I Think About This a Lot: Lady Gaga Edition

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Getty Images

Ciao, bellissima. If you need something to help pass the time until you can finally escape your family on this lovely Thanksgiving day to go watch Stefani Germanotta earn an Oscar in House of Gucci, welcome. In the House of Cut, we too have been counting down the minuti until this high-fashion, high-camp, highly anticipated spectacle in which Mother Monster stars as Perfect Villain Patrizia Gucci. (Not that we haven’t enjoyed and obsessively tracked the spectacle that is a Gaga Movie Press Tour™.) While you wait out the official slicing of the pumpkin pie, consider rewatching and reflecting on the most memorable moments in the (father, son, and) House of Gaga that these eight writers can’t get out of their heads.

“Kids are the best. Pure honesty.”

We all know that BBC talk-show host Graham Norton stands head and shoulders above his American counterparts. There’s something about his couch. Normally tight-lipped or dour celebrities sit on it and become effusive, even delightful. So imagine what it did to Lady Gaga, who’s already both those things. Don’t imagine, watch the episode. Or at the very least, watch two moments therein that are forever on my mind, two moments that exemplify what makes Graham Norton the best: loose lips and familiarity.

In the first (skip to 12:31), Lady Gaga accidentally calls British comedian Greg Davies fat. It starts out nice. She compliments his self-effacing promotional image — a shot of him shirtless — calling it “magnificent” and “like a Helmut Newton photograph.” He recounts a funny story of how his young nieces, after being instructed not to comment on his stomach, told him he was fat. A lot of Greg Davies’s material is about his physicality. He’s asking you to laugh at how out of shape (and how crazy tall) he is. It doesn’t hurt him. Or if it does, he invites the hurt. And then.

Gaga chimes in: “Kids are the best. Pure honesty.” Beat. Greg pulls a face. Audience laughs. Now, international pop star Lady Gaga does not know British comedian Greg Davies. She’s a serious performer who’s no doubt had media training. But, well, she’s comfortable on that couch.

The second is the segment with then-89-year-old English actress June Brown. She starred on a soap called EastEnders. (I’ve never seen it, but I gather it’s a big deal, like England’s Days of Our Lives.) It happens often that on Graham’s couch there’s a mix of world-famous Americans sat alongside British entertainers who are very well-known on their rather small island. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. This works. From the moment Brown arrives on camera with her purse, coat, and cigarette (!), Gaga is her No. 1 fan. She fawns over her, listens to her, compliments her, and promotes her book when Brown’s too embarrassed to do it herself. For ten whole minutes! It’s odd, but watching it I feel like I’m watching a new partner I’ve brought home to meet my family for the first time be incredibly kind to my grandmother. Which is weird, right? But that’s Graham Norton, and the power of Lady Gaga’s charm when she turns it on. Rachel Bashein

Remember Jo Calderone?

I have to go with my lust here, and that leads me to Lady Gaga’s drag alter ego, Jo Calderone. Calderone was created in 2010, during the Born this Way era, after it seemed like there wasn’t anything else Gaga could do to shock any longer. Alongside frequent collaborator Nick Knight, Calderone debuted in a V Magazine spread alongside a very long pseudo-intellectual essay from Gaga about how they decided to “remodel” the model and initially catfished publications into thinking Calderone was a male model. Of course after this, everyone learned Gaga was Calderone, and then he was subsequently the love interest in “You and I” and then had an unforgettable 2011 MTV VMA debut that included hitting on Britney Spears.

This is all to say, I personally never needed an intellectual reasoning for Calderone, because I’ve always thought Jo was incredibly sexy, which likely says too much about me. Gaga’s drag as Jo teeters on male parody — all greased-back hair, leather jacket, dirty white T-shirts, and a perfect slut bang. It’s consummate dirtbag apparel and appeal. Calderone’s personality — talking about jerking off to Britney Spears during a press conference, making fun of Gaga, and constant chain-smoking — could really use a little more finesse, but I guess that’s the point. I can’t decide if Jo was Gaga’s most embarrassing creation or her greatest — but I do know Jo Calderone is something only a bisexual icon could come up with. Kerensa Cadenas

When Gaga Jumped From a Roof

When Miss Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta began her 51st Super Bowl Halftime Show performance on the roof of NRG Stadium in Houston, I thought, what. When she started her performance singing “God Bless America” and “This Is Your Land,” I felt something deep swell up inside me, almost like some long lost American pride that felt appropriate to conjure up for this “holiday.” And then, she jumped.

