Lady Gaga: New York Doll
For a young woman who’s dressed like an alien empress, Lady Gaga is acting strangely human. She’s curled up with her ex-model boyfriend, Speedy, on a tour-van seat, looking as cozy as anyone in a sparkly, curve-clutching cat suit with spiked, winglike shoulders could possibly get. “He thinks I’m pretty,” Gaga purrs, batting huge false eyelashes as she rests her platinum-blond head on Speedy’s shoulder, nearly poking his eye out with a shoulder spike.
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As the van cruises along California’s 405 freeway, heading from an Irvine amphitheater to a Burbank soundstage, fireworks bloom in the distant sky over Disneyland. Gaga, who’s been munching handfuls of kettle corn and sipping from a can of Diet Coke, turns pensive. “What am I doing right now?” she asks, sounding sleepy and uncharacteristically vulnerable. “Who am I?”
With theatrical timing, an interloper chirps an answer from the back seat: “You’re the new princess of pop!”
The voice belongs to the gossip blogger Perez Hilton, an early and fervent Gaga supporter. He’s been hanging around all day in his leopard-print Adidas T-shirt, offering compliments and toothy smiles. Gaga laughs, shocked at the near-scripted perfection of the moment. “You are,” Hilton drawls, flashing the teeth.
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Less than an hour ago, in front of 15,000 shrieking teens at the radio concert Wango Tango, Gaga sang a set that included both “Just Dance” and “Poker Face” — the synthed-up, Eighties-flavored dance-pop hits that, along with her art-damaged, Euro-futuristic fashion sense, have made her the defining pop star of 2009: She reigns over a self-created, plasticized aesthetic universe with Madonna-esque assurance — and offsets her oddness with shamelessly ingratiating pop hooks. With its refrain of “Just dance/Gonna be OK” (the narrator is so wasted at the club that she’s lost her keys and phone), Gaga’s first hit could be heard as a keep-on-pushing anthem or an endorsement of total denial — either way, perfect recession fodder. “Poker Face,” in its way, has more layers — it’s about Gaga wanting to sleep with a woman while she’s dating a guy (hence the line “I’m bluffin’ with my muffin”). The two hits have led to a platinum album — an increasingly rare feat — and nearly 10 million digital singles sold, per Nielsen SoundScan.
Photos: Lady Gaga’s Best Looks
A few days earlier, the 23-year-old singer played a concert in New York that felt like a coronation: Madonna (with daughter Lourdes in tow) and Cyndi Lauper both turned up. And on tonight’s new episode of Saturday Night Live, Justin Timberlake gives his own endorsement, singing loving, dead-on parody versions of both singles. (A week later, Rivers Cuomo will sing part of “Poker Face” at a Weezer show.)
In the face of tween pop’s relentless cuteness assault, Gaga — who worships Andy Warhol and Grace Jones, and thanks David Bowie and Madonna for inspiration in her liner notes — is a pop star for misfits and outcasts. She would rather look interesting than pretty. “I don’t feel that I look like the other perfect little pop singers,” says Gaga, who has a still-unreleased song called “Ugly Sexy.” “I think I look new. I think I’m changing what people think is sexy.”
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In the van, Gaga laughs as she watches for the first time a video for “Butterface,” a vicious “Poker Face” parody (sample lyric: “You were thinking that I’m a 10/But my body’s like a Barbie/And my face is like a Ken”). In truth, Gaga’s attractive, slightly off-kilter features — ethnic nose, prominent front teeth — seem almost infinitely mutable: One day she looks like Debbie Harry, the next, Donatella Versace. But up close, she’s always softer, prettier and younger-looking than her ultrastylized photos might suggest.
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