March 15, 2014


John Norris Reflects on Lady Gaga's SXSW Keynote

Kevin Mazur/WireImage
Kevin Mazur/WireImage

Two key events for Lady Gaga will occur on March 28th. It will mark the first of her string of dates at New York's Roseland Ballroom, the final shows ever at the historic venue. It will also be the 28th birthday of music’s self-styled "creative rebel," the girl from the Upper West Side who went Lower East Side before launching into the pop stratosphere. "So the good news is, you're not going to become a member of the '27 Club,'" I told her during our keynote interview on Friday at SXSW. In her self-deprecating way, she said, "Not so fast!," reminding me that we've still got a couple of weeks to go.

It was quite a week for dance pop's boldest and most intriguing superstar. She saw bands and soaked up the flavor of her first-ever SX. She staged what can only be described as her rawest, most balls-out show ever at Stubb's. Included: a mechanical swine, the Jackson Pollack of regurgitation: vomit artist Millie Brown, a reunion of many of her old LES cohorts for a touching "Applause," and a thrilling send-off with her own "Born to Run," the ARTPOP standout "Gypsy." 

Kevin Mazur/WireImage
Kevin Mazur/WireImage

Then finally, she sat down with me as—somewhat incredibly—the first female SXSW keynote artist since 1999.

That honor was not lost on her—she confided as much in a hang several nights before our interview. But she was equally aware of the skepticism many SX attendees would have about her mere presence in Austin, much less one that collected a hefty paycheck from Doritos. Nevertheless Gaga resolved to convey a message this week in Texas. It's one she repeated onstage at Stubbs and in our keynote: Put down your phones. Go out and create. Stop observing and documenting, and start doing. Believe in your art and resolve to see it through. Don't depend on the would-be gatekeepers. 

That all sounds well and good—easier said than done, the detractors will say—plus it could be particularly rich coming from a multi-millionaire set for life. But this is one major-label superstar who is not merely paying lip service to feeling a kinship with struggling independents. It wasn't that many years ago that Gaga did pound the pavement, did work her ass off (she continues to) and it was by no means a given that this pop fairytale was ever going to happen. So I believe she believes it's possible for others. And that they need depend on no one but themselves.

That was a big topic of our conversation, as was what's ahead (a brand new video, the upcoming artRAVE tour, a possible ARTPOP part two) and the year gone by. There's no denying that the past 12 months have had their share of troubles for her: a broken hip that left her bed-ridden, frustrated and at times depressed, a by-all-accounts rancorous split from longtime manager Troy Carter, a lawsuit by a former personal assistant and, in ARTPOP, an album that while intriguing and ambitious, seemed not to connect with the public in as immediate a way as the more direct Born This Way. (Although she reminds us the album was hardly an "Artflop"—it's reached more than two million in sales worldwide.) We touched on it all—and concluded with some thoughts on the virulence of anti-LGBT backlash, from Russia to Uganda to Arizona. Oh and I got to meet Gaga's parents, who are as rad as you would imagine.

I could not be more pleased than to have spent time this week re-connecting with, to be honest, the only pop superstar I have much interest in connecting with. She's a special woman and a creative rebel, plus—no joke—I'm just not that grossed out by the vomit. Also remember her best line of the week: "When you leave this earth, no one is gonna care what you tweeted."  Amen to that. 

Below are some excerpts from my South By Southwest 2014 conversation with Lady Gaga. Also check out all of Fuse's coverage from SXSW here.

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Lady Gaga on creating and conceptualizing her SXSW performance

Lady Gaga on the vomitting portion of her SXSW performance

Lady Gaga on working with record labels

Lady Gaga on the commercial success of ARTPOP and "competition" with Katy Perry

Lady Gaga on the existence of a second part of ARTPOP