RSVP: William Norwich on the Met Gala That Went from Nada to Gaga (in Prada)

They arrived to put on a show and left as legends. William Norwich recalls witnessing a star being born with Lady Gaga at the Met Gala.

This story on Lady Gaga first appears in V119, our Music Issue. V119 is available for sale now at

I’ve attended the Met Gala since 1985, the year Bob Mackie brought Cher; I’ve seen escaped peacocks, countless you-had-to-be-there moments. But 2010’s “American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity” was remarkable—in part for its exhibit: Besides promising to be a historic cornucopia of fashion as empowerment versus fashion as [commodity], it also predated today’s zeitgeist of determined sensitivity [toward gender equality], as well as portending the A Star Is Born era of its musical guest, Lady Gaga.

In 2010, Gaga was the new, big thing. I’d met her a year or so prior, when she’d stopped by Vogue wearing, for daytime, an exquisite white floor-length slip dress and a Philip Treacy headpiece with feathers spelling out “Vogue.” So I knew she wasn’t messing around.

Oprah Winfrey hosted that year, and I sat with Michael Kors. The flow of the evening was, to get to dinner, you had to go through the exhibit, which was striking: There was an amazing video installation by Trey Laird of empowering moments in women’s fashion, dating back to the Gibson Girl and Claire McCardell.

So [it was as though] history was leading us from the Gibson Girl to Lady Gaga.

Gaga arrived with a small entourage in the late afternoon, but wasn’t at dinner. By around 9, the wine was running out and she was still nowhere to be seen. The museum president, as I was told later, went to fetch her. Still more time passed, and this wasn’t a hang-out type of crowd. The decorator, a talented man named Raúl Àvila, started to panic; in a room of a thousand people, every American and European designer, he saw the one woman he thought could maybe talk Gaga onto the stage: Oprah. He didn’t know Oprah, but he went and leaned over to her and said, “I’m so sorry to bother you. We need you to please go talk to Lady Gaga.’’

Oprah agreed, and backstage she discovered Gaga and her group in a prayer circle. And Oprah, being Oprah… It’s like God at your door. So Gaga was comfortable telling her what was going on. She said she found herself incredibly anxious about performing in front of all these people at the Met, because growing up she’d been a student nearby, at the Convent of the Sacred Heart. And she used to smoke and carouse with her schoolmates in the bushes behind the museum. And it was just all too much.

I was told that Oprah, in her cut-the-crap Oprah way, soothed her, but basically said, “Get out there. You’re a pro now. And the Mayor of New York is waiting for you to perform.” Which apparently worked because Oprah introduced Gaga that night, and explained, “The reason we are delayed is because Lady Gaga and her team were backstage praying. Because she understands that what they are doing is more than just art. This is somebody saying to the world, ‘Be the best that you are.’”

And so what Gaga represents, Oprah went on to say, is the best in all of us: the identity of the American woman and her ability to look inside, and not say, “I want to be more like you,” or “I want to be more,” but rather, “I want to be more of myself.” And then Gaga came on and did her thing. And she was extraordinary.

Norwich is the author of Learning to Drive (Grove Atlantic).

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