Was it her clawed hands as she lept from that roof or the way she moved her legs and arms like she was crawling as she descended that made me scream with joy? I couldn’t tell you. To go from “God Bless America” to “Poker Face” is a choice, and it was the right one. She went on to sing only bangers, like “Born This Way,” “Telephone,” and “Just Dance.” While she took a break from her insane choreo to play the piano for “Million Reasons,” she said “hey dad, hi mom,” like she was performing on a high-school stage. And finally, as she concluded her performance, she not only mic-dropped, but leapt again. Brooke LaMantia

The Horniest Oscars

Lady Gaga is one of those people whose face my memory simply cannot, will not, scan and store. But there is one exception that proves the rule, one specific Gaga whose image I cannot erase from my brain: 2019 Academy Awards Gaga, seated on a piano bench, bronzed almost orange, her white-blonde hair swirled atop her head like a Mr. Softee cone. Bradley Cooper’s meticulously tanned forehead is also, memorably, inching into the frame. They are singing, and I am screaming, because for agonizing minutes the sexual tension animating this performance of “Shallow” has been building toward something, which now looks inevitably like it will be humping. Right here on this Oscars stage.

That year, their vehicle for mutual flirtation (A Star Is Born) had been heaped with nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor and Actress in leading roles, Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Sound Mixing, Best Cinematography, and — crucially — Best Original Song. This honor required both Gaga and Cooper to perform the single that launched their cinematic love story. But recall the extended press tour that brought us to this moment, and the accompanying tabloid speculation about a possible secret romance had been percolating for months. A short list of praise they piled on one another while doing publicity:

“Lady Gaga is a revelation,” raved Cooper.

“Watching Bradley work was phenomenal and then having him believe in me — it gave me more ammunition to believe in myself and I just feel so blessed to have had that experience,” effused Gaga. 

“She leveled the entire room when she came out,” reflects Cooper. 

“There can be 100 people in the room and 99 don’t believe in you, and just one does. And it can change everything. I wouldn’t be here if Bradley didn’t believe me,” counters Gaga. 

“I remember every single moment of it. From the moment she walked down the stairs, it was one of those magical things,” attests Cooper, likely through happy tears. 

“The second that I saw him I was like, Have I known you my whole life? It was an instant connection, instant understanding of one another,” says Gaga.

We can go on like this for really some time — Cooper telling Variety he “fell in love with her face and eyes” the moment he saw his co-star, remember that? — but I don’t think we need to.

You get the point. If you felt a frisson of excitement when Cooper took Gaga’s hand and led her up the stairs from their front-row seats at the Dolby Theatre, that frisson came backed by evidence.

Disarmingly, the whole thing started off regular: Cooper and Gaga roughly a piano’s length apart, making seemingly unblinking eye contact but not touching. But then, then! Gaga sweeps to the bench, still staring into Cooper’s eyes. Now he is smiling the smile of a man in love. They over-enunciate their way through the chorus, and as Gaga leans further and further into the (sort of erotic?) warbling, Cooper can keep away from her no longer. He sidles in beside her on the bench, slotting his nose into the blank space near the nape of her neck. The eye fuck that passes between them feels unmistakable and also very powerful, to the degree that Gaga must quickly avert her eyes. Ostensibly this positioning may have allowed Cooper to better access the mic, but now Gaga’s head rests tenderly against his, and this is how they stay for the next ~15 seconds: eyes closed in shared pleasure, mouths this close to kissing. Then all this musical edging comes the crescendo, and they finish with a bang, which is to say: a sleepy post-orgasmic look of satisfaction.

