Tracing the Origins of Lady Gaga's 'Joanne' Transformation

Tracing the Origins of Lady Gaga's 'Joanne' Transformation

While some may be shocked by the musician's latest transformation, evidence of Lady Gaga's Joanne persona has been there all along. Here, we unpack the continual reinventions of pop's greatest chameleon.

While some may be shocked by the musician's latest transformation, evidence of Lady Gaga's Joanne persona has been there all along. Here, we unpack the continual reinventions of pop's greatest chameleon.

Text: Jake Viswanath

In the two years since Lady Gaga released her last album, Cheek to Cheek, a transformation has been afoot. She has refrained from donning her infamous costumes of utmost extravagance and instead mostly decked out in relatively normal and subdued fare for a celebrity—sleek and luxurious ballgowns, vintage cut-off rock tees, and even sneakers. More recently, during the buildup to her new album Joanne, Gaga has cultivated a new look, consisting of different varieties of high-waisted shorts, expertly ragged crop tops, and every type of glam rock heel, boot, or sneaker under the sun, sometimes complete with subtle outerwear. She pulls off the looks effortlessly, but for many, the change is still disorienting.

Since the beginning of her career, Gaga has been faced with questions about who she really is behind the costumes and provocative music videos. Her pre-career days as a cabaret glam rock performer in New York clubs, and her known affections for jazz and classic rock, made people suspect about the “real Gaga” even more. Her answer almost each and every time? All of these attributes are part of the true Lady Gaga. To say that we're seeing a completely new side to Gaga with Joanne is not entirely accurate—upon closer examination, there have been hints of her all along. (Aside from Joanne being her middle name, and the name of her late aunt who passed away when she was 19.)

Based on what we’ve heard so far, Joanne signals a transition in Gaga’s music repertoire that compliments the more stripped down style of late. She's placing a greater focus on organic instrumentation and pure vocals, taking cues from Western rock and '70s singer-songwriter material, infusing the new songs with folk and country elements (reflected in her album's collaborators: Father John Misty, BloodPop, Tame Impala's Kevin Parker, Mark Ronson, Florence Welch). But these influences are evident in previous works as well: Smash single “Yoü and I” took inspiration from Shania-style twang-pop, piano ballad “Dope” became a surprise top 10 hit, and emotional classic-rocker “Speechless” remains one of her best artistic achievements to date.

The core of Lady Gaga’s music—big pop melodies, dark lyrics, and a penchant for snappy hooks — remains, showing that this move is not a completely radical reinvention. It also proves that her previous material should not be disregarded as inauthentic or success-chasing. Rather, it shows that we’re just seeing Gaga filtered through a different lens.

We are undeniably witnessing Lady Gaga go through a new phase, publicly adopting a new character, Joanne, and fully embracing the career changes that come with it. But to call this so-called reinvention shocking and unexpected would be inaccurate. She has spent the last two years reestablishing herself as a versatile performer by collaborating with Tony Bennett, giving a Sound of Music tribute at the Oscars, taking on television with Ryan Murphy's American Horror Story, and performing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl. Given all this work, her transition to a more stripped down era makes sense—and feels more authentic than a return to her dance roots would.

“I will be all of these woman forever. I am a shape-shifter, a pop-cultural magician. I am not just one icon. I am every icon,” Gaga once said in her V85 cover story. While this was a statement made to explain her previous album, ARTPOP, it applies equally to the forthcoming Joanne.

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