Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta was born March 28, 1986 and is known professionally as Lady Gaga.
She is an American singer, songwriter and actress. She is known for her consistent image reinventions and versatility in both music and entertainment. Gaga began performing as a teenager, singing at open mic nights and acting in school plays.
She was born at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan, New York City, to an upper middle class Catholic family. Both of her parents have Italian ancestry, and she also has more distant French-Canadian roots. Her parents are Cynthia Louise (née Bissett), a philanthropist and business executive, and Internet entrepreneur Joseph Germanotta, and she has a younger sister named Natali. Brought up in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Gaga said in an interview that her parents came from lower-class families and worked hard for everything. From age 11, she attended the Convent of the Sacred Heart, a private all-girls Roman Catholic school. Gaga described her high school self as “very dedicated, very studious, very disciplined” but also “a bit insecure”. She considered herself a misfit and was mocked for “being either too provocative or too eccentric”.
Gaga began playing the piano at age four when her mother insisted she become “a cultured young woman”. She took piano lessons and practiced through her childhood. The lessons taught her to create music by ear, which she preferred over reading sheet music. Her parents encouraged her to pursue music, and enrolled her in Creative Arts Camp. As a teenager, she played at open mic nights. Gaga played the lead roles of Adelaide in the play Guys and Dolls and Philia in the play A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum at Regis High School. She also studied method acting at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute for ten years. Gaga unsuccessfully auditioned for New York shows, though she did appear in a small role as a high school student in a 2001 episode of The Sopranos titled “The Telltale Moozadell”.
In 2003, at age 17, Gaga gained early admission to Collaborative Arts Project 21, a music school at New York University (NYU)’s Tisch School of the Arts, and lived in an NYU dorm. She studied music there, and improved her songwriting skills by writing essays on art, religion, social issues and politics, including a thesis on pop artists Spencer Tunick and Damien Hirst. In 2005, she withdrew from school during the second semester of her sophomore year to focus on her music career. That year, she also played an unsuspecting diner customer for MTV’s Boiling Points, a prank reality television show.
In a 2014 interview, Gaga said she had been raped at age 19, for which she later underwent mental and physical therapy. She has posttraumatic stress disorder that she attributes to the incident, and says that support from doctors, family and friends has helped her.
In 2005, Gaga recorded two songs with hip-hop singer Melle Mel for an audio book accompanying Cricket Casey’s children’s novel The Portal in the Park. She also formed a band called the SGBand with some friends from NYU. They played gigs around New York and became a fixture of the downtown Lower East Side club scene. After the 2006 Songwriters Hall of Fame New Songwriters Showcase at The Cutting Room in June, talent scout Wendy Starland recommended her to music producer Rob Fusari. Fusari collaborated with Gaga, who traveled daily to New Jersey, helping to develop her songs and compose new material. The producer said they began dating in May 2006, and claimed to have been the first person to call her “Lady Gaga”, which was derived from Queen’s song “Radio Ga Ga”. Their relationship lasted until January 2007.
Fusari and Gaga established a company called Team Lovechild, LLC to promote her career. They recorded and produced electropop tracks, sending them to music industry executives. Joshua Sarubin, the head of Artists and repertoire (A&R) at Def Jam Recordings, responded positively and, after approval from Sarubin’s boss Antonio “L.A.” Reid, Gaga was signed to Def Jam in September 2006. She was dropped from the label three months later and returned to her family home for Christmas. She began performing at neo-burlesque shows, which according to her represented freedom. During this time, she met performance artist Lady Starlight, who helped mold her onstage persona. The pair began performing at downtown club venues like the Mercury Lounge, The Bitter End, and the Rockwood Music Hall. Their live performance art piece, known as “Lady Gaga and the Starlight Revue” and billed as “The Ultimate Pop Burlesque Rockshow”, was a tribute to 1970s variety acts. They performed at the 2007 Lollapalooza music festival.
When Def Jam Recordings canceled her contract, she worked as a songwriter for Sony/ATV Music Publishing, where she signed a joint deal with Interscope Records and Akon’s label, KonLive Distribution, in 2007. She rose to prominence the following year with her debut album The Fame and its chart-topping singles “Just Dance” and “Poker Face”. The album was later reissued to include the EP The Fame Monster (2009), which yielded the singles “Bad Romance”, “Telephone”, and “Alejandro”.
Gaga’s five succeeding studio albums have all debuted atop the US Billboard 200. Her second full-length album, Born This Way (2011), explored electronic rock and techno-pop and sold more than one million copies in its first week. Its title track became the fastest-selling song on the iTunes Store, with over one million downloads in less than a week. Following her EDM-influenced third album Artpop (2013), which yielded the single “Applause”, Gaga eschewed dance-pop and released a jazz album with Tony Bennett, Cheek to Cheek (2014), and the country pop and soft rock-influenced album Joanne (2016).
She also ventured into acting, playing leading roles in the miniseries American Horror Story: Hotel (2015–2016), for which she received a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress, and the critically acclaimed musical drama film A Star Is Born (2018).
Her contributions to the latter’s soundtrack, which spawned the chart-topping single “Shallow”, made her the first woman to win an Academy, Grammy, BAFTA, and Golden Globe Award in one year. Gaga returned to her dance-pop roots with her sixth studio album Chromatica (2020), which spawned the number-one single “Rain on Me”.
Gaga grew up listening to artists such as Michael Jackson, the Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Queen, Bruce Springsteen, Pink Floyd, Mariah Carey, the Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, Whitney Houston, Elton John, Blondie and Garbage, who have all influenced her music.
Gaga’s musical inspiration varies from dance-pop singers such as Madonna and Michael Jackson to rock artists such as David Bowie and Freddie Mercury, as well as the theatrics of the pop artist Andy Warhol and her own performance roots in musical theater.
