It’s 2:30 in the morning and Lady Gaga is in her trailer blasting her upcoming fifth studio album Joanne. Dressed in silver ankle boots, tight dark jeans and a gray half-shirt with her name stamped over her heart, the singer is dancing in the tight space’s mini kitchen, putting on her third show of the past seven hours. This one, however, is for herself – and three members of her team and a visiting journalist. Just moments before, she played the second of two sets at East Nashville bar the 5 Spot, the first stop on her Bud Light x Lady Gaga Dive Bar Tour.
Both sets featured songs off her latest project, named after her father’s late sister, but the second tiny-stage concert was impromptu, a gift by Gaga to the devoted fans corralled against a barricade outside into the wee hours.
“There are over 600 kids out there, so what do you do? I figured it’d only get bigger as the night went on,” says Gaga. “My buddies were out there trying to pick kids out of the crowd that seemed to be real superfans, so the true, true fans would get the second experience.”
Like the first show, which was streamed online, the encore included new songs “Sinner’s Prayer,” the ready-made dance-floor hit “A-Yo,” current single “Perfect Illusion” and the ballad “Million Reasons.” But the late-night set also featured the debut performance of Joanne‘s title track. Pressing play on the album version of “Joanne” in her trailer, Gaga’s eyes light up. It’s the centerpiece of the record, due October 21st, and was written for her father, who took in the Nashville showcase.
For Gaga, family is the cornerstone of her life these days and that bond is reflected in the songs of Joanne, from the pleading vulnerability of “Million Reasons” to the celebratory “Grigio Girls,” which features a lyrical shout-out to the Spice Girls. Her first solo album since 2013’s Artpop, Joanne is born of introspection.
“I went away for a minute,” says Gaga, “from feeling the pressure of having to deliver a pop record.”
How did this “dive bar” experience compare to your early days of playing dive bars?
I definitely have a more deep relationship with my fans now than I did back then, because I’ve known them for years. Even though I don’t know them all personally, I could feel that we’ve grown up together, you know? Even though we had some wild shows back then, the fans now, they are wild in spirit. It’s really beautiful to see. The first show [tonight], there were kids who came who had immediately jumped onto the sweepstakes of the Bud Light experience and were able to get in. And then there were kids outside. [My team] said, “Do you want to go home?” … I said, “We should at least try to do one more show.”
Joanne has been reported to have an Americana vibe. Is that how you’d sum it up?
I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s Americana. There is a lot of other influences in the album that are British, and there’s a lot of international influence on other songs, that you haven’t heard yet on the record. But there is an American element – a pride. In what we love about America. Things that have lasted a long time. Classics in America.
In terms of music?
In terms of music and also in terms of story. These are stories about my family, my sister, my father and his sister. My mom’s family. My relationships with men, my failures.
The relationship vulnerability you exhibit in “Million Reasons” is particularly striking. Do you have any reservations about being so exposed?
No, because I always just become what I am when I make music, so I’m ready to do that. That’s what feels right.
That song was written with Nashville songwriter Hillary Lindsey, who joined you onstage tonight. How aware were you of her work before you two collaborated?
I was very aware. I was like, “Call her. Tell her I want to talk to her.” I’m probably one of her biggest fans as a songwriter. I think she is amazing. It’s only so many times in your life that you hear a song that really changes things for you. When I heard “Jesus, Take the Wheel,” I was like, OK. Some people look at it as a song written for an American Idol, Carrie Underwood, who is wonderful. But when you’re a songwriter listening to a song, you hear something else. I heard that song and wow.
Observing the fans tonight, there was an undeniable sense of inclusivity. Is that what defines you today?
I don’t know if it’s changing already with Joanne, but my intention is to bring people together that don’t know each other and that would maybe feel awkward, but somehow be brought together by the music. That’s what I wanted to do. Because that is pure and authentic to my family history and what I stand for. That’s how I arrived at it.
Is family the underlying theme of this record then?
Yeah. I actually would say that. Because even if it’s about a boyfriend or a bunch of friends, they’re all my family. I don’t keep people around me that aren’t family. You don’t get to stay. Unless you’re eating at the table with us, you’re not part. We eat together, we cry together, we live together, we die together. Everything that we do is for each other, and we care for another. So whether it’s good and the money’s flowing or it’s bad and it’s not, or it’s good and everybody is healthy or it’s bad and your best friend has cancer … whatever it is, you have to keep being there for each other. In the album, I go through all those moments in my life. And that is what is most wonderful about it for me, to listen to it back. I get to go, “You know what, I did right by that person, as an artist.” Because they get to look at me as their friend and go, “Wow, my friend really loves me.”
“Maybe I have something small planned for the Super Bowl. Maybe I’ll just do a lemonade stand.”
Because of the lyrics you wrote for them?
Yeah. Because when I went to my room to close my eyes and think about what to write to the world, I wasn’t thinking about myself anymore. I was thinking about them.
So it’s a selfless act?
I don’t know if I’m selfless – I still want to make a great record, I want to make a hit record, I want to tour; that’s not completely selfless. But the truth is I’m not interested in people coming to my show for me, as much as I am for them coming to my show for themselves. That’s always been how I am. That’s what I felt tonight. Those kids, some of them they just looked so happy in a way that is hard to explain in an interview. In the moment, it’s like, ‘Wow, that’s what I did.” Even if it’s just one person, it’s so powerful.
You’re headlining the Super Bowl halftime show this year. Are you already brainstorming?
Yeah. But I put out a public service announcement that I will reissue: I will not be letting anyone know any single thing about the Super Bowl until it happens. You can ask me but I’m never going to answer.
But there must be something big in the works …
Maybe I have something small planned. Maybe I’ll just do a lemonade stand. That would really upset people though – I won’t do that, don’t worry.
Watch Lady Gaga talk inspiration behind new album Joanne.