Rewind to Greenwich Village in early 2006. The Stefani Germanotta Band was performing at The Bitter End. The lead singer interrupted their cover of Led Zeppelin’s “D’yer Mak’er” to announce, “You guys f–king rock.” The 19-year-old was confident, authentic, and talented. More than 10 years separate these performances, but watch them back-to-back and you’ll fail to see much difference.
When Stefani became Gaga, she was working with Rob Fusari—a man who would produce, “name,” and ultimately sue her. (His $30.5 million suit claimed he was owed up to 20 percent of the profits off her first four albums, and her countersuit called that arrangement unlawful. They ultimately settled for an undisclosed amount). This music was electronic, dance-heavy, some tracks landing on what would become The Fame. Since-leaked demos include “Sexy Ugly” and “Ribbons”—the latter featuring a chorus about condoms (“wrap it up with a ribbon”) and a bridge Samantha Jones would enthusiastically endorse (“Only difference between downtown and uptown is therapy and Valium”).
Her follow up, The Fame Monster, was tonally darker. The eight-track EP featured pop culture references, ballads and Beyoncé. Her life became a performance art piece, and who she was wearing—Alexander McQueen or a butcher—made more headlines than her music. “The Manifesto of Little Monsters” gave a direct identity to her fans, and was signed with a date, 12/18/1974. The day her aunt Joanne passed away—nearly 12 years before Gaga’s birth.