Lady Gaga’s Full Circle Journey: How the Joanne Era Pays Tribute to Her Beginnings

She arrived just before 9:30 p.m. After greeting fans who couldn’t make it inside, she ran through the crowd and onto the dive bar stage. “My name is Lady Gaga,” she started. “I’m a singer-songwriter from New York and I’m coming through Nashville.” In that moment, that’s exactly who she was and who she’s always been. After winning Grammys, touring the world, and becoming a global phenomenon—Gaga was finally returning to her roots just before the release of Joanne.

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.

Before her Bitter End performance, Gaga made a splash at the 2005 UltraViolet Live talent competition while studying at NYU. After singing two original songs, the impressed MCs joked, “Norah Jones watch out,” because that was a thing in 2005.

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”).

The artist formerly known as Stefani Germanotta snowballed quickly into a global phenomenon with The Fame. She satirized pop culture and the modern pop star, most memorably in her 2009 VMA performance of “Paparazzi,” where the fame “took her life” on-stage.

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.

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