She has been compared to Madonna, who has said that she sees herself reflected in Gaga.
Gaga says that she wants to revolutionize pop music as Madonna has. Gaga has also cited heavy metal bands as an influence, specifically Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath and Marilyn Manson. She credits Beyoncé as a key inspiration to pursue a musical career.
After declining an invitation to appear on the single “We Are the World 25” (because of rehearsals for her tour) to benefit victims of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, Gaga donated the proceeds of her January 2010 Radio City Music Hall concert to the country’s reconstruction relief fund. All profits from her online store that day were also donated, and Gaga announced that $500,000 was collected for the fund. Hours after the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, Gaga tweeted a link to Japan Prayer Bracelets. All revenue from a bracelet she designed in conjunction with the company was donated to relief efforts; these raised $1.5 million. In June 2011, Gaga performed at MTV Japan’s charity show in Makuhari Messe, which benefited the Japanese Red Cross.
In 2012, Gaga joined the campaign group Artists Against Fracking. That October, Yoko Ono gave Gaga and four other activists the LennonOno Grant for Peace in Reykjavík, Iceland. The following month, Gaga pledged to donate $1 million to the American Red Cross to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy. Gaga also contributes in the fight against HIV and AIDS, focusing on educating young women about the risks of the disease. In collaboration with Cyndi Lauper, Gaga joined forces with MAC Cosmetics to launch a line of lipstick under their supplementary cosmetic line, Viva Glam. Sales have raised more than $202 million to fight HIV and AIDS.
In April 2016, Gaga joined Vice President Joe Biden at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas to support Biden’s It’s On Us campaign as he traveled to colleges on behalf of the organization, which has seen 250,000 students from more than 530 colleges sign a pledge of solidarity and activism. Two months later, Gaga attended the 84th Annual US Conference of Mayors in Indianapolis where she joined with the Dalai Lama to talk about the power of kindness and how to make the world a more compassionate place. In April 2020, Gaga curated the televised benefit concert, One World: Together at Home, a collaboration with Global Citizen to benefit the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund. The special raised $127 million, which according to Forbes “puts it on par with the other legendary fundraiser, Live Aid, as the highest grossing charity concert in history.”
In 2012, Gaga launched the Born This Way Foundation (BTWF), a non-profit organization that focuses on youth empowerment. It takes its name from her 2011 single and album. Media proprietor Oprah Winfrey, writer Deepak Chopra, and US Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius spoke at the foundation’s inauguration at Harvard University. The foundation’s original funding included $1.2 million from Gaga, $500,000 from the MacArthur Foundation, and $850,000 from Barneys New York. In July 2012, the BTWF partnered with Office Depot, which donated 25% of the sales, a minimum of $1 million of a series of limited edition back-to-school products. The foundation’s initiatives have included the “Born Brave Bus” that followed her on tour as a youth drop-in center as an initiative against bullying.
Gaga is a bisexual woman and actively supports LGBT rights worldwide. She attributes much of her early success as a mainstream artist to her gay fans and is considered a gay icon.
Gaga spoke at the 2009 National Equality March in Washington in support of the LGBT movement. She attended the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards accompanied by four gay and lesbian former members of the United States Armed Forces who had been unable to serve openly under the US military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which banned open homosexuality in the military. Gaga urged her fans via YouTube to contact their senators in an effort to overturn the policy. In September 2010, she spoke at a Servicemembers Legal Defense Network’s rally in Portland, Maine. Following this event, The Advocate named her a “fierce advocate” for gays and lesbians. Gaga appeared at Europride, an international event dedicated to LGBT pride, in Rome in June 2011. She criticized the poor state of gay rights in many European countries and described gay people as “revolutionaries of love”. Gaga was ordained as a minister by the Universal Life Church Monastery so that she could officiate the wedding of two female friends.
In June 2016, during a vigil held in Los Angeles for victims of the attack at the gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando, Gaga read aloud the names of the 49 people killed in the attack, and gave a speech. Later that month, Gaga appeared in Human Rights Campaign’s tribute video to the victims of the attack. She has opposed the presidency of Donald Trump and deplored his military transgender ban. She supported former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for president in 2016. In 2018, a leaked memo from Trump’s office revealed that his administration wanted to change the legal definition of sex in order to exclude transgender Americans. Gaga was one of the many celebrities to call him out and spread the #WontBeErased campaign to her 77 million Twitter followers. In January 2019, during one of her Enigma shows, she criticized Vice President Mike Pence for his wife Karen Pence working at an evangelical Christian school where LGBTQ people are turned away, calling him “the worst representation of what it means to be a Christian”.
In 2019, she launched Haus Laboratories (stylized as HAUS LABORATORIES and abbreviated as Haus Labs). A vegan and cruelty-free cosmetics brand. It is the first major beauty line to launch exclusively on Amazon, released in nine countries including the UK, US, France, Japan, and Germany. The first products included lip liner, lip gloss, and liquid-to-powder shimmer. The company’s mission is to spread kindness, bravery, and creativity by providing tools for self-expression and reinvention.
Haus Laboratories was originally launched in 2012 as a perfume brand, in association with Coty, Inc., an American multinational beauty company founded in 1904 and known for owning several brands. Their first fragrance, Fame, came out in that same year, and the second one, called Eau de Gaga, in 2014.
The brand is inspired by Gaga’s early days as a musician in Manhattan and it carries the spirit of embrace of individuality, and expressing it through bold makeup and body art, authenticity, and inclusivity. Also, the decision to sell it exclusively on Amazon was based on Haus Labs’ messages of self-acceptance and confidence. Gaga stated in an interview to The Business of Fashion that the partnership with Amazon was made because only they would allow her to commercialize a brand with these principles, saying “no message of self-acceptance, no deal”.