Lady Gaga, New York Doll

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Gaga is fully Gaga at all times. Onstage or off, she's dressed in her future-shock style, often in clothes she designs with her 23-year-old creative director, Matthew Williams, whom she calls Matty Dada — he's part of the team she has dubbed Haus of Gaga, which she envisions as a modern-day version of Warhol's Factory. She was born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, but no one has called her that in years. (Her first producer, Rob Fusari, inspired the nickname — he was struck by some Freddie Mercury-like harmonies she recorded, and started singing Queen's "Radio Ga Ga" to her as a running joke. One day, she texted him her new name, and she never answered to "Stef" again.)

Backstage at the radio show, Gaga strolled around wearing a geometrically patterned vintage Gareth Pugh jacket over a leotard that barely covered her robust but toned bottom. But the price of her no-pants look is eternal vigilance: At all times, her ex-Marine bodyguard and three backup dancers took turns standing behind her — they were guarding her ass against paparazzi. Earlier in the week, she caused a ruckus in a Queens Stop & Shop after showing up in a transparent bodysuit (with only a bra and G-string underneath) to shop for tortelloni. "Why don't you have a fuckin' meet-and-greet in the frozen-foods aisle?" Speedy suggested. She then cooked a meal for Speedy's parents, rear end presumably still showing.

Now, ass firmly encased in cat suit, she's heading to her second gig of the night: a six-song taped performance for Walmart.com that will end sometime after 2 a.m. The next night will bring another radio concert; the day after that, a performance on Ellen DeGeneres' talk show and a photo shoot where her pal Marilyn Manson will turn up; the following day, a taping of Dancing With the Stars and a flight back to New York. There, she'll shoot a M.A.C Cosmetics campaign with Lauper, return to L.A. for another photo shoot, then jet off to New Zealand and Australia for a tour. "Welcome to my life," Gaga says. "They can't say I didn't work for it."

But this life — art, music, fashion, celebrity cameos — is all she ever wanted, even before she dropped out of New York University after her freshman year to pursue music full time. "I don't have the same priorities as other people," she continues softly, glancing warily at Speedy, who's not listening, distracted by his cellphone. She doesn't necessarily want him to hear this part. "I just don't. I like doing this all the time. It's my passion. When I'm not doing a show, I'm writing a song, or I'm on the phone with Dada yapping about a hemline. The truth is, the psychotic woman that I truly am comes out when I'm not working. When I'm not working, I go crazy."

As we reach Burbank, Gaga closes her eyes for a minute. "I'm rebooting," she says. "Activate Lady Gaga program."

Before she had an audience, it was just Gaga and her mirror. And for a while, it got weird. Four years ago, she was living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, after leaving school and her parents' financial support. In her shitty little apartment, she would order a bag of cocaine from a delivery service, get high, and work on her hair and makeup for hours. She'd get it perfect, and then come down from the coke and do it all over again. "It was quite sick," Gaga says with a barely concealed note of pride. "I suppose that's where the vanity of the album came from. It was just like this very special moment that I had with myself where I could feel confident and feel like a star. Sometimes I look back on it and I miss it in a way."

Around that time, she met the guy she still calls the love of her life — a charismatic heavy-metal drummer named Luke. Almost all of the songs on her debut, The Fame, were inspired by him — from the exuberant "Boys Boys Boys" to the sweet, early-Britney-like new single "Paparazzi," which turns out to be about love as an escape from her own narcissism and desire for fame: Gaga was so infatuated with her man that she was ready to be his fan, to turn the camera around and photograph him.

They had a rough breakup. "I was his Sandy and he was my Danny, and I just broke," she explains. Gaga sees love differently now. "Speedy means a lot to me," she says of her current boyfriend, "but my music's not going to wake up tomorrow morning and tell me it doesn't love me anymore. So I'm content with my solitude. I'm OK with being alone. I choose to have someone in my life when I can."

Gaga considers herself bisexual, but her attraction to women is purely physical — she's never been in love with a woman. And she's been highly disappointed by her boyfriends' reaction to this aspect of her sexuality. "The fact that I'm into women, they're all intimidated by it," she says. "It makes them uncomfortable. They're like, 'I don't need to have a threesome, I'm happy with just you.'" She shakes her head in disbelief.

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