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‘Iwant to know. What do you see?” asks Lady Gaga, her voice car­ry­ing a com­bi­na­tion of gen­uine cu­rios­ity, press-savvy flir­ta­tion and in­her­ent provo­ca­tion. The im­age in ques­tion is the cover of Gaga’s new sin­gle

Ap­plause, the first from her forth­com­ing third stu­dio al­bum Art­pop, to be re­leased on Nov 11 through In­ter­scope records.

Shot by Inez van Lam­sweerde and Vi­noodh Matadin, the pho­to­graph is col­or­ful, emo­tional and the­atri­cal, cap­tur­ing Gaga with a Pier­rot-es­que face, her rain­bow of makeup art­fully smeared and her hair cov­ered un­der a head wrap.

Asked to ex­plain the im­age, Gaga im­me­di­ately turned the ques­tion around: “I need to get your read­ing first,” she says. “Oth­er­wise it’s not art.” She’s back.

Ap­plause came out Aug 19 — also the al­bum’s pre­sale date — six days be­fore Gaga head­lines the MTV Video Mu­sic Awards at the Bar­clays Cen­ter in Brook­lyn.

The VMAs will mark her re­turn to the pub­lic do­main af­ter a rough six months spent mostly un­der the radar. Art­pop was an­nounced in Au­gust of last year when Gaga was in the midst of her am­bi­tious Born

This Way Ball world tour, which kicked off in April 2012 in Seoul and came to an abrupt halt in Fe­bru­ary in Mon­treal when a se­vere hip in­jury forced Gaga to can­cel the rest of her shows.

“My in­jury was ac­tu­ally a lot worse than just a labral tear,” she says.

“I had bro­ken my hip. No­body knew, and I haven’t even told the fans yet. But when we got all the MRIs fin­ished be­fore I went to surgery there were gi­ant craters, a hole in my hip the size of a quar­ter, and the car­ti­lage was just hang­ing out the other side of my hip. I had a tear on the in­side of my joint and a huge break­age. The sur­geon told me that if I had done an­other show I might have needed a full hip re­place­ment. I would have been out at least a year, maybe longer.”

The manda­tory re­treat from the spot­light was al­most as painful as the in­jury it­self for some­one who hasn’t gone with­out per­form­ing for more than two weeks since she was 14 years old.

Gaga used the down time not only for an ag­gres­sive re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­gram but also to hang out with her crew, known as the Haus of Gaga, in­clud­ing van Lam­sweerde and Matadin, Bran­don Maxwell, the Haus fash­ion di­rec­tor, her hair and makeup artists and other ar­tis­ti­cally in­clined friends.

They read books, lis­tened to mu­sic and ex­changed “creative gifts that we have to of­fer each other”, says Gaga.

“I had six months to beef up my brain and my body. I got to put a gi­ant white or black sheet of paint over my whole can­vas, and I got to re­view Art­pop again.

Van Lam­sweerde and Matadin shot the Ap­plause video last month in Los An­ge­les. The pho­tog­ra­phers, who were in­tro­duced to Gaga when they shot her first V cover in 2009, have since worked on sev­eral fash­ion films for her. This is the first time they’ve shot a mu­sic video for her.

Gaga chose the cover im­age from the video shoot be­cause she thought it showed a dif­fer­ent side of her per­for­mance, a vul­ner­a­ble part that the pub­lic doesn’t of­ten see.

Gaga wrote Ap­plause with DJ White Shadow, with whom she has col­lab­o­rated for five years.

“In my heart of hearts as I was writ­ing, I knew that if I asked (the fans) to cheer for me be­fore I sang or if I al­luded to the fact that they would cheer for me be­fore I sang ... they do that all the time for me; be­fore I even open my mouth, the fans start cheer­ing for me. And so this ex­cla­ma­tion, ‘Give me that thing that I love. Give it to me. I’m ready, start the mu­sic.’

“I’m from New York. I’ve worked since I was a 5-year-old to be a per­former. All my life. I de­serve to be here. I’m ready.” Again, could th­ese be lyrics? Since the be­gin­ning, Art­pop has been billed as not just an al­bum but a “pro­ject”, a mul­ti­me­dia ex­pe­ri­ence that will in­clude an app. As the ti­tle sug­gests, “the point (of Art­pop) is that art and pop can have an ex­change”, Gaga says.

Van Lam­sweerde says she and Matadin have an im­age bank of 300 pho­tos that they will try to edit down with Gaga and “put it out there, whether in a mu­seum, on the In­ter­net, for a sin­gle cover or for the press — it all will have its mo­ment”.

A di­rec­tional fash­ion com­po­nent seems like a given from an artist who has em­braced and been em­braced by fash­ion — both haute and ex­per­i­men­tal.

She men­tions that the white cloth that sur­rounds her in the Ap­plause cover im­age is a coat by Gareth Pugh.

But when asked if he had a larger in­flu­ence in the Art­pop look, she re­sponds with part de­flec­tion, part ab­strac­tion, turn­ing the ques­tion back at the re­porter: “It’s in­ter­est­ing how you view things, and you look at it like, I’m a pop icon, and (you won­der) ‘Is this the im­age of the al­bum? Is this the di­rec­tion? Who came up with it?’

“I think that’s so in­ter­est­ing be­cause it’s ex­actly the kind of thing we’re try­ing to de­stroy. This is one jacket. This is one im­age. This is one mo­ment. This is one state­ment.

“When you watch each im­age and you watch each thing come out, they might not look ex­actly the same,” Gaga says.

“( I’m not) de­fined by the same de­signer or de­fined by the same hair­cut or de­fined by the same icon. The state­ment is that I’m not one icon. I’m ev­ery icon. I’m an icon that is made out of all the col­ors on the palette at ev­ery time. I have no re­stric­tions. No re­stric­tions.”

Well, maybe one re­stric­tion: Gaga al­luded to artis­tic col­lab­o­ra­tions with Robert Wil­son for the VMAs but de­clined to give specifics other than two more were forth­com­ing with Ma­rina Abramovic and Jeff Koons.

If Gaga seeks to avoid la­bel­ing the fash­ion and vis­ual com­po­nent of Art­pop, it has been deeply con