Lady Gaga's Collaborators Reflect on Creating 'Joanne'

Lady Gaga's Collaborators Reflect on Creating 'Joanne'

The electric guitars, the ripped denim shorts, the pink hat—here's what went into the creation of Gaga's latest album, as told by her collaborators.

The electric guitars, the ripped denim shorts, the pink hat—here's what went into the creation of Gaga's latest album, as told by her collaborators.

Text: William Defebaugh

This fall, Lady Gaga released her highly-anticipated fifth studio album, JoanneWith rock-infused bangers like "A-Yo" and "Perfect Illusion" as well as raw emotional ballads like "Million Reasons" (the record's breakaway hit, which the singer has nailed on every stage from the Victoria's Secret Show to the AMAs), the number one album finds Gaga stripped to her core, tackling themes that include social justice, personal trauma, and womanhood.

As with all of Gaga's releases, Joanne came with a distinct new sound, aesthetic, and persona—all crafted in partnership with a tight-knit group of collaborators, some of which are familiar and others new to the fold. V spoke with a few of these creators who shed light on the processes that went into bringing one of the year's heaviest-hitting albums to life.

The Music: Mark Ronson, Producer

"It was quite an in-depth process to happen in six months. When you're working on things, there’s a rhythm, and you're having a good time, and it can fly by, but at the same time, you think of all of the people that came in and contributed, and all of the work that came out of it in just six months. It was just lovely.

I've known [Gaga] for about 10 years. I know what her sound is, and I know how good of a singer she is, but going into it, I didn’t know if we could necessarily click creatively. We do quite different things. I know we like the same things, but that’s not always enough. And then we got in and in the first few days we were awkward, starting a record with anyone is always kind of like this mixture between the first day of school and a blind date that brings out all of your neuroses and anxieties. Every time I start a new record, the day before I am always like are they going to find out that I have no good ideas and that I've been making it up the whole time? But we got in and after the first couple of days, we sat down and I think the first song that came out was “Diamond Heart” and then “Joanne” the next day. It was just so moving. I can only judge something by thinking, Fuck, if this came out would I be psyched to listen to it five times in a row? And I had that feeling about those songs. “Joanne” is such a meaningful record to her. The minute she sang that hook, I was playing the guitar for it, and she had the idea for the first lyric: 'Where do you think you're going? Where do you think you're going?' I didn’t even know the whole backstory at that point, but I was moved almost to tears. With that song, we were just like, “Let’s make the album.”

Then, incredible people that we share relationships with started coming in, some that write, and some that were just fans that came in and did amazing shit. It was kind of an incredible musical summer camp in a way. Of course it's work and there are arguments, and you're fucking getting on each other’s nerves at times, and everyone is passionate about their opinions, but for the most part it was just us camped out in this incredible studio with all of these fucking amazing people coming by and adding their thing to these songs of hers."

The Visuals: Ruth Hogben and Andrea Gelardin, Creative Directors

"We have worked with Lady Gaga for almost 10 years, across various projects, but working with her on Joanne felt different. Not only is it a change of direction for her as a musician, but also as a woman. Joanne is an album by a strong woman, about a strong woman and this really resonated for us. We were lucky enough to be able to listen to the music very early on; we spent time in the studio with her and Mark and we were there at the conception of some of the most poignant tracks. Seeing the journey the album took allowed us to fully understand the intention behind it, this meant we were able to truly and authentically marry the music and imagery.

'Perfect Illusion' is a song is full of energy and we wanted a video that reflected that energy and that felt raw and exciting. It was Lady Gaga that originally envisioned this video as a performance and we used that initial idea as our starting point. Gaga is a very inclusive person and we wanted this to come across in the video, so we didn’t want her performing on a stage—we felt this would separate her from the crowd, and we really wanted her to be part of it. We really loved the idea of Mark Ronson, BloodPop and Kevin Parker being in the video, again showing the collaborative nature of Gaga as an artist.

We wanted the video to show her without artifice, in a way that her videos may not have done in the past. There is a simplicity in the concept. For example, we love that she holds the handheld mic within the performance. The single cover was taken on the same day. We didn’t want it to be a posed still or a "fashion image,” we wanted it to show movement and energy and for it to be about her and her performance.

