Deep Inside the Unreal World of Lady Gaga

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Gaga's dad underwent open-heart surgery in the fall of 2009, after initially refusing. "He was like, 'I'm gonna die . . . just let me die,'" Gaga recalls. Gaga wrote her song "Speechless" about it – but the tune wasn't enough to convince him to get the surgery. When she was staying at home one night, their dog, Alice, fell down the stairs – Gaga heard her mom scream and thought the worst. "I ran to the stairs, and my father was standing there holding Alice, and I just said, 'That's fucking it,' and I brought him into the office and I said, 'Pick up the phone and do it right now.' He made a full recovery – doctors said that he had the surgery just in time."

As if saving his life weren't enough, Gaga introduced him to his hero, Bruce Springsteen – the Germanottas and the Springsteens had a big dinner together. "That was like meeting the pope for me," says her dad. He seems mellowed by all these experiences, cracking up at a reminder of a brief encounter two years ago, when he poked me in the chest and told me to "keep it clean." We talk for a while about Springsteen, Clemons and his career selling Wi-Fi to hotels (Hotelchatter.com called him the "godfather of hotel Wi-Fi") – until Gaga spots us. "Da-ad, be careful what you say," she says.

"We're talking about Wi-Fi," he says.

"That's worse," she says, rolling her eyes in distinctly teenager-y fashion.

Easter is in two days, and Gaga's parents want to know if she's coming to church with them. "Father O'Connor would love to see you," her dad says.

"I bet," she says.

"Really! He asks for you all the time."

"You sure you want to take me to church on Easter? I just put out a single called 'Judas'! Should I wear a dress that says, 'Buy my new single, "Judas," on iTunes'?"

Gaga's garish blond wig has its own pre-show rituals; Aspiras styles and blow-dries it on a stand. Now it's firmly affixed to Gaga's head, and she's wearing a shiny leotard and fishnets. She joins her band and dancers – there are at least 20 people here – in the hallway, and everyone holds hands for a prayer, delivered by a nearly naked male dancer in a bathrobe. "Lord, as we bow our heads tonight, thank you for allowing us to come together safe and sound," he says in a rapid cadence. "Bless Gaga, bless her voice, her body, her stamina . . . bless the band and their instruments, the dancers and their feet, the background singers and their vocals, Lord."

Gaga's in-ear monitors are popped in, and she starts the long march down tiled halls toward the stage, flanked by her day-to-day manager, her security guys, her hairstylist, her makeup artist. She's due onstage in about two minutes, but you'd never know it – she's occupying herself on her stroll by spraying deodorant at members of her entourage.

"It's girl deodorant," she says when they protest. "It's like perfume! I use girl perfume even though I'm a man. Even though I have a penis. That's my favorite rumor about me."

Inside the arena, the lights go out, and the crowd is screaming – not cheering, screaming. (During the show, a steady stream of passed-out little monsters arrives over the barricade – it's like one of those Michael Jackson shows in Bucharest.) As she waits by the backstage entrance, Gaga bursts into the chorus of her new song "The Edge of Glory" in full, throaty voice, just for herself.

After practically every song, Gaga ducks into a tiny tent underneath the stage, where she changes outfits and is given sips of diet soda and coconut water. The show is sufficiently grueling that it's not unheard of for her to demurely puke a couple of times in there, too – though not tonight.

Hanging above Gaga's dressing-room mirror, in a pricey-looking jagged black frame, is a huge photo of a lean, long-haired guy in black leather. This is Luc Carl – her on-and-off boyfriend, and the inspiration for many of her songs. She told me two years ago that much of her debut, The Fame, was about their relationship ("I was his Sandy and he was my Danny, and I just broke," she said), and "Bad Romance" seems to be its theme song. "That story has been through all three of my albums," she says now. "Everyone has a muse." Her most personal and joyous song, the new power ballad "Yoü & I" – produced by Mutt Lange, with a guitar solo by Brian May – is explicitly about the pair resuming their relationship: She sings of returning to the bar where they met (St. Jerome's, on the Lower East Side): "Been two years since I let you go . . . This time I'm not leaving without you." It's so emotional that she wept uncontrollably while she recorded the vocal.

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