Glamorously gaudy, a self-made post-modern diva stitched together from elements of Madonna, David Bowie, and Freddie Mercury, Lady Gaga was the first true millennial superstar. Mastering the constant connection of the internet era, Gaga generated countless mini sensations through her style, her videos, and her music, cultivating a devoted audience she dubbed "Little Monsters." But it wasn't just a cult that turned her 2008 manifesto The Fame into a self-fulfilling prophecy: Gaga crossed over into the mainstream, ushering out one pop epoch and kick-starting a new one, quickly making such turn-of-the-century stars as Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears seem old-fashioned, quite a trick for any artist to pull off, but especially impressive for an artist who specialized in repurposing the past -- particularly the '80s -- for present use, creating sustainable pop for a digital world.
Perhaps unsurprisingly given her flair for grand gestures, Lady Gaga has deep roots in drama. Born Stefani Germanotta on March 28, 1986, the future Gaga played piano as a child and pursued musical theatre in high school, regularly auditioning for New York-based television shows, notably landing a background role for a 2001 episode of The Sopranos. At the age of 17 she enrolled at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts in their Collaborative Arts Project 21. As she studied, she continued to eke her way into show biz, winding up with an appearance on MTV's short-lived post-Punk'd reality show Boiling Points in 2005. Not long afterward, she left school so she could concentrate on her music, fronting a band called SGBand, which released two EPs prior to splitting. Germanotta then teamed with producer Rob Fusari, a collaboration that produced not only her stage name Lady Gaga, but recordings that led to her signing with Def Jam in the fall of 2006. Her association with Def Jam was short-lived: the label dropped her early in 2007. Gaga rebounded by working with performance artist Lady Starlight, the two developing the Lady Gaga & the Starlight Revue, a tongue-in-cheek neo-burlesque act that gained positive press and proved to be her last stop before signing with Interscope later in 2007. While at Interscope she created a bond with Akon, who convinced Interscope head Jimmy Iovine to have her co-sign with his Kon Live imprint, and then Gaga began working with producer/songwriter RedOne, a union that led to the songs that would bring her fame: "Just Dance," "LoveGame," and "Poker Face." These songs formed the foundation of The Fame, the debut album that appeared in August 2008.
Initially, Lady Gaga had greater success in Europe, thanks in large part to the "Just Dance" single, which earned club play in the U.S. and chart placement in other territories. Gaga's march toward the top of the American chart was slow but "Just Dance" reached the peak position in January 2009, followed swiftly by "Poker Face," the single that firmly pushed her into the mainstream, its popularity growing so large it often functioned as a punch line on TV in addition to winning a Grammy for Best Dance Recording. "LoveGame" and "Paparazzi" also appeared as singles before Gaga released The Fame Monster in time for the holiday season of 2009. The mini-LP, available separately and as a package with The Fame, contained the single "Bad Romance" whose popularity soon rivaled "Poker Face" and helped kickstart a stellar year for Gaga in 2010. That year, the hit singles "Bad Romance," "Alejandro," and the Beyoncé duet "Telephone," along with the successful Monster Ball Tour, put Lady Gaga front and center with the public as she worked on her sophomore album, announcing the May release of Born This Way on New Year's Day 2011. The steady march to its summer unveiling was preceded by the release of three singles --"Born This Way," "Judas," and "The Edge of Glory"-- all leading up to the highly anticipated Born This Way. Arriving to mixed reviews, the album was a hit but didn't quite live up to its high expectations, yet it produced more genuine hits with "Marry the Night." A full remix of the album, naturally called Born This Way: The Remix, appeared at the end of the year, as did a holiday television special called A Very Gaga Thanksgiving and an accompanying EP, A Very Gaga Holiday. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi