To many, Lady Gaga is an icon.
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The glamorous pop star. known for her dancey songs and shape-shifting ability, has risen to the top of stardom and been able to stay there. She’s even earning Academy Award recognition for her recent forays into the world of acting. What can’t she do?
But what about her early beginnings—and where did she get that stage name?
Without further ado, let’s do some exploring on the origins of both Lady Gaga and her moniker.
Early Career Beginnings
Lady Gaga was born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta on March 28, 1986, in Manhattan, New York City. Later, as a student, she studied at Collaborative Arts Project 21, which is part of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. But she dropped out to pursue a career in music not long after enrolling.
She signed with Def Jam Recordings but the company canceled her contract and later she worked as a songwriter for Sony/ATV Music Publishing, where she signed a deal with Interscope Records and singer Akon’s label, KonLive Distribution in 2007.
In 2008 she released her debut studio album, The Fame, and rose to fame with hit singles like “Just Dance” and “Poker Face.” In 2009, she released the EP, The Fame Monster, which yielded three hit singles. Today, she’s sold more than 125 million albums and appeared in major movies such as A Star Is Born and House of Gucci.
Germanotta was born to an upper-middle-class Catholic family. She began to play piano at four years old when her mother insisted she become “a cultured young woman.” Those lessons taught her to create music by ear, which she preferred more than reading charts. As a teenager, she played open mics. She also took part in many roles on stage, including the role of Adelaide in the play Guys and Dolls.
Regarding her passion for music, she’s said, “I don’t know exactly where my affinity for music comes from, but it is the thing that comes easiest to me. When I was like three years old, I may have been even younger, my mom always tells this really embarrassing story of me propping myself up and playing the keys like this because I was too young and short to get all the way up there.
“Just go like this on the low end of the piano … I was really, really good at piano, so my first instincts were to work so hard at practicing piano, and I might not have been a natural dancer, but I am a natural musician. That is the thing that I believe I am the greatest at.”
In 2005, she recorded two songs with hip-hop star Melle Mel for an audiobook. In 2006, Gaga performed at a New Songwriters Showcase at the Cutting Room where talent scout Wendy Starland recommended her to music producer Rob Fusari. The two began working together, combining pop and dance music. And, as legend would have it, he was the first person to call her “Lady Gaga,” which came from the Queen’s song, “Radio Ga Ga.”
In 2009, Gaga went on tour as an opening act for the Pussycat Dolls’ “Doll Domination Tour” in Europe. Later, she headlined her own tour, “The Fame Ball Tour.”
“Radio Ga Ga”
Queen’s 1984 single was written by the band’s drummer, Roger Taylor. The song was originally released as a single with “I Go Crazy” as the B-side. Later, the song was included on the LP, The Works. As a single, the song hit No. 1 in 19 countries and No. 2 on the U.K. Singles Chart. It hit No. 16 in the U.S. Queen performed it at every concert from 1984 until their final show with lead singer Freddie Mercury in 1986, including the band’s famed show at Live Aid in 1985.
The artist’s biography, Lady Gaga: Queen of Pop, confirms the story. Germanotta took on the name of “Lady Gaga” from the song “Radio Ga Ga” by Queen, the book explains. Afterward, she released her 2008 debut, The Fame.
Prior to her debut release, Gaga was so confident in her name that she practically shouted it from the rooftops. Even though she had a record deal and was recording songs, some radio stations found her music too dance-oriented and even “racy.” This led the artist to famously say, “My name is Lady Gaga, I’ve been on the music scene for years, and I’m telling you, this is what’s next.”
With her new name in tow, Gaga learned that she could gain big attention, in part because of the moniker. Now, the 36-year-old, Manhattan-born musician is on top of the world.
Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images for The Recording Academy