Lady Gaga refuses to wear pants. "I feel freer in underwear, and I hate fucking pants," says the New York club diva, 22, whose outrageous fashion sense includes a love for leotards. "Plus, it's easier to dance." Lady Gaga — born Joanne Stefani Germanotta — knows what she's talking about: her propulsive club cut, "Just Dance" (off her 2008 debut, The Fame), recently hit Number One on the charts, becoming the techno-pop anthem of the season. "I wrote the song in five minutes," she says, checking in from London. "I was quite hung over." The tune has rocketed the singer from open mike nights to gigs attended by Bruce Springsteen. (The two met at last year's Jingle Ball at Madison Square Garden.) "I climbed over the seats and gave him a big hug, and he told me I was sweet," Gaga recalls. "Then I had a massive breakdown — I cried on the man's neck!"
What's the difference between Joanne Stefani Germanotta and Lady Gaga?
The largest misconception is that Lady Gaga is a persona or a character. I'm not — even my mother calls me Gaga. I am 150,000 percent Lady Gaga every day.
You took your name from the Queen song "Radio Ga Ga. "What is your all-time favorite Freddie Mercury performance?
When he's in the king's outfit, with the scepter. Equating oneself with royalty is such a female thing to do. We dress up as princesses and queens and we wear crowns, but Freddie created this image of himself as rock royalty. That performance screams, "Watch me! I'm a legend!"
Growing up, what was playing around the house?
My dad's a Jersey-born Italian, so I grew up listening to Springsteen albums that still had sand on them from the Shore. When I was a freshman in high school, I was in a cover band that did Zeppelin and Floyd and Jefferson Airplane — that was his brainwashing coming to fruition.
You used to hang out in front of "TRL." Explain.
When I was in middle school, it was the whole Britney-'NSync craze, so after school my girlfriends and I would take the train downtown and stand outside of TRL and cheer and hope that we'd see somebody's fingernail in the window. I look back on it fondly. It doesn't happen anymore, and it's quite sad. It's my intention to revive that lunacy with this album. You can't deny the power of a pop group being able to stop traffic.
When was the first time you stripped onstage?
It was the first real Lady Gaga gig. The bar was packed, and the crowd was full of fratty, drunk NYU students. They wouldn't shut up, and I couldn't play until everybody got quiet. So I took my clothes off-down to my panties, fishnets and white pumps. Then everybody shut up.
At what point did you start making dance music?
I was in New York, partying a lot at gay clubs and dive bars. I was out five nights a week. I fell in love with the Cure, the Pet Shop Boys, the Scissor Sisters. I got really fascinated with Eighties club culture. It was a natural progression from the glam, Bowie-esque, singer-songwriter stuff I'd been working on. I used to take my demo into clubs, but I would lie and say that I was Lady Gaga's manager, and that she was only available to play on Friday nights at 10:30 — the best time slot.
You're a budding fashion icon. What do you think of our new first lady's style?
I love it. I've been telling everyone that yellow was going to be the color of 2009. It's the color of sunshine and of joy. When I saw [Michelle Obama] at the inauguration, I was like, "That bitch is wearing yellow! I was right!"
On your new single, "Poker Face, "you sing about "bluffin' with my muffin."
Obviously, it's my pussy's poker face! I took that line from another song I wrote but never released, called "Blueberry Kisses." It was about a girl singing to her boyfriend about how she wants him to go down on her, and I used the lyric. [Sings'] "Blueberry kisses, the muffin man misses them kisses."
On the song "LoveGame" you sing, "I wanna take a ride on your disco stick." Where and when did that line come to you?
It's another of my very thoughtful metaphors for a cock. I was at a nightclub, and I had quite a sexual crush on somebody, and I said to them, "I wanna ride on your disco stick." The next day, I was in the studio, and I wrote the song in about four minutes. When I play the song live, I have an actual stick — it looks like a giant rock-candy pleasuring tool — that lights up.
In your liner notes, you thank your grandparents. What do they think about Lady Gaga?
They approve. My grandmother is basically blind, but she can make out the lighter parts, like my skin and hair. She says, "I can see you, because you have no pants on." So I'll continue to wear no pants, even on television, so that my grandma can see me.
This is a story from the February 19th, 2009 issue of Rolling Stone.