She wasn’t quite carried in on a barbecue spit and she didn’t do any theatrical vomiting, as she did on Thursday night during her performance at 5th and Red River (originally scheduled for Stubb’s before being relocated), but Lady Gaga came to her South By Southwest keynote session Friday morning sporting plenty of extra hair, and a silver and white plastic princess dress.
Clearly this was not going to be a staid podium speech (as if Gaga has a cell in her body that will let her do that), but it wasn’t meant to be necessarily provocative, either. Rather, her conversation with Fuse TV’s John Norris before a substantial, but not close to capacity, crowd at the Austin Hilton’s Grand Ballroom hammered in familiar themes about her creative drive and her steadfast independence and individuality, along with pep talks for the artists in the room to follow her lead.
She teared up during several points of the 45-minute session, answered a few questions pre-submitted online by fans, and closed with an acknowledgement of the two deaths that occurred in the early hours of the day of her Doritos Bold Stage Stubb’s show, instructing the SXSW crowd to “all leave here . . . inspired to be good to one another in every way we can.”
A large part of her conversation was directed toward the conversation about the relationship between musicians such as herself and brands like Doritos, which sponsored Gaga’s Bold Stage show on Thursday night. By turns aggressive and supportive, Gaga encouraged critics of brand sponsorships — people “don’t know fuck about the state of the music industry” — to be a bit more open-minded. “Having Doritos support me to the core, not telling me how to do the show, what it should be like or putting chains around my neck — they said, ‘We just want to support you in having a great experience at South By,” she said. “‘We want to help your foundation. We want to spread the message. How do we do that?’”
“I think it’s about how the artist chooses to engage in these sorts of relationships,” she added. “What’s the philosophy behind the collaboration?”
After a heartwarming story about the CEO of Frito Lay approaching a paint- and vomit-covered Gaga offstage with her children and telling her, crying, “That was so brilliant!”, Gaga dispensed with some hard truths. “Without sponsorships, without those companies coming together to help us, we don’t have any more artists in Austin. We won’t have any festivals because record labels don’t have any fucking money. Every person here should take pride in swine-ing their nose at everyone who would say, ‘Ech! Doritos, Lady Gaga. Samsung, Jay Z.’ Why shouldn’t someone in Austin have the chance to see Jay Z in person?”
With regard to sales — both in general and of her album “Artpop” — Gaga has little use for number-crunching figures and statistics. “You have this completely passionate experience with music or whatever you’re creating, whether it’s a film or a television series, maybe you write poetry or you put on a play. I make music; the second I put it out into the world it gets eaten by a computer and gets assigned all these numbers and rankings, and it’s terrifying. But I think what we have to remember is that the way we talk about that process is really what the problem is. Placing the importance on those charts . . . what happens is you start trying to influence the artists or to influence the industry to approach their work . . . towards being successful within that system. When you do that, you take the power out of the hands of the artist and you put it in the hands of the corporations.”
“But I don’t want that to be dictating what music I’m listening to,” she added. “I don’t think any of us want that to be dictating what we’re listening to.”
Nonetheless, she went on, “Artpop” has sold two and a half million copies worldwide, so don’t call it, or her, a failure. “I’m sorry I didn’t sell a million records the first week,” she said. “I have before. I’ve sold 27 million albums. I’m very proud of what we did. I’ve sold as much as everybody else sells. I’m held to such an insane standard; it’s almost like everybody forgets where the music business is now.”
“Artpop” itself, Gaga explained, continues to speak to her feelings about the music industry’s expectations. “What it’s about is freeing yourself from the expectations of the music industry and the expectations of the status quo. I never liked having my skirt measured for me at school or told how to do things or the rules to play by. And as you become more successful they start to push the rule book closer and closer to you. ‘Now you’re here, so how are you going to maintain it?’”
“The truest way for us to maintain the music industry is to put all of the power back into the hands of the artists,” she added. “If we are not telling our artists to be creative, what are we? What are we doing? Why is it a prison, and why are we allowing it to be a prison?”
A prison crowded with other successful female artists she is tired of being compared to. “I don’t know what the fuck-all I have to do with Katy Perry,” she said. “Our music is so completely different. I couldn’t be more different, really. I really don’t fit in pop music in a way, but I came through it and I’d like to think I changed it in some way so you can feel like you don’t have to fit into a mold.”
Gaga also teased future plans, including a new video on March 22 shot at Hearst Castle (“It’s a different type of video for me, in a different way from what we did at South By last night, but still in that same spirit”), and a lot more music in the can — maybe even an “Artpop 2”.
“There’s many volumes of work over a long period of time that have just not been released to the public because I’ve chosen to not put it into the system.,” she said. “Sometimes it’s just fun to have records that me and my friends listen to. We love it. We don’t care what everybody else thinks. Maybe one day I’ll release them. And I have a whole second act of “Artpop.”
“I love ‘Artpop’ so much,” Gaga added. “That album got me through the hardest time [after her hip surgery and amidst business-side issues]. Making that record, it healed my soul every single night. It’s like the most incredible thing when your friend can play a bass line and it gets inside your spirit and your heart like that and you say, “I was feeling so sick, but then you played that and now I feel so alive and I can keep going.”
“That’s what the fuck it’s all about,” she said.