Gaga would eventually assure the thirsty masses that “people saw love” because, “guess what, that’s what we wanted you to see,” an explanation I do and don’t buy. Watching it feels like how I imagine it would be to sit trapped next to the window on an airplane while two of your neighbors make out. Anyway, Cooper and Gaga did not go diving into the deep end together after splitting from their then-partners, but one wonders what could’ve been. —Claire Lampen

The Time Gaga Died

It pains me that we don’t talk more about Gaga’s incredible “Paparazzi” performance at the 2009 MTV VMAs. It was her first major awards show and this would have been The Moment of the night had the best female video feud not happened. At 16, I was a fan: The Fame had just come out a year before, and “Paparazzi” quickly became one of my little friend group’s favorite songs. (Purple! Teardrops! I! Cry!) So, of course I was excited to see her perform it live — and I was nowhere near ready for it.

Gaga starts by singing a stripped-down version of “Poker Face,” laying on the floor of what looks like a haunted mansion. When “Paparazzi” begins, it feels like a darker version of an already dark song. The styling and dancing are unlike everything Gaga’s peers have been doing on stage. There’s a wheelchair, there’s a cane, there’s a piano. People are thinking the whole thing is either avant-garde or weird as hell. At one point the camera cuts to Sean Diddy Combs in the audience, looking like the human embodiment of “what the actual fuck.”

The climax comes when Gaga hits her last “I’m your biggest fan, I’ll follow you until you love me” and blood begins gushing out of her chest. The crowd reacts in horror; she continues to sing, sounding more and more desperate while her white costume and exposed abdomen turn crimson. She is picked up by her dancers and then begins to scream as they surround her and string her up to a rope. She is hoisted up in the air, her eyes glazed over as a multitude of cameras flash. Gaga is dead.

It was a terrifying sight. It was also a genius commentary on the despicable way famous women have been treated by society — particularly in the paparazzi’s gold-rush era. “If I’m gonna be sexy on the VMAs and sing about the paparazzi, I’m gonna do it while I’m bleeding to death and reminding you of what fame did to Marilyn Monroe. And what it did to Anna Nicole Smith. And what it did to … yeah. Do you know who?” she said in her 2017 documentary Gaga: Five Foot Two, the last part referring to the late Amy Winehouse.

This “Paparazzi” performance had all the hallmarks of what would become classic Gaga moments. And of course, Teen Me didn’t get all that text, or even subtext, until much later. What I knew at the time is that I was a budding feminist who loved dance and theatre, someone coming of age on a conservative island with a deep history of violence against women. The first part is why the performance entranced me at the time, the second is why it has stayed embedded in my brain after all these years. Andrea González-Ramírez

The Topless Business Meeting

First thing’s first: If you’ve made it this far without watching the Lady Gaga documentary, Gaga: Five Foot Two on Netflix, stop what you’re doing and get back to me. There are so many good moments in it — Lady Gaga crying at a baptism and then smoking a blunt outside the church after; Lady Gaga reheating chicken in a thong onesie; Lady Gaga ranting about Madonna — but it is also an objectively good portrait of Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanottta.

I’ve watched it three times now since it came out in 2017, but there is one scene that I will never forget: Gaga is having a poolside meeting with her creative directors, Andrea Gelardin and Ruth Hogben to discuss her look for her upcoming album, Joanne. It’s her most stripped-down and personal to date, and she wants a new uniform that reflects this. “Honestly, we’ve just seen me fucking glamorous for almost ten years,” she says while wearing a green bikini and large black sunglasses. “It’s like… It’s boring. It really is boring.” Her creative directors nod, trying to keep up with the fact that their boss, Mother Monster just told them she wants to trade meat dresses for jorts, when suddenly, Gaga interjects. “Sorry, it just feels better,” she mumbles.

