Once upon a time, Autostraddle was a Lady Gaga fansite. I know the official lore is “Autostraddle evolved from L Word fandom” and yes that is true, but if you were here in 2009 – 2010, you know that despite those roots, our focus was relentlessly upon one specific woman, our dearest Stefani Germanotta, who we felt was newsworthy most days. Between 2009 and 2011 we wrote nearly 200 posts about Lady Gaga. We hosted open threads or wrote recaps for her new music video releases. Her pop performance art and queer activism and raw talent left us consistently awestruck. Lady Gaga brought a fully realized artistic vision to every live televised performance she gave, even at three-thirty in the afternoon on Ellen’s homey set in Burbank — each one, we felt, was important to write about. Lady Gaga was like kid who has been preparing for the 7th grade talent show since the 6th grade talent show… and she’s so fucking talented.
Last night at the Oscars, “Shallow” from A Star is Born earned her an Oscar and its performance also has been noted as a highlight of the evening. (Another highlight: this insta about it.) Which got me thinking about how many times Lady Gaga has been the highlight of an evening.
10. “Poker Face,” Much Music Awards 2009
It’s hard for anything to projectile-launch from a woman’s nipples without anybody thinking of breastmilk and so I hope everybody did when Lady Gaga’s tits shot sparklers while surrounded by dancers decked out for the Folsom Festival.
9. “Shallow,” Oscars 2019
A relatively subdued performance, a black dress, an orange tan, a handsome man in a tuxedo. This number is in service to a character and a story she did not write or create but also had a heavy hand in realizing. I couldn’t figure out exactly what to say about it so I picked up twitter to distract myself, not to find inspiration — but lo, what I discovered is that Rachel Syme has said it for me:
“gaga is always in character + modes of fame; her public life is more or less unbroken performance; that’s the art (and joyful artifice) of it. currently she’s playing an ingenue enamored w/a c-o-star, in dialogue w/old-school hollywood tropes. Whatever she’s doing it’s a Work.”
8. “Born This Way,” Grammy Awards 2011
She came out IN A COCOON and everybody was wearing latex and looked fresh out of the womb. I don’t like this song — “orient-made” ruins it for me every time, and even its allegedly inspirational message, while exciting to sing while intoxicated at an afternoon Pride Bash On The Pier, isn’t my favorite. But the woman came out in a cocoon!
“Born This Way,” Saturday Night Live 2011
Of the two I prefer this one because of its last-minute audaciousness, because she makes the most of a small stage, and because the moment when Lady Gaga holds a mic between her legs — beneath her shiny black baby bump — is Commentary I’d need a thesis advisor to fully unpack.
7. Lady Gaga, Super Bowl 2017
The earliest days of Obama’s presidency coincided precisely with Lady Gaga’s meteoric rise to fame and so to me she is always the soundtrack of that economically challenging but socially hopeful period of time. Only two weeks into Trump’s presidency we received the gift of this colossal sportsball concert. Beyonce had made a revolutionary political statement in her 2016 show and I was hoping for one from Lady Gaga. What we got instead cannot hold a candle to what Beyonce did. But we did get pure, ecstatic, rousing, all-angles Lady Gaga — a reminder that these songs and their spirit might be one good reason to stay. It was silly when she yelled “The Super Bowl is what champions are made of!” but you forgot about that when the Bad Romance dance started and even the audience had a part in the choreography and she screamed “I want your love and I want your revenge” and everybody at home nodded that yes, yes, yes, that’s what we need now. Love and revenge.
6. “Imagine,” European Games Opening Ceremony 2015
At the Beatles Museum in Liverpool, the last exhibit is just a white room with a white piano in it and the piano is playing “Imagine” and there’s a picture of John Lennon sitting on the piano. At least this is how I remember it — it was 25 years or so ago that I saw it with my own two eyes and I’m pleased with that recollection and I think about that a lot. Sometimes when somebody asks how I feel I want to tell them that I feel like that room in that museum. This video takes that mood and puts it inside the body of a woman in curls like an old-fashioned movie star, sitting at a piano draped in flowers like a bat out of the Summer of Love in a room so big that all the people in it are just dots of light.
5. Sound of Music, Academy Awards 2015
Apparently “people” were surprised by this performance, not realizing Lady Gaga was not just a great performer but a genuinely great singer. I don’t know who these people were. Has that fact ever been obscured? Her dress enveloped her entire body and she barely moved a muscle, just her arms and whatever sweet magic lives in her larynx.
4. “You and I,” MTV Music Video Awards 2011
In the audience, Britney Spears (the love of my life) and Katy Perry (ok sure) are unsure what to do with their faces when the camera hits them — this is a bit weird, after all, that Lady Gaga is devoting over four minutes to just talking nonsense onstage. She’s dressed like Marlon Brando or James Dean, taking up space with this character’s frustration how men do. Men will do that!
So on this night she doesn’t subvert through elaborate sets and costumes but through something you might find in “5-minute Monologues For Men,” excerpted from an ’80s play about an Italian-American couple who fight a lot. Jo Calderone felt like a natural extension of Gaga’s thus-far agenda, to pervert the heteronormative/patriarchal expectations of stardom and female celebrity by refusing to prioritize her own physical beauty in the traditional way. Lady Gaga is often in drag, why not be King for a day? This was a gift to her queer fans. Something stirred within us all for this asshole with his cigarette and his resentment because we already knew about the woman inside him without whom he did not have a voice, and we loved her.
3. “Til It Happens To You,” Oscars 2016
I cry just thinking about this one — I’m crying right now just writing about this one! When she brought survivors on stage to just stand there and afterwards the entire audience stood up and shook their heads and couldn’t believe what they’d just seen. And later that year, so many women and men who were in that room that night stood up and said it happened to them, and some of the structures that held abusers up for so long finally began crumbling.
2. “Bad Romance / Speechless,” American Music Awards 2009
I watch this one all the time. All the time. It always makes me feel like I did the first time I saw it — stoned, mouth hanging open, heart stopped, tears locked and loaded. Not knowing then what inspired the song I’d assumed it was the everyday agony of loving an alcoholic and the nightmare of what could happen if it all goes up in flames. It felt like it was about how caring for someone trapped in an addictive cycle can make you want to break things while also feeling transparent, like you’re living inside a glass box.
1. “Paparazzi,” MTV Music Video Awards 2009
“I just knew I had to bleed to death for four minutes on TV,” Lady Gaga told MTV. Lady Gaga wanted to say something about the ephemeral nature of fame and “how the celebrity sort of has this inevitable demise that we love to watch” and to ask “are we killing them or are they killing themselves?” and also to pay tribute to dead girls she loved like Sylvia Plath.
I just knew I had to bleed to death for four minutes on TV.
I just knew
I had to
bleed to death
for four minutes
She does it every time.