Portrait of a Lady
BY Jeremy Kinser
July 05 2011 6:50 AM ET
She knows that with her outrageous fame come slings and arrows from cynics. Her pulpit makes her an easy target, and as a rite of passage and badge of honor for the musician, she’s been dissed in a song by Eminem, and the antigay Westboro Baptist Church picketed her St. Louis concert in July 2010. She addresses all the skeptics in “Bloody Mary,” one of several songs on the new album that references Jesus, in which Gaga sings, “I’m ready for their stones.” But is she really? “The nature of what I create is very polarizing. Public perception of me is the least important thing on my list,” she says. “Rumors, shots at me as a human being, that’s what comes with the territory of being a musician and being someone who is a public figure. I care only about what I can change. What can I push forward? How can I be a part of the fight for modern social issues? How can I change young people’s lives? How can I create a show and an album that is a portal to surreality, to free ourselves of all of our insecurities and to be proud of who we are? I’m a fucking hippie in that way, and that’s just who I am.”
In the actions-speak-louder-than-words category, one could solidly place Lady Gaga’s dealings with retailer Target. Many people expressed indignation this past February when it was announced that a special edition of Gaga’s album would be sold exclusively by the company after Target had come under fire by LGBT activists. The company’s corporate political action committee made campaign contributions to support antigay candidate Tom Emmer in his failed 2010 run for governor of Minnesota. The company apologized and promised to look more closely at its donations, but it later emerged that three fourths of the PAC’s money had gone to anti–gay rights politicians. There were calls for a boycott of the retail giant. Over these concerns Gaga met with “the entire executive staff,” and soon afterward, she canceled the deal.
“You’re either going to try and change or you’re not,” Gaga recalls of the meeting, in which she had insisted that Target ally itself with LGBT charities and organizations. While the details were not made public, the terms did not satisfy the singer. “Taking an ambiguous stance is not what I’m about, obviously. I like to go right for the ass-kicker. You’re either in or you’re out. I’m from New York. I know bullshit. I can smell it from a mile away.”
She wants to make it clear that stepping away from the potentially lucrative partnership was in no way a concession to score points with her intended audience. “I was very unhappy with the ambiguity and the way Target was holding their position,” she says. “I believe that monopolies, in terms of the music industry and artists having guns held to their heads for where they have to sell their albums, I think it’s unfair. It’s unfair to us, it’s unfair to the public, it’s unfair to the communities that are affected by it. And I wanted to take a stand.”
The stand Gaga has already taken is undeniable. She’s taped PSAs against DADT and been escorted by a group of gay servicemen to awards shows. In 2009 she delivered a rousing speech before throngs assembled at the National Equality March in Washington, D.C. Is energizing a political crowd a different sensation from performing? “Yes, it’s electrifying in a completely different way,” she says. “As much as I love the fantasy of the Monster Ball, it is a fantasy; it’s a place to escape to. Whereas when I’m working as a political activist, we’re rooted in reality. We’re rooted in the reality of the fight.”