It was a brisk Friday morning after a night of outrage. Lady Gaga took the stage at Austin, Texas’s Hilton Hotel for the keynote address at the annual South by Southwest music festival. With her 28th birthday looming later in March, she was the youngest keynote speaker in SXSW’s history, and the first female speaker in 15 years.
The night before, she put on a show sponsored by Doritos to raise money for her Born This Way foundation. Special guest Millie Brown, a “vomit artist,” spewed green puke onto Gaga. Gaga recalled that Frito-Lay’s CEO told her, “That was brilliant!”
Sitting in a black leather chair alongside interviewer John Norris, the artist — Mother Monster to her fans, Stefani Germanotta to her parents — was relaxed and raspy-voiced. Happily, there was no sign of vomit: Gaga was swallowed up by a puffy, billowing white dress. Her platinum blond locks were teased into a bird’s nest, with curtains of hair falling on both sides of her face.
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Gaga’s talk with Norris was both passionate and surprising. They focused on the relationship between artistry and business. For all her savvy with social media and promotion, Lady Gaga believes that talent and good music are the foundation for a career. She’s also wary of the music industry’s obsession with sales figures. “When you do that, you take power out of the hands of the artist and in the hands of the corporation,” she said.
At the same time, she also defended Doritos’ sponsorship, adding that without corporate sponsors, music festivals wouldn’t happen because the record companies can’t afford to pay for it. The important thing is for artists to remain in control, even when dealing with big business.
She cautions against too much name-dropping and networking at the expense of paying your dues. “Stop shaking hands with people and taking selfies, because it’s not going to make you a star,” she advises.
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“Be careful what type of business you’re selling, because if you’re selling anything other than talent and good songs, you’re in the wrong business.”
She also talked about her gay following. Early on, she was told her shows were “too gay” and people recommended she tone it down. “So you just want me to use people?” she asked.
Talking about her live shows, she added, “I never thought theater was a bad thing,” pointing out icons like David Bowie and Freddie Mercury.
Lady Gaga summed up her philosophy as a musician and pop star: “Don’t sell out. Sell in.”