Gaga drove the Bronco herself in the video and her commitment to the performance and her authentic raw energy really came across in the way she drove! For us, as directors, it was scary and exciting at the same time—the energy and emotion were purely authentic. Her dad was on set and he told her she could drive as fast as long as she kept her seatbelt on!"

The Fashion: Brandon Maxwell, Stylist

"This was the first time that I saw her be fully in one physical place for the creation of an album. She got her driver's license and drove herself to the studio every day. It was a very pure experience where the focus was all on creating the music and the album. I've done pretty much all of them with her, and with Nicola [Formichetti] at this point, and she was always recording albums as she was on tour or working on other projects. This was the first time I got to see her leave the house every day, and see how she would dress herself, and get in the car and drive herself around.

The biggest inspiration for me with [styling] this album was really just her. For me, the inspiration didn’t come from any one direction, but from a very pure place: where she is in her life, what she likes, where she's comfortable, and what her true personal style is right now. That was the inspiration for me: just watching her make the album, watching her wake up in the morning and make breakfast and drive to the studio and wear what she's comfortable in as she was writing all day long.

It bothers me how everyone's like, 'Oh and you put her in gowns,' and I'm like, 'Yeah, I also zipped up the meat dress,' you know? I like both of them equally and both of them came from very pure places. It's never a gimmick. When she was wearing what she was wearing when she first came out, what she was wearing last year, they're all who she is. So for me, it's always upsetting when someone looks at it differently than what it is. If she were an artist that did not write her own music—you know because you've been around her—she calls every single shot in every area of her life. And to be able to work like that and create like that, you have to take it from the most honest place. I know every outfit I've ever zipped up came from a place where she feels comfortable. From her heart, she feels very strongly about it and tied to it and invested in it. And that's what we'll continue to do.

I really do think this is the greatest body of work she's created. I watched her create pretty much all the albums, and I love them all, but this one to me feels so truly personal, and it's very much who she is. That, to me, is the one thing I want to say is that every song on this record is representative of the fact that she is so many different things. When you see someone going in working 16 to 17 hours a day, watch her write her own musical notes on scrap paper on the floor after 17 hours in denim shorts she put on at home and drove over wearing in her Bronco, that's really who she is. No matter what she's wearing—it doesn't matter if it’s couture or sweatpants—the same magic radiates out of her because nothing that she does is reliant on the clothes. She possesses a special energy that not everyone has. It's captivating and exciting and holds people's attention. Everything she does she does it with conviction. And that's amazing to be around."

The Hat: Gladys Tamez, Designer

"It has been such a great experience being able to work with [Lady Gaga]. She gives me so much inspiration in every piece I design for her. Our collaboration has been a step-by-step process. I was so excited to collaborate with such a fearless, fun, talented, smart and inspiring person who has such a knowledge of fashion. Earlier on, I made some fun custom oversized caps for her, and slowly I began feeding her more hats of different styles. Eventually, I was going to her house in Malibu bringing baskets of hats for her to try out. But we grew closer hanging out at my husband's divey club in L.A. where we would have little parties in the backroom listening to heavy metal, dancing on the furniture, and there we would bond over hats and tequila.

Hats play many roles at once and each one has a different personality but universally they offer protection, attraction, and self-expression. They can provide cover and can focus the mind and put us in a mood and inspire creativity. I like to think that the hats played a small role in her ideas while Gaga was writing the record.

I am a very family oriented person and family means the world to me. I see Joanne as a form of liberation—a musical expression of an emotional honesty that reflects its creator. I see Joanne as a way for Gaga to show another side of herself, as a fun loving hell-raiser, a risk-taker, and an avant-garde chanteuse, but also a truly sensitive and complex human being and artist. This record is an expression of the intimacy of her upbringing and family life, but also the music that inspires her, be it country or hair metal. For me, I see it as some of the most sincere and personal music she has ever made. So often in life, we present to the world a face that conforms to what other expect from us rather that what’s inside. It’s always a version of us we show but sometimes we become forced to be a certain person to conform to others expectations. To me, this album is about liberation and being honest about who you are not just to the outside world but to ourselves."

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