer BloodPop pushed her to work during her moments of solitude. She locked herself up upstairs. "C'mon get down, let's write a song, let's make music". BloodPop begged. When she felt better, Lady Gaga came out of her room, sat at the piano, and played some chords, ready to record with the microphone open, "the first ideas are always the best". In the end, this album is therapeutic. The main theme is "dancing through your pain, and sing until the pain goes away". She explained to Ferro.
"I didn't acknowledge the therapeutic effect, then I understood how there is a still part of me that wants to dance and be joyful even when I touch the rock bottom. I'm so grateful for what I have. I have a relationship with God, maybe it's just energy, a sex-less entity, that pushes me to wonder how my stories can help others dance through the pain". The downfall from depression take the form of a piano, she tells at CBS's Sunday Morning: "I hate being famous. I hate being a star. I felt exhausted and used. One morning I saw the piano and I thought how it ruined my life, turning me into my worst enemy, Lady Gaga. Now when I watch that piano I feel that I love it, it makes me express myself and create poetry".
One of the songs in Chromatica, 1000 Doves, talks about the help you need when you're struggling with mental health issues. Lady Gaga narrates the lyrics. "I need you to listen, closely, please believe me. I'm completely lonely, please, don't judge me. When your tears are falling, I'll catch them as they fall. I need you to listen closely, please don't leave me. I know I'm not perfect, but I'll keep trying. When your tears are falling, I'll catch them as they fall". She takes a small breath. "this song is about kindness". She explained.
Family and the Indian psychic
Kindness is a word much used by Lady Gaga. She even uses it when she recalls with us her meeting with Amma, an Indian psychic who gifts hugs and explained to her the formula to heal: "Time, commitment and divine grace". A meeting that made her understand the "importance of kindness, to land a hand to who's suffering". When we asked her to tell us about her childhood, she replies that she has always been like this. "When I was younger" she recalls, "I was a dreamer, extrovert, music lover, and I used to love helping others, I was extremely curious. And I hope that this innate curiosity, will stay with me for the rest of my life". All thanks to the education that she received from her parents. "My family" she affirms "taught me the values of my ancestors, who arrived here from Italy: hard work, respect, and love for your own family". A very "Italian" bond with her parents and all her close relatives.
Just like any girl living with the Italian traditions, Lady Gaga loves to cook, and she keeps the memory of the smell of tomato sauce, meatballs, and sausages, every Sunday at 14 after Church, with all seated at the table. Kindness and family are the main thread of our interview via Zoom that connects Los Angeles with Milan. Even when we ask about the biggest joy of her life, she doesn't answer "selling 15 million copies with her first disc, or singing and win an Oscar. She answers: "My happiest memory? The day my sister Natali was born! I love her and I'm so happy to have her. It really changed my life and my way of thinking. For me and for my whole family".
When we move the topic towards the way Lady Gaga's songs are made, and where she takes her creativity and freedom, Lady Gaga becomes a neo-romantic.
"Creativity for me", she explains "comes from humanity, from nature, and the way men and nature interact with each other. The artist always tries to translate the joy, beauty, and greatness of nature itself. And sometimes we create art full of pain. For me, creative freedom is not something we have from the day we are born, but something that we can all achieve. In my life, creative freedom was the main source to narrate my essence, my truth. I think that no artist managed to create something as beautiful as nature itself. Us artists, try to do our best".
Very often her name was mentioned with Madonna, for their explosive start and the music quality. But what are the women (and men) who really inspired Lady Gaga?
"It might sound like a statement", she explains, "but I love to be inspired by everyone! I think that each one of us has something to offer and that everyone has something to learn, even from the bad sides. In my work, like in my life, it's the people who I respect to offer me inspiration with their example, but I can also learn from nature. I don't exclude anyone as my source of inspiration: each person I've met allowed me to learn and learn. And this is what pushes me as an artist to grow".
Maureen Callahan, a famous musical journalist who dedicated to the singer a very controversial biography, listed a couple of terms that have been thrown at Lady Gaga: "Weird, Drag queen, hermaphrodite, a gay man trapped into a women's body, hardcore, grotesque, trash". And then she wrote "She's someone who screams on stage "I'm a free bitch", but if you take the stage outfits, she's just dark and insecure.". This portrait could be dated back to 2010 when the book came out. Now, she's 35, and Lady Gaga is a woman who wants to turn her traumas into her pride flags and use them to strengthen her humanitarian side through her foundation. Gaga keeps unveiling herself showing us her scars through her memories, just like she did with Oprah Winfrey, revealing the story about the time when she was sexual assaulted at the age of 19 and got left outside her parent’s house while she was sick and vomiting as a result. Tragically, the assault had left her pregnant. The abuser is a producer who threatened her if she did not comply, telling her she would not have a career. The violence caused her to develop post-traumatic stress disorder. She never managed to treat her trauma because so soon after, she became infamous. Since she was not processing the trauma in therapy, she began to cope with self-harm. In addition to the PTSD, she was later also diagnosed with fibromyalgia. “I started feeling an intense pain in my whole body. Like the one I felt when I got raped. Four years ago I learned that it was somehow the ghost of that day that kept hurting, now I’m fighting it with a therapist that helps me during my crisis.”
Pain and the acknowledgment of the fragility
This journey to self-discovery, acknowledging her fragility, pushed her to fight for human rights, such as writing songs about loving yourself, making her an LGBTQ+ icon all over the world. Now the only question remains: “how should the world change in terms of human rights?”
”When we talk about human rights”, explains Lady Gaga “we need to use a critical eye to observe the system that surrounds us. Which hasn’t been built perfectly. So we have to organize a movement and dismantle it.” A call to do something and fight for our rights. “I think that all humanity”, she explains “needs to follow this approach, but first of all we have to look inside of us to make grow and mature what we feel it’s right for us. Love, understand, and accept ourselves is the first step to reach the goal.” The Dom Pérignon campaign is dedicated to this goal.
How's the Born This Way Foundation involved?
"As you already know, family is very important to me", reminds us Lady Gaga. "I wanted to know the Dom Pérignon family before our decision to collaborate. What hit me the most was the passion, the art, and the creativity behind each Dom Pérignon. Even after many years from the foundation of the Maison by a benedictine monk Dom Pierre Pérignon, the elevated art behind this Champagne remains the same. Once I saw the art and the charm of this Maison, I understood that we could connect it with my "Born This Way Foundation" because we share the same dream of generosity, and so we decided to collaborate". The director of the campaign is Nick Knight, the photographer who made the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles for the 90th birthday of the sovereign. "When I spoke about a possible collaboration with him, I received such a lovely answer that I learned how amazing the Dom Pérignon team was, they were enthusiastic and daring. Being daring means to be one step ahead from the others."
One last question: how do you define love?
Lady Gaga stops for one second, then she smiles and says goodbye in Italian "ciao ciao Luciano". It's not the right time to talk about love or her love affairs. And she goes away followed by her managers and press officers.