Lady Gaga: shocking and aweing to become famous

Stefani Germanotta had to become weird and bold to become Lady Gaga. Otherwise, there was no way she would have sold over 170 million copies of her records! She wouldn’t even have been discovered.

When she was just Stefani Germanotta, she earned a record deal from Def Jam records when she was just 20 years old! She had the music chops. She wrote catchy lyrics and her voice was amazing and she played piano like a virtuoso. But yet, Def Jam cancelled the deal within 3 months because they didn’t feel she would become a hit!

But Germanotta didn’t give up. She started playing in New York wherever she could. She got a job as a lyrics writer and wrote songs for Britney Spears and Pussycat Dolls! But it wasn’t until she became Lady Gaga that she hit her stride.

How did Stefani Germanotta become Lady Gaga?

When Germanotta was studying at the music school in NYU, she also took a couple of art classes. And she wrote a thesis on the famous pop artist: Damien Hirst.

In 1991, Charles Saatchi had commissioned Damien Hirst to create any painting that he wanted to create: no strings attached. No instructions given. Hirst decided to create the most shocking of paintings possible.

He thought he would draw the fiercest of sharks. But then he changed his mind. Instead of painting a shark, he paid $6000 for a real dead tiger shark. Hirst then put the shark in a glass tank filled with formaldehyde solution. And presented it to Charles Saatchi.

Imagine standing next to the jaws of a dead shark! No painting would evoke the fear that that art piece could. Shock and awe changed the trajectory of Damien Hirst’s career.

After stumbling and failing, Germanotta decided to shock and awe her audience as well. She started wearing elaborate stage costumes. She took inspiration from the neo-burlesque scene and added crazy stunts to her performance. But she didn’t do it just while performing. She wore bold and outrageous dresses everyday. To her day job. While travelling in the train. Everywhere.

She became outrageous herself. She became art. She became Lady Gaga.

And o boy did it work!

The discovery of Lady Gaga

Superstar musician Akon got to read Lady Gaga’s lyrics one day in a studio. And he liked it. The next day, he asked the writer of the song if she had a tune in mind. So when Lady Gaga stepped up and sang the reference vocal for the song, Akon loved her voice. But he was more intrigued by her fashion style!

When Akon saw that Lady Gaga was wearing such bold and weird dresses everyday, he knew she would become a huge star. He realized the star potential behind the art. And so, he mentored Lady Gaga and got her a music deal!

The next thing you know, “Poker Face” sells 10 million copies! Lady Gaga becomes a bestseller everywhere from America to Australia. More than writing about her music, the media writes about how sensational she is. How shocking her fashion style is.

So why does shock and awe work?

Shock and awe works because everyone is living in their own bubble. We have to burst their bubble of preoccupation. And win their attention. Because without their attention, there is no way to be discovered.

But shocking your audience is risky – isn’t it? Can’t it backfire?

Why does the peacock spread its feathers?

A colourful bird is an unsafe bird. There are more chances of it being caught by its many predators. And yet, the peacock spreads its bright colourful feathers and dances! Why?

Biologist Amotz Zahavi studied this trait and came up with a theory: the handicap principle. He posits that costly signals are reliable signals. How can a peacock reliably show a peahen that he is more biologically fit than his peers? By taking a risk that can be costly.

You have to take a risk to push the boundaries. You have to do things that seem rash and risky. Because only then can you signal to the world that your value is authentic.

Being bold is risky. And because it is risky, it works as a signal.

Our biologist friend Zahavi further talks about the gazelles. When a gazelle sees a lion, it does something stupid. It stotts: springs high up in the air lifting all 4 feet off the ground. 

It seems crazy to advertise yourself to your predator. But stotting shows the lion that this particular gazelle is pretty fit and he should chase someone else!

Crazy clothes made people pay more attention not only to Lady Gaga’s appearance, but also her talent. Because would it even be possible for someone not talented to be cocky with their fashion sense? 

Boldness makes people believe that you are brimming with hidden talent. As intuitive as it sounds, taking the risk itself reduces the risk. 

Action Summary:

  • Bold shocks work because it is a reliable signal: it makes people believe you have value.
  • Bold shocks also help you win attention and jolt people out of their bubbles. Be a little bit crazy. And do things that seem dangerous.
The many faces of Lady Gaga