Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, a.k.a. Lady Gaga, became a pop icon. She grew up in Manhattan with an affinity for music, eventually attending Collaborative Arts Project 21, a music program via NYU. After two years, she dropped out to pursue music. She entered the scene by performing at various clubs and creating avant-garde EDM tracks. It was during this time she became known as Lady Gaga (based on the Queen song Radio Gaga). She was signed by Streamline Records in 2007, where she was discovered by Vincent Herbert. In 2008, she became successful seemingly overnight with her debut album, The Fame.
The Fame Monster Era (2008-2010)
Gaga’s work and public image changed from album to album, with many referring to the time after the release of each album as an “era” for Gaga. The Fame Monster era was her first. Filled with dark iconography and gothic imagery in her music and videos, much of this work is her most successful. She appears in “Alejandro” dressed as a leather-clad nun and in “Bad Romance” in a coffin. When The Fame was released, two of her songs became Billboard’s number one hits: “Just Dance” and “Poker Face.” One of her most iconic singles, “Bad Romance,” was incorporated into The Fame Monster. This top-charting single was The Fame’s more popular reissue, which gave Gaga fans the name, “little monsters.” The songs on these albums are dance-pop, featuring heavily synthesized, hard-hitting beats.
With this style came a public image that matched. Lady Gaga became known as a bizarre and scary individual because of her strange and often morbid performances, which consisted of getting a tattoo on stage and ripping off the heads of Barbie dolls. At the 2009 VMAs, Gaga appeared to bleed out and die on stage. More troubling to some were her award show outfits. Infamously, she wore the “meat dress,” made of raw meat. This outfit drew criticism from the public for being too bizarre and from vegans for the disrespectful usage of animal products. The cover art for The Fame Monster features Gaga with heavy eye makeup and a leather shirt partially covering her face. Gaga becomes, in this image, The Fame Monster.
Her next album, Born This Way (2010), while presenting various hits, is stylistically similar to The Fame. The titular track solidified Gaga’s place as a gay icon and is still incredibly important for many members of the LGBT community. “Born This Way” debuted at the top of the Billboard charts and remained there longer than any of her prior songs. Other songs include “Marry the Night,” “You and I,” and “Edge of Glory.”
The Artpop Era (2013)
While not a complete shift from her previous work, Artpop was one of Gaga’s first major transformations. In the “Applause” music video, her head is on the body of a swan. However, this change wasn’t necessarily as shocking as it was in The Fame or Born This Way. The image of Gaga in the cover art is alien-like, but not dark.
Artpop is strange and is largely criticized for being too surreal and not accessible to mainstream audiences. It did perform well with her fanbase, with beloved tracks “Venus” and “Mary Jane Holland.” There was a petition signed to create an Artpop 2, which was allegedly canceled after the original’s failure.
Artpop only made about half the money spent, with “Applause” and “Do What U Want,” now hated for featuring R. Kelly, being the only tracks to gain any major Billboard traction.
The Cheek to Cheek Era (2014)
After the failure of Artpop, Gaga released Cheek to Cheek (2014), a collaborative jazz album with jazz singer Tony Bennett. It largely went under the radar due to the shift in the musical genre. Nonetheless, she wore outfits to complement the choice, wearing a sixties-era red jumpsuit and a matching curly-haired black wig for a performance of “Bang Bang”.
American Horror Story and the Joanna Era (2015-2016)
Gaga, having wanted to become an actress growing up, finally got the opportunity with her role in American Horror Story: Hotel. Her performance was praised and signified the first, but not the last, time Gaga would appear as an actress.
Later in 2016, Gaga released the simply titled Joanne, named after her late aunt. The cover art is simple, featuring Gaga in a pink hat and blue background. Her music videos feature Americana and the striking pink suit Gaga would often wear in television appearances. Her style was toned down, and she’s shown wearing “average” clothing compared to her previous work. The production is simpler and her voice shines. It’s not a Country album, but a pop album with a country flair. Joanne brought Gaga back into mainstream attention, with “Million Reasons” and “Perfect Illusion” gaining major Billboard traction. It also contains a notable stylistic shift from her previous work with more songs containing themes such as heartbreak and loss.
A Star is Born (2018)
In 2018 she starred in the remake of A Star is Born, her second major acting role since American Horror Story. The film was critically acclaimed, earning Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper (her co-star) an Oscar win. The soundtrack gained more popularity than the movie, with the song “Shallow” becoming one of Gaga’s most popular.
Chromatica and Modern Day (2020-)
In 2020, during the height of the pandemic, she released Chromatica, which was seen as a return to form and featured the dance-pop stylings that Gaga had been known for. She took on a cyberpunk persona with the usage of many bright, pastel colors. It was critically and commercially successful, with some fans considering it her best of all time. “Rain on Me” (feat. Arianna Grande) became its most successful song, earning them both Grammy wins. Chromatica, like Joanne, featured many of Gaga’s personal experiences: heartbreak, abuse, and addiction. “911” and “Stupid Love” gained Billboard traction as well.
Following its success, Gaga performed during the inauguration of President Joe Biden, which is seen as one of the best performances of the national anthem, due to the strength of Gaga’s voice and the power of her vocals.
Gaga continues to shine and starred in the Ridley Scott film House of Gucci, which was released in November. With her constant evolutions and numerous talents, who knows what’s next for Lady Gaga.
Edited by Kristina Rizzo