In only 15 months, pop sensation Lady Gaga has become the hottest performer in music right now. She's sold 8 million records, earned six Grammy nominations and became the first artist in history to have four number one hits on a debut album. But before the costumes and chart-toppers, there was New Yorker Stefanie Joanna Angelina Germanotta.
Stefanie studied classical piano beginning when she was just 4 years old. By the time she reached high school, she was writing her own songs and eventually started performing in local night clubs. Only a few years later, she said goodbye to Stefanie and Lady Gaga was born.
These days, Lady Gaga says she prefers to be addressed as just Gaga. "It feels weird when people call me Lady," she says. "It's so formal."
The superstar says her moniker was inspired by "Radio Gaga," the song by Queen. "It was just a nickname that my friends had for me in New York and my producer, and it kind of stuck with me," she says. "It was nice having a space for myself where I could feel safe and not feel like such a freak all the time."
There's one person who took a little while to adjust to Lady Gaga's new persona: her father. When he first saw his daughter perform, Lady Gaga says she was wearing a leopard G-string and an Indian headdress at a night club called Lady Starlight. "He just thought I was completely nuts. He didn't get it," she says. "I don't know if I really got it. I just know I really wanted to do it and believed it in it. I think it was the nature of doing these sort of shock art pop cultural commentary pieces."
Lady Gaga says she still can't believe how her life has evolved. "I really feel so blessed, and every day I can't believe the amazing fans I have," she says. "I'm so lucky."
During her rise to fame, Lady Gaga became known for her outrageous outfits, but she says they're all designed to make a statement. At the MTV Video Music Awards, she wore a red lace one-piece that covered her face, with a crown-like hat. "That's an Alexander McQueen, and I added the hat to it," she says. "It was meant to be a continuation of the VMA performance. So after the princess had been murdered by the paparazzi, the red lace was meant to symbolize sort of my eternal martyrdom."
Another headline-making costume was made entirely of Kermit the Frog puppets. "I don't like to wear fur, so it was my way of making a comment about fur because it looks like a bunch of dead Muppets," she says.
Lady Gaga says the inspiration for her outfits comes naturally. "I put a lot of time and effort into everything I do, to the point that I do nothing else," she says. "I work creatively all day."
Lady Gaga says a typical day is spent working nonstop. "I wake up in the morning and I get on my computer and I have lists of references and reference boards with all of my materials on them, and I basically call the House of Gaga all day and argue with them about what I want to do while they tell me, 'You can't do that,'" she says. "And I say, 'Yes, I can bleed to death on domestic television if want to!' So, for me, it's all about being provocative, not just getting people's attention. It's about really saying something that affects people in a real way and a positive way."
One the biggest statements she tries to make is about fame and the media. "All the things I do in terms of fame and the fame monster is meant to make it a bit easier to swallow this kind of horrific media world that we live in," she says.
Despite her stardom, Lady Gaga says she doesn't have many famous friends. "I don't really have a tremendous connection to the celebrity world," she says. "My friendships are really with my fans, and that's how I really communicate. My vision is through them and through music."
So what's the message Lady Gaga wants to send to her fan base? "I want them to free themselves, and I want them to be proud of who they are," she says. "I want them to celebrate all the things they don't like about themselves the way that I did, and to be truly happy from the inside."