50 People Who Matter 2010 | 44. Lady Gaga

Paparazzi darling.

When does a star become an icon? The moment she passes the six million mark on Twitter? The day she is nominated for six Grammy Awards? Or the month (August 2010) in which it is calculated she has sold more than 15 million albums and 51 million singles worldwide? Lady Gaga (left) has done all these things.

But that's not it. In her own words: "God put me on earth for three reasons: to make loud music, gay videos and cause a damn ruckus." Ah, the ruckus. It has become the Gaga art form, most recently seen in the shape of a dress made of raw meat that she wore to the MTV Video Music Awards, provoking outrage and uproar in equal measure ("What does Lady Gaga's meat dress mean?" asked the BBC).

Gaga is used to such reactions: the world attends her every theatrical move, from the live routine that left her blood-soaked and ailing onstage to the red leather Elizabeth I dress that she wore to meet the Queen at the Royal Variety Show last year. And yet, while some say she redefines empty exhibitionism, her army of obsessed fans - whom she calls her "Little Monsters" - surge to her defence.

This is Gaga's trick. While she is mainstream enough to sell huge quantities of records and duet with Beyoncé (on the nine-minute song "Telephone", whose video features prison bondage and lesbian kisses), she has established herself as an ambassador for the marginalised, the lonely, the misunderstood. It's a lucrative market.

There's a limitless supply of alienated teenagers willing to sign up to a life of Gaga worship, especially since she tattooed her love for them on her arm (near another of her tattoos, from Rilke: "In the deepest hour of the night, confess to yourself that you would die if you were forbidden to write. And look deep into your heart where it spreads its roots, the answer, and ask yourself: must I write?") But she was not always Gaga.

Born in New York City in 1986, Stefani Germanotta went to a private Catholic school on the Upper East Side, although she says her parents were from "lower-class families". She was always, she says, an outsider, but a dorm-mate at New York University remembers her as "a very suburban, preppy, friendly, social party girl".

The name "Lady Gaga" was born of a misspelt text by her then collaborator and producer, Rob Fusari (who tried to sue Gaga, saying she failed to pay him royalties for songs that he had co-written) - yet a New York Post profile claimed it was concocted by music industry executives.

This, too, is Gaga: a myth. The comparison is often made with Madonna - Gaga has inherited her mantle of Catholic-girl-turned-provocatrice. The feminist author Camille Paglia calls it "theft", an image of an icon repurposed for modern times, but Gaga has morphed the brand with her own uncompromising, outlandish, androgynous style.

And for her millions of Little Monsters, she is not just an artist, a singer, or a wearer of impossible clothes, but their champion and heroine: the ultimate "self-professed freak".


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Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 27 September 2010 issue of the New Statesman, The 50 people who matter

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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.