The pop music landscape changed forever when Lady Gaga burst onto the scene in 2008 with chart-topping singles like ‘Just Dance’ and ‘Poker Face.’ Ten years later, she’s one of the biggest artists on the planet. Her rich vocal range and experimental spirit have earned her a faithful following and an estimated 27 million albums sold worldwide.
Now, Gaga is more than a best-selling recording artist. She’s an award-winning actress, with a prominent role in the series American Horror Story: Hotel. This year she makes the jump to film leading lady, as she stars in Bradley Cooper’s new film version of A Star Is Born. It’s her first leading role in a movie – and one which will invite comparisons to stars like Judy Garland and Barbara Streisand, who defined the same role in the ‘50s and ‘70s.
Before A Star Is Born arrives, let’s look back at Gaga’s own journey from aspiring singer to global superstar.
Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta was born in 1986 in New York City. Her talent was evident early on, as was her willingness to work to develop it. Piano lessons at age 4 gave way to Creative Arts Camp and teen nights spent playing open mic nights.
Her creative study wasn’t limited to music, however. Acting was a parallel passion. Winning leading roles in school plays was the first step on a path that included studying at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute, and at Collaborative Arts Project 21 through New York City’s Tisch School of the Arts.
Ultimately, the soon-to-be Gaga focused on music as her dominant pursuit. She dropped out of drama school to focus on songwriting and performance. Early forays into the recording business were unsuccessful, but each also led her closer to the identity of Lady Gaga. More and more, acting became a significant part of her musical persona.
After being dropped from a brief contract with Def Jam Records, for example, she performed in artful burlesque shows. During that time she met Lady Starlight, a performer who helped create a new stage persona. Stefani Germanotta combined fashion, art, and acting into an approachable but unforgettable concept: Lady Gaga.
So when Gaga’s debut album ‘The Fame’ arrived in 2008, it seemed like the performer had come from nowhere with a concept that was already fully formed. In reality, Stefani Germanotta developed “Lady Gaga” over several years, and the persona is as rooted in her early acting experience as it is in music.
‘American Horror Story’
Gaga quickly became one of the most recognizable artists in the world, which emboldened her to pursue additional creative outlets. Her first acting gig was as La Chameleón in Robert Rodriguez’s tongue-in-cheek action comedy Machete Kills, released in 2013. Her breakthrough role arrived in 2015 when she begged Ryan Murphy for a part on his acclaimed show American Horror Story.
Coincidentally, Murphy needed a new big name to front his anthology series since AHS stalwart Jessica Lange was leaving the show. Gaga fit the bill nicely. The fifth season, subtitled Hotel, featured Gaga as the Countess, a classy, elegant and feisty vampire. She spoke to Billboard about her character:
“I’m not the type of girl who fits most molds. That’s why working on American Horror Story with Ryan is a destiny. I wanted to create something extremely meaningful by exploring the art of darkness”
Gaga proved her abilities in scenes where she went toe-to-toe with icons such as Kathy Bates. AHS was a crucial turning point in her acting career, and she received acclaim for her nuanced performance and a Golden Globe award for Best Actress in a Miniseries or Television Film.
Gaga returned to American Horror Story for the Roanoke season, as the terrifying witch Scathach. She only appeared in a handful of episodes, however, as production coincided with the development of her new album, ‘Joanne.’
‘A Star Is Born’
After years of development by director Clint Eastwood, who for a time planned a version of the film starring Beyonce, A Star Is Born came together with Gaga in one of two lead roles. It’s the third remake of the 1937 classic and will follow talented but troubled musician Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper, also making his directorial debut), who encounters Gaga’s character Ally, a struggling young performer. Ally and Jackson fall in love, and Jackson helps Ally find success. But problems arise; their relationship suffers, and one rises while the other falls.
Lady Gaga isn’t even close to falling. In 10 short years, she has accomplished just about everything one can in the music industry. Now she has her sights set on film stardom, and we expect her fortune to be just as rich and bold on the big screen as on the stage.
A Star Is Born hits theaters October 5, 2018.