There’s a moment in Gaga: Five Foot Two, the Netflix documentary, where Lady Gaga muses about entering her thirties. She wants to grow into being a woman, and not struggle as a girl anymore — she didn’t get to grow up on her quest to fame, she says. Up until her most recent album “Joanne,” Lady Gaga’s image and music has been the very definition of pop music in the late 2000s and early 2010s. But now that’s she’s moved on from being a struggling 19-year-old on the streets of New York City, singing unknown songs in dive bars and performing in bedazzled bikinis at Lollapalooza with Lady Starlight, her image — dare I say her Aura — has changed.
My first memory of Lady Gaga was when she performed at the swimsuit competition of the 2008 Miss Universe pageant. I know, how gay can that get right? It was so strange, it was like some scene kid got lost and wandered into a room full of towering women in nothing but bikinis. But it was what she performed that kept me listening: Just Dance was the true bop of the year we didn’t deserve, a true pop track that didn’t get enough recognition even on that DJ Earworm mash-up that came out at the end of the year (Remember those? Good times).
But it was 2011’s Marry the Night off of “Born This Way” that really got me. Everything about that song captured what I loved about Lady Gaga: that with enough blood, sweat, and tears, you can be whatever the hell you want to be and get everything you want. And of course, the video was set in NYC — the ultimate city of be-whatever-the-hell-you-want-to-be. Double whammy.
I had always been a city kid. Unlike most of my friends, my family didn’t have a province to come home to during the holidays. I’d always dreamed of graduating to an even bigger city. I still remember this drawing I made in first or second grade where I filled up the page with cars and high-rise buildings. Alicia Keys was right: concrete jungles really are where dreams are made of.
The idea of making it in New York City — hell, even just being there — consumed me in my teenage years, so much that I promised myself to make it there one day, on my own. I told myself that even if I had to work for free, it would be okay because I’d be in the city of my dreams, getting wasted on the magical high of NYC. (I still haven’t been). And this was the very ideal that Lady Gaga represented in her image, and in Marry the Night — making it.
Fast forward to 2017, Lady Gaga is 31 years old, and I am 24. The teen angst is gone, and the yearning for the big city is a dream that’s still a number of years away. Watching her finish her new album on the documentary, I can say that Lady Gaga seems to be more grown up. She doesn’t seem to have the same hunger for fame — because well, she already has it, but it’s not at all highlighted in the film. After I watched it, I said, “Wow, she’s so… regular.” I realized later that what I meant to say was that she seemed more grounded. You can see it in her clothes, you can hear it in her music. She made “Joanne” for her family, and not for anybody else’s validation.
Funny enough, that was enough validation for me. Validation that I didn’t have to please anyone, that I didn’t have to rush myself to make it in the big city, and that I’m growing into the person I really am. It’s hard to realize this when you’re still in your teens, but when you finally grow into yourself, you realize why they say hindsight is 20/20.
You can stream Gaga: Five Foot Two on Netflix.