Cut to Gaga: She’s topless. Gelardin stifles a laugh, but they keep going. This is just a normal meeting; nothing to see here. (Except Gaga’s boobs.) “I think it’s gold,” Hogben says of the sartorial plot twist. And it’s not like they needed any more convincing — clearly, Gaga doesn’t need fashion to put on a good show. I think about this every time I’m in a serious meeting: What if I just took my top off, and made it seem like no big deal? Now that’s power. Emilia Petrarca

Arriving at the Venice Film Festival

Photo: Jacopo Raule/GC Images

What is the epitome of glamour to you? To me, it is Lady Gaga sailing into the Venice International Film Festival in 2018. There she is, perched on the edge of a water taxi, legs crossed delicately, pointy black stilettos dangling inches above the foamy Adriatic Sea. Her platinum hair is slicked back and coiffed into three perfect circles at the crown of her head, she’s in an immaculately tailored strappy black bustier dress, and she is — inexplicably — carrying a red rose.

Gaga was in Venice for the world premiere of A Star Is Born, one of her first forays into feature-film acting and the movie that launched 1,000 memes. To be honest (and this opinion has never won me any friends), I find A Star Is Born to be just a fine movie and I will never forgive it for turning up its nose at the line, “Why’d you come around me with an ass like that?” What’s really memorable to me is not the film itself but the way it Arrived with a capital A. The Gaga-ified Old Hollywood looks she wore to every premiere, the way she and co-star and director Bradley Cooper gushed about each other so feverishly, the swirl of rumors their palpable chemistry during press tours set off. Because A Star Is Born has been made and remade during various eras of music, style, and film, this iteration had to be not just a remake but an indelible cultural moment. And Gaga made it that.

Just 24 hours later, Gaga would deliver this look at premiere night, and a literal bolt of lightning would hit the theater mid-movie. But Gaga already knew this would not be a regular movie-promo season, because she had announced it upon arrival, via a singular flower and an unsuspecting Venetian water taxi. She sniffed that rose knowingly, seeing that we had no idea what she had in store for us. She peeked over her shoulder next to her double-earringed agent boyfriend, breaking into a little smirk that said, Doesn’t this look fun? She made the most graceful boat exit to ever happen, a kindly Italian gentleman helping her up while she gazed back at her adoring fans. There’s no doubt in my mind Gaga engineered the entire performance, ushering herself into Hollywood’s arms with an entrance just as grandiose as stepping onstage.

We are now entering a new season of Gaga feature-film promotion, for an entirely different but equally campy role. She’s already made it clear we can expect the same level of spectacle throughout the movie’s rollout, because in the House of Gaga the film release is just another leg of the performance. But nothing will beat the way my jaw dropped when she first made that clear, sniffing a rose, on a boat, in Venice. Danielle Cohen

Lauren Conrad As “Super Woman”

Would there even be a House of Gucci starring Lady Gaga if it wasn’t for Lauren Conrad? Let me back up. So on season four of the MTV reality show The Hills, “some girl named Lady Gaga,” as no-bullshit PR boss Kelly Cutrone unceremoniously put it, had a memorable little cameo. Gaga, then still a music newbie — it was 2008 — was performing at an Interscope Records event at early-aughts historical L.A. landmark, Area nightclub. For a series known for its manufactured drama, a very real (maybe?) scene happened backstage: Gaga’s zipper snagged.

Rushing over to Conrad and Whitney Port, Gaga’s poker face (sorry) fell, and betrayed her mild panic. (Or, if you’re a conspiracy theorist, her genius. I mean, she did make eye contact with the camera as the drama unfolded.) Port, with a hint of complete freakout in her voice, started asking no one in particular for jackets. Then Conrad, queen of the interns, came to the rescue by, well, unzipping then re-zipping the back of Gaga’s latex catsuit. All’s well. Gaga performed. End scene.

But what if, right? What if the wardrobe malfunction had triggered some catastrophic series of events that ended in the show not going on? Or worse, what if Gaga had been forced to change into some decidedly non-Gaga backup outfit — a going-out top you would’ve worn to Area perhaps — fully embarrassing her on national television and forcing her to turn away from the cameras for good? Anyway, altogether now: grazie, LC.Jen Ortiz

I Think About This a Lot: Lady Gaga Edition