'It Changes You Forever': Lady Gaga On David Bowie And Being Brave In a conversation with Michel Martin, the pop chameleon reflects on two life-changing moments from the start of her career — one an enduring trauma, the other an explosion of self-discovery.
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'It Changes You Forever': Lady Gaga On David Bowie And Being Brave

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'It Changes You Forever': Lady Gaga On David Bowie And Being Brave

'It Changes You Forever': Lady Gaga On David Bowie And Being Brave

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Finally today, our next guess is someone who probably doesn't need an introduction.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "POKER FACE")

LADY GAGA: Pa, pa, pa poker face, pa, pa, poker face. I want to roll with him, a hard pair we will be...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BAD ROMANCE")

LADY GAGA: (Singing) Rah, rah, ah, ah, ah. Ro mah, ro mah, mah. Gaga, ooh-la-la, want your bad romance...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JUST DANCE")

LADY GAGA: (Singing) Just dance, going to be OK, da, da, doo, doo mmm - just dance...

MARTIN: She was born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, but she is known around the world as Lady Gaga. Her resume includes six Grammys for a wide-ranging music career and a new Golden Globe for her acting role on the FX television show "American Horror Story: Hotel." Earlier this month, she sang the national anthem at the Super Bowl. And she's been nominated for an Oscar for an original song "Til It Happens To You."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TIL IT HAPPENS TO YOU")

LADY GAGA: (Singing) You tell me it gets better. It gets better in time. You say pull myself together, pull it together. You'll be fine.

MARTIN: She covered that song with Diane Warren for "The Hunting Ground," a documentary about campus sexual assault which is also up for an Oscar. When I talked with Lady Gaga at her home in Manhattan, I started by asking her why she decided to get involved in a project about sexual assault, which could be a difficult decision for anybody, but especially for someone who, like her, has been through it.

LADY GAGA: The song "Til It Happens To You" is something that has come out of a group of women really coming together who have decided that they wanted to make a change. That's me and Diane Warren and Bonnie, who's the music supervisor. When we first started talking, I was really, really sort of not sure what to do. I have a very sort of uncomfortable relationship with this topic because it's so personal to me, and I didn't know if I was ready to be a part of it. And as soon as I met Diane and she started to talk to me about what she wanted to do, I knew that I had to be brave. And I had to help tell this story to the world.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TIL IT HAPPENS TO YOU")

LADY GAGA: (Singing) You tell me hold your head up, hold your head up and be strong 'cause when you fall, you've got to get up. You've got to get up and move on.

So Diane and I met in New York City, and she played me this song idea that she had started. And I immediately started crying. And I was really unsure even in that moment if I was going to be able to do it. And then she said well, I want you to make it your own. And I want it to be something that you feel connected to.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TIL IT HAPPENS TO YOU")

LADY GAGA: (Singing) I don't want to hear nothing from you, from you, from you, from you 'cause you don't know.

We started to change the song together, make something that reflected both of our experiences with sexual assault. And this song began to become something else. And I mean, I guess it's a long story. But what I'm trying to say is it's a quite complicated one. It's one that starts with me when I was a young girl that I had this traumatic experience. And it's sort of, you know, coming full circle now and really ending in a way for me as I'm healing from it and writing this song with Diane.

MARTIN: You know, you as an artist and also through your foundation have been working for some time on some really raw and emotionally complex issues. Given that you have a voice on these things, how do you decide what you want to talk about? Because I can imagine that it is very overwhelming.

LADY GAGA: Well, for me, I always have been an activist of things that were just authentically a part of my life that I felt connected to. You know, my involvement in Don't Ask, Don't Tell and marriage equality, anti-bullying and also, you know, social emotional learning in schools, you know, these are all things that are arising out of my relationship with the world and what I see inside of not only my fans but, you know, any audience I get the pleasure of singing or performing for. I feel their stories; I listen to them; I meet with them; I see them. They write me letters; I read them. I - I'm in tune with what people want to change in the world. And I feel that I just want to, you know, be a part of moving that forward. And I really want nothing for it in return. I really just genuinely feel that that's, you know, what you do when you're an artist is you stick up for the people around you that support your music and that love you. And the world can be a better place if we all work together.

