Lady Gaga gets real about 'Chromatica', working with Ariana Grande, fame and mental health issues
"I'd rather be dry, but at least I'm alive. Rain on me."
The Internet is holding their breath, waiting for Lady Gaga to drop her forthcoming album, Chromatica but before that happens, she has already co-organised the eight-hour One World: Together at Home livestreamed benefit concert with World Health Organisation (WHO) and Global Citizen to raise funds for coronavirus relief funds; and more recently, released Rain On Me, the second single from her Chromatica (which features Ariana Grande) to much fanfare. To give fans a taste of what's to come and her inner musings, Zane Lowe had an intimate chat with Lady Gaga on Apple Music—and it's incredibly heartwarming. Here are some of the highlights from their conversation.
Why she initially postponed the release of Chromatica
"It's a super interesting time. It's been a very difficult time for a lot of people. And we stopped the drop of the record, and everything that we were doing, because I really wanted to be more specific at one point. I wanted to do something to help the world, that was very focused. And working with the World Health Organisation and Global Citizen was a way for me to talk about kindness, and the things that I believe in, in a very focused way, as opposed to a more abstract way, which for me, is what Chromatica is. It's this beautiful abstraction of my perception of the world. And I just wanted to wait for a second and do something specific. And then when it felt appropriate, I was like, 'Okay, we can get abstract.'"
Her thoughts on fame and objectification in the music industry
"It's one of these weird things. I really do understand why people go, "It's so annoying when artists complain about being mobbed at the grocery store." Right. But I am also just a person. And what happened, I think, with me and this album is, on a subconscious level, I was experiencing joy, while consciously, I was experiencing an immense amount of depression as a result of this objectification, a lack of feeling like a human. And then unconsciously, my body was like, "Stop. You're making a mistake. If you don't brace yourself, you will get hurt." Because I've developed a fear of the public, but not a fear of people. I love people. So this album is about, how did I get back to people. And how do I connect with people, and go like, "Hey, I'm over here, I'm a person, I'm an artist. I'm not a celebrity"? Whatever this thing is, this celebrity thing, I wish to eradicate its existence."
Chromatica’s first act and radical acceptance
"I think that the beginning of the album really symbolizes for me, what I would call to be the beginning of my journey to healing, and what I would hope would be an inspiration for people that are in need of healing through happiness and dance. And that's in what I would call radical acceptance. It's this concept that, for example, I know that I have mental issues, I know that they can be sometimes rendering me nonfunctional as a human. But I radically accept that this is real. And so it goes right into this sort of this grave string arrangement that Morgan and I made together, where you feel this sort of pending doom that is what happens if I face all the things that scare me. And I say then, for Alice, I say, "My name isn't Alice, but I'll keep looking for Wonderland." Meaning, I'm not giving up, I'm not throwing in the towel. It's very early on in all of this. I had some dark conversations with BloodPop about how I felt about life.
"I'm in the hole, I'm falling down. So down, down. My name isn't Alice, but I'll keep looking for Wonderland." So it's this weird experience where I'm going, "I'm not sure I'm going to make it, but I'm going to try." And that's where the album really begins. And we put it together in this way, but that string arrangement, Chromatica I, act one, it's essentially setting the stage for a more cinematic experience with this world that is how I make sense of things. How do I make sense of myself when I feel this way? I make sense of it by going, "This is a mental issue. I radically accept that I have it. And although I feel completely disconnected and offline, I am still going to pursue Wonderland. I'm still going to look for something that I do not have right now. And maybe it is through just simply trying. But I think that being brave is hard, but it's synonymous in many ways with trying."
Working with Ariana Grande, their blossoming relationship, and their collab Rain on Me
"She and I connected right away and she was so wonderful. Maybe she assumed that she would come in and I would tell her, "Here, just sing this and thank you so much for your time." But instead, I asked her what she needed, how she wanted to do things. When we were vocally producing her, we were at Jim Henson when we finished. I was sitting at the console and talking to her. I remember saying to her, "Okay, now everything that you care about while you sing, I want you to forget it and just sing. And by the way, while you're doing that, I'm going to dance in front of you," because we had this huge big window.
"And she was like, "Oh my God. Oh my God, I can't, I can't. I don't know. Oh my God. Okay, okay." And then I did it and she sang, and she started to do things with her voice that was different. And it was the joy of two artists going, "I see you. And I see all the things that we all..." Humans do this. We create things that make us feel comfortable. We put them all around. I do it all the time. We all do things to make ourselves feel safe and I always challenge artists when I work with them. I go, "Make it unsafe, make it super f**king unsafe and then do it again." And it was just awesome to watch her.
