I KNOW RIGHT
This video was shot in 2004, when she was a sophomore at NYU, a mere four years before being discovered. "Norah Jones, look out?" Lol. Random emcee dude, you have no idea.
Two years before being discovered, at the Bitter End, a venerable East Village dive bar that shows up in lots of my New York stuff-to-do email newsletters:
Dare I say it--she looks almost like an Obie here. And she reminds me of a bajillion talented, struggling no-name musicians I've seen performing great music in shitty New York bars for under ten dollars. In fact, if I didn't know who she was, and I saw this lady climb up on stage at one of those places, I wouldn't recognize her at all. Until she started performing, of course--that voice and those facial expressions are unmistakable.
Seeing this video, I feel a lot less bad about spending Friday nights at dive bars like this, enjoying music that only a handful of other people listen to. I'm sorry, hipsters, but I'm actually happy that the musicians I am listening to today are the same people everyone else will be listening to tomorrow. (The idea of a Tom Curtin / Andrew Broaddus team becoming the next Lady Gaga, however, makes me rofl. In part because, in light of this video, it doesn't seem quite so impossible anymore.)
One year before discovery:
Watching this video is so surreal. It's like watching an egg about to hatch. She's already picked up her now-iconic stage name, and some of her stage mannerisms--the hand gestures, the facial expressions, the distinctive flat vocal trills, the unabashed sexuality, some elements of her musical and lyrical style. The delivery is solar-intense and the lyrics are smarter than they've been since, and her performance persona looks, at least superficially, like the anxious, melancholy sophomore who wowed her classmates at NYU just two years prior.
She's still the gently forceful, hopelessly ambitious Stefani Germanotta, with a new name, a couple extra years of wisdom and a few new tricks. But the raging superstar lies dormant within, trembling violently in a blonde wig and a dress made of plastic bubbles, poised to erupt at any moment from the side of her neck in an explosion of blood and hissing and gay. It's like she's a very talented but otherwise ordinary random woman going through a schizophrenic episode in which she thinks she's Lady Gaga.
A couple months before discovery:
Germanotti met prominent performance artist and burlesque performer Lady Starlight that year, and they began touring together. Can you tell?
Lady Starlight is the mastermind and inspiration behind Gaga's distinctive batshit insane avant-garde style. This is her MySpace. Gaga and Starlight were performing together as a burlesque act, Lady Gaga and the Starlight Revue, when bam.
And then, this happened. And then this.
This is clearly not the same woman. (Maybe the alien parasite hypothesis isn't so farfetched?)
And two years after discovery....well, holy shit.
(Edit: Oh, Times Online, you and your silly "premium content" archives. Fortunately, someone has transcribed the entire interview here.)
There are other superstars, but she is easily the most iconic musician of our current era. Ten years from now you will hear her music playing in the background in a movie or TV show and you will immediately know the time period in which the movie takes place. Love her or hate her, nothing says 2008-? like a Lady Gaga song.
And what's so striking about that 2006 video is that the Stefani Germanotta in it still exists. 2006 was only four years ago. It's too soon for fame to transform and destroy her in a VH1 Behind the Music kind of narrative. You can't say, "Man, I miss that side of Lady Gaga, I wish she'd come back," because if she took off the wig, got into some normal clothes, and sat down in front of a piano to do some of her older music, she would still be that Lady Gaga. (People can change a lot in four years, but they don't change nearly that much.) Almost overnight, she'd crafted a stage persona so bizarre and so iconic that folks, like the starstruck reporter in the interview linked above, are willing to believe she'd always been that way.
And now, all of a sudden, this random piano-playing girl you might have smoked pot with at NYU just a couple years ago is the face of the contemporary zeitgeist.
The current version of the Lady Gaga persona is now such an intelligently created, idiosyncratic, and somehow utterly believable work of art that were its creator to return to the Bitter End right now, just for old times' sake, clothed in that ordinary green dress, to play her old setlist under a different stage name, not one person would recognize her. (Maybe she does. Who knows?) The usual crowd of hipsters, middle-aged divorcees, and lonely East Village singles would enjoy her music just as much as they did in 2006, maybe even toss around an idle comment about her being the next big thing, but no one would ever mistake her for the banshee-faced, heavily eyeshadowed blonde in a bikini made of submachine guns. And, like every great burlesque performer (because, let's face it, that is what she does best), I imagine this is exactly the way she likes it.
It's oddly reassuring. Lady Gaga will one day fade from the spotlight, but the true Stefani Germanotta will be where she's always been: at the piano, dreaming up her next crazy project, waving her hands in the air with glee.