MARTIN: That's one thing I wanted to talk about, too. It seems as though you're at a point in your career where it seems that you are very free. I mean, not many people can go from wearing a meat dress, you know, to doing duets with Tony Bennett and then singing the national anthem at the Super Bowl and then doing this amazing David Bowie tribute at the Grammys. I'm just wondering do you feel as free in your mind as you seem to us watching you? And how did you get there?

LADY GAGA: Well, I have got to tell you, it really is my team. It's really the people that I have around me that take care of me. They're really my family. I mean, this industry's really tough. And, you know, as soon as you start to make money selling your music, there's a lot of people around you that, you know, are very excited about what you have to offer financially to business. And they start to maybe forget that there's a person underneath all of that. And my team now, you know, they spend every day making sure that I'm healthy and happy and that I am able to focus on the things that I love, which is music. I mean, I'm - I have time every single day to sit at the piano. I have time every single day to sing. These are things that are really important as an artist that you have to take care of your craft. So I guess maybe the freedom that you're feeling is that I - you know, for me, I do feel free. I can just enjoy making music and entertaining people because if I'm not happy, you know, I can't make other people feel happy when I'm on stage. And that's what I really want. I love to perform and, you know, light up the room with excitement.

MARTIN: Well, speaking of lighting up the room with excitement, I have to talk about the Grammy to be to David Bowie. I mean, somebody you've been compared to in some ways for your own work and constantly reimagining yourself and kind of testing the boundaries of presentation and, you know, performance. And I just have to ask how did he inspire you? What kind of got you there?

LADY GAGA: Well, the moment that I saw the "Aladdin Sane" cover for the first time, I was 19 years old. And it just - it changed my perspective on everything forever. It was an image that changed my life. And I remember I took the vinyl record out and I put it on my vinyl player, which was on my stovetop in my kitchen because I was living in this really tiny apartment, and I played that record. And "Watch That Man" came on - that was just the beginning of my artistic birth.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WATCH THAT MAN")

DAVID BOWIE: (Singing) Shaky threw a party that lasted all night. Everybody drank a lot of something nice.

LADY GAGA: I had never heard somebody with such a strong musical perspective that combined so many different genres and types of music in such a boundless way. I had never heard or seen anyone that was so limitless in his vision, where music could go and how you can change the world in a single moment by creating some piece of theater that is just otherworldly. He was a once-in-a-lifetime artist that I don't think we will ever, ever, ever witness again.

(SOUNDBITE OF 2016 GRAMMY AWARDS)

LADY GAGA: (Singing) Check ignition and may God's love be with you. This is ground control to Major Tom. You really made the grade. And the...

I mean, I really actually could go on and on about him. But the truth is that from the moment I saw that cover, my life changed forever. And I started to, you know, dress more expressive of how I wanted to be. I started to be more free with my choices. I started to have more fun. I was playing with a band. I - I guess what I'm trying to tell you is my friends and I - we've lived a lifestyle of total immersion in music, fashion, art and technology since we were kids. And this is because of him. And I just simply would never be here or have the philosophies that I have if I didn't have someone to look up to that blew my mind so intensely, you know? You meet or see a musician that has something that is of another planet, of another time, it changes you forever. I'm sure everyone has that. I believe everyone has that - don't you? - that one thing that you saw as a kid that made you go oh, OK, now I know who I am.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BORN THIS WAY")

LADY GAGA: (Singing) My mama told me when I was young, we are all born superstars. She rolled my hair and put my lipstick on in the glass of her boudoir.

MARTIN: Lady Gaga, just off of her Grammy performance, the Super Bowl performance and looking ahead to the Oscars, where she is nominated for her original song "Til It Happens To You." Lady Gaga, thank you so much for speaking with us.

LADY GAGA: Thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BORN THIS WAY")

LADY GAGA: (Singing) I'm beautiful in my way 'cause God makes no mistakes. I'm on the right track, baby, I was born this way. Don't hide yourself in regret, just love yourself and you're set. I'm on the right track, baby, I was born this way, born this way. Oh, there ain't no other way. Baby, I was born this way. Baby, I was born this way.

MARTIN: For Sunday, that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR news. I'm Michel Martin. You can follow us on Twitter - @npratc or follow me - @NPRMichel. We're back next weekend. Thank you for listening and have a great week.

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