"You haven't seen the video yet, but she was so open to trying things that she hasn't done before. She was, "I'm going to just trust you." And it was this beautiful healing process for me too, since I did not have a female artist that mentored me as I came up. That woman has been through some really tough, hard life testing stuff, undoubtedly. And her ability to move on. When she came into the studio, I was still crying and she was not. And she was like, "You're going to be okay. Call me, here's my number." And she was so persistent. She would try over and over again to be friends with me. And I was too ashamed to hang out with her because I didn't want to project all of this negativity onto something that was healing and so beautiful.
"And eventually she called me on my shit. She was like, "You're hiding." And I said, "I am hiding. I'm totally hiding." And then this friendship blossomed and this song Rain On Me, the lyrics that I wrote right here in this studio developed: "I'd rather be dry, but at least I'm alive. Rain on me." This is about an analogy of tears being the rain. It's also a metaphor for the amount of drinking that I was doing to numb myself. I'd rather be dry. I'd rather not be drinking, but I haven't died yet. I'm still alive. Rain on me. Okay, I'm going to keep on drinking. This song has many layers."
The false economy of social media
"We have created these millions, perhaps billions of enigmas that are avatars of who we are online, in order to deal with ourselves. And it's part of how we feel safe, but it's turning on us. And it begins to turn on you because you start to feel shame. It's a totally false economy. And the currency is shallow. You can't be pretty enough on Instagram. You can't be thin enough. You can't be hot enough. You can't be rich enough. If you're not in it for impact, if you're not famous because you're trying to help the world, or make an impact on the world, the return on what you're putting in is a 'like'—and that is a bottomless pit. You are literally circling the drain going, "Oh, I'm valuable if I get a ton of likes.”
"No, that is not what makes you valuable. What makes you valuable are your values, your morals, your ethics, your code, how you act, how you treat people, your behavior. That's what makes you who you are, not how many people like your post."
Forgiving herself: “You don’t have to hurt yourself to feel better."
"I forgive myself for all the ways I've punished myself in private. I've been open about the fact that I used to cut. And I've opened about the fact that I have had masochistic tendencies that are not healthy. And they're ways of expressing shame. They're ways of expressing feeling not good enough, but actually they're not effective. They just make you feel worse. And you think that you deserve to be hurt. And you think that you don't deserve good things. You think you don't deserve happiness.
"And I have these scars on my wrists and it's been something that's bothered me for years when I was younger. I don't really read the internet anymore, to be honest. But when I was younger, I would see people write, "Those scars on her arm are disgusting." And that makes you feel even worse because it makes no sense why someone that feels sad would want to hurt themselves. To a lot of people, that makes no sense. To me, it makes a lot of sense.
"Once I made deals with myself, "You're not doing that anymore." Now when you want to hurt yourself, if you want to throw yourself against the wall and scream, you tell someone. I wish to not glamorise this in any way to anyone that's listening to this interview, you do not need to hurt yourself, or be crazy to be a superstar. You don't have to hurt yourself to feel better, even though, temporarily you think it's going to cut the pain off that's going on in your brain. It lasts for two seconds.
"The harder thing to do is to ask for help and to tell someone. These are some of the things that I've been through. And then I stopped and I forgave myself, eventually. But I think I forgave myself because I decided that I was human and that made me feel better. I was like, "Oh, I'm doing this incredibly human thing, even though I feel a plastic doll. Look at me, I'm so f**king human.”
Supporting younger artists and writing Billie Eilish a letter
"I love Billie Eilish. I love all these younger artists. I'm there for you. I love you. I am not in competition with anyone. I want everyone to win. I want to support and love, but that's how I feel about the world. Just generally I feel that my rebellion in life is to be kind like to almost an annoyance to people.
"And I remember there was one... I forget what award show. Billie's won so many awards and there was one night where she just swept a whole bunch of awards. And I said, "Send her some flowers." I wrote her a note and for me, it's healing, because I go, "You know what? That hurt me that I didn't get that, but that's okay because I'm going to be that for someone else." And me being that for anyone is also a gift for me, because that means it doesn't not exist. It does exist."
Her efforts are bigger than the music
"And do I want people to love the record? For sure, I'd love for people to love the record, but it's not just about the music. It's about who I am and what I'm trying to say. The first billboard that came out for this album said: "You are essential." I mean it, and I think that the simplicity of seeing something kind on your phone is so simple. Or just like walking down the street and just seeing block letters that are telling you that you matter—that's who I am. This is not just about music. This is about culture. This is about: How can I do something? Where do I fit in? What do I mean in this industry?
"And you know what? If my record is loved by people, great. And if not, I really hope that young female artists or young artists of any gender identity, any sexual identity, will know that I'm rooting for them and I love them. I think artists are beautiful. I think people are beautiful. And I think this idea that we're rooting each other on, cheering each other on, I think it's so important. And look, what's happened in this world with, SARS COV 2, it's like this idea that we need to cheer each other on. I don't think that we've witnessed a time in history where this has felt more important."
This transcription has been edited for length and clarity.
Watch the full interview on Apple Music at apple.co/chromaticainterview.