Women In Music

Lady Gaga Manager Bobby Campbell Talks About Driving Her to Be 'the Icon That She Is'

Campbell and Gaga
Inez and Vinoodh

Campbell and Gaga photographed Nov. 21 at Pier 59 Studios in New York.

When Lady Gaga performed at the Academy Awards in February, the only hint of her Fame Monster persona were dual arm tattoos exposed by her ­sleeveless, ­shimmering Alaia gown. “It was just her, her talent and a microphone,” manager Bobby Campbell, 30, says of the ­performance. For the global TV audience that was ­watching, it was a reminder that, at her core, the ­bleeding-edge performance artist is a ­classically talented entertainer, ­something Campbell says he learned in 2007 when he began working Gaga’s releases as a ­marketing coordinator at her label Interscope Geffen A&M. In 2010, he joined her then-manager Troy Carter’s Atom Factory and took over the top job when he and Gaga exited the company in late 2013. Campbell spoke to Billboard about ­balancing art and business with Gaga, ­noting: “If she’s not feeling artistically inspired every day, I’m failing.”

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Was Gaga’s Oscar performance a strategic move?
I don’t think it was so scientific that we sat down and said okay, the big goal for 2015 is to change perception of her. But from the time I began managing her, I saw that there was a vocal minority that did not respect her for all that she brings to the table. I wanted to change that and set her up to be the icon that she is.

What needed fixing?
You’ve seen the articles. She was “eccentric,” “too artsy.” People were judging her unfairly, so I wanted to press the reset button and remind them that whatever their perceptions, she’s an incredibly talented musician, performer and songwriter. In the last year, she has gotten a Grammy, performed at the Oscars, went on a couple of tours with Tony Bennett, co-wrote “Till It Happens to You” with Diane Warren, and is currently on American Horror Story: Hotel. She’s proven that there’s not really anything that she can’t do if she works hard for it.

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Do you and she talk every day?
All day, every day -- there’s a lot of texting; a lot of in person. There’s not a day that she’s on the Horror Story set that I haven’t been with her. When you spend so much time with someone, you know exactly where she is personally, creatively and artistically. And you understand the mood swings. I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I don’t think she would either.

How does American Horror Story fit into Gaga’s career?
It’s her first real professional acting gig. It’s edgier, more twisted and certainly more out there than the rest of the things we did this year, and it feeds her need to push herself creatively. And what she and I have realized is that when she’s given ample time to prepare and doesn’t have too many things on her plate, she delivers her best work. So, we’ve taken the pace down slightly this year. 

Does her creative input on the set go beyond acting?
As an artist she is incredibly hands-on. She’s reading the scripts, calling the writers and saying, “Okay, I’m reading it this way.  How do you feel about that?”  She’ll challenge them.” She has contributed to the overall plot, and they love that about her.  She does the same with the costumes and with the looks.  She’ll sit with the show’s costume designer Lou Eyrich for hours looking at the script and saying, “Okay, The Countess is doing this, so she’d be wearing this." She’s really dissecting everything.

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How do you balance her instincts as an artist with what’s good business?
We have a very open dialogue with each other. She’ll come to me with ideas, pretty much on a daily basis, and we talk through them. What’s the motivation for this?  Does this make sense for you right now? So, we have in our arsenal a series of ideas that inspire her, whether they’re photo shoots or non-music products and businesses. Meanwhile, she and I have our ears to the ground in terms of her place in the culture. I’m constantly monitoring social media and the press to see what people are thinking about her so that we can strike at the right time with the things that inspire her.

It can’t be easy to say no to Lady Gaga.
I’m not the kind of person that will stand in her way. That’s not the nature of our relationship. We’re usually on the same page, but sometimes we’ll challenge each other. She loves feedback and loves to be pushed to do her best. But she’s got a vision, and I believe in it. If she says to me, “I’ve got to do this," then we do it.

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What does the coming year hold?
Right now, we’re focused on American Horror Story. She started in August and films up until the holidays. And that’s what she’s doing right now. After that I think it’s clear that new music will be on the horizon. How soon? We don’t know. But next year, I think we’ll show a new chapter of her as an artist and as a musician.

An edited version of this story originally appeared in the Dec. 12 issue of Billboard.