Late in 2009 we conducted research with young women around the world: from Paris to Moscow to Mumbai to Sao Paulo to Tokyo. In every city, young ladies brought up Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta. Otherwise known as Lady Gaga. How does a young performer go from being a virtual unknown in 2007—to becoming one of the hottest stars on the planet? As someone entrenched in the music business once told me, “It’s not about the music.”
It’s about the brand. And the ability to meld performance talent with a brand narrative that captures imaginations and makes people (forgive me) go gaga.
Sometimes this melding produces Disneyesque mutations like The Jonas Brothers, The Backstreet Boys, and the Hanson brothers. Sometimes not.
Back to Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta. Her story contains all the elements of the primal brand: creation story, creed, icons, rituals, sacred words, nonbelievers and leader.
If you don’t already know, Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta began performing in the rock music scene of New York City’s Lower East Side. She performed at local clubs around NYU until she signed with Streamline Records in 2007. Music producer Rob Fusari, who helped her write some of her earlier songs, compared her vocal style to that of Freddie Mercury. Fusari helped create the moniker Gaga, after the Queen song “Radio Ga Ga“. The singer was in the process of trying to come up with a stage name, when she received a text message from Fusari that read “Lady Gaga”.
Her debut album, The Fame, released on August 19, 2008. It topped the Billboard Top Electronic Albums chart. Its first two singles, “Just Dance” and “Poker Face” became international number-one hits. The album earned six Grammy Award nominations and won awards for Best Electronic/Dance Album and Best Dance Recording. In 2009, she embarked on her first headlining tour, The Fame Ball Tour. By the end of 2009, she released her second studio album The Fame Monster, with the global chart-topping lead single “Bad Romance“, as well as having embarked on her second headlining tour of the year, The Monster Ball Tour.
Her creed is about being a total woman. And sometimes totally outrageous.
Iconically, Lady Gaga performs in lingerie. She alternately has pink hair, black hair, and all other. She holds a microphone like she’s having sex. She reminds older folks of the traditional of outrageous rock performers, but Lady Gaga has has kicked grandma Madonna up a notch.
Some of Gaga’s rituals are standard rock fare: the concerts, the appearances, the fanzines and foto shoots. But Gaga has given each of them her own twist. (Let’s face it: a bra that shoots fire is in a category all its own.)
In terms of a special lexicon surrounding her brand, “Lady Gaga” of course is a sacred word. Her song lyrics—mouthed by her millions of fans around the world at concerts—have also become a part of her lexicon.
Just as Dunkin’ Donuts people abhor Starbucks (and vice versa) Lady Gaga’s nonbelievers include people who people who prefer Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus, as well as those are as turned off by her outrageous appearance—the same thing that turns on her millions of fans.
The leader, of course, is Lady Gaga. And those who advise her rocket ride to stardom.
With her brand now known around the world, it will be up to Lady Gaga to see whether or not she can sustain her fame. Or become just a flash in the global digital slipstream.