David Bowie developed a new guise for each album, Madonna for each song release; Lady Gaga seems to have one for every news cycle. The cavalcade of outfits churned out by her Haus of Gaga splashes across magazine covers, television, YouTube and social media. Yet onstage, amid all the artifice of costumes, wigs and dance steps, Lady Gaga keeps one impor tant thing natural: she doesn't lip-sync.
Whether she's wearing vinyl, silk, leather, hair or raw beef, she draws attention to her brash, insistent songs, with their stuttering choruses and booming dance beats. The title track of her latest album, "Born This Way," reached No. 1 in the United States and remains in the Top 20.
Lady Gaga is, by all accounts, a selfguided creation. "No matter what it is, she is giving the direction," said Paul Blair, also known as DJ White Shadow, a co-producer of "Born This Way" and other songs on the album. "She is 100 percent in charge of 100 percent of everything. Which is insane."
In her three years of celebrity, she has simultaneously proclaimed that "every moment of my life is a performance piece" and shrugged off any mystique.
She is still, she said, "an Italian New Yorker at heart, and I just want to make music and do this forever because I love it."
Her pace is relentless. "No one works like this girl," said Jimmy Iovine, the chairman of Interscope Geffen A&M Records, her label. "This is the first artist I've ever asked to stop. You really beg her to stop, and she doesn't stop."
Most hitmakers separate touring and recording; Lady Gaga made "Born This Way" while on the road. An extra tour bus held a recording studio; her engineer, Dave Russell, and two producers traveled with her. "Basically after the shows, I would go on the bus, and I would work all night," she explained. "Then we would pull the buses over, and then I would get back on my bus and go to sleep on my bed, and then we would just keep driving. "They would argue with me, and say, ‘Gaga, we can't do your vocals right now,' with the sound of the bus and the reverberat ion." She would say, "Turn the mike on and let 's do this." She cont inued, "I get so inspired and ready to go, and I'm not the kind of person that can hold in my creativity."
Lady Gaga wasn't exactly an overnight sensation, and her early rejection still smarts. “There were a lot of people that didn’t believe in me,” she said. “The Fame,” her first album, ignored trends by using an unsubtle beat, four-on-the-floor — an update of the disco thump. This beat had long driven hits in Europe, but American radio stations resisted it. Mr. Iovine said it took six months to get Lady Gaga's first single, "Just Dance," on the air; it went on to No. 1. "The masses will accept something new," Mr. Iovine said. "It's the people in between who will fight you."
Lady Gaga has been in the pop charts ever since. "Something that carries through all my songwriting is this undertone of grit and darkness and melancholy," she said. "The bitterness is hidden inside of these really soaring, joyful melodies." The music, she said, "takes on a completely different life once it enters the universe. It's never finished. Pop culture is my religion, so to say pop culture is your religion you'd better believe you work is never finished."
For the rafter-raising power ballad "You and I," Lady Gaga turned to Mutt Lange, who produced for Def Leppard (Mr. Lange, in turn, brought in Brian May, the guitarist in Queen, the band whose song "Radio Ga Ga" gave her a name.) While she was on the road, Mr. Lange asked her to record a rough lead vocal fo the song. "I had about 30 cigarettes and a couple of glasses of Jameson and jus put on a click track and sang my face off thinking, we'd redo the vocals," she said. She never had to; Mr. Lange loved what she sent.
"I think it's wonderful to be confiden about what you create," she said. "I think you have to be." But it's not the kind of confidence that lets her relax or even slow down. "Every day, in the mirror, on the stage, in interviews, to go to sleep, to finish that chorus I'm always in the boxing ring," she said. "But I have a one-two punch: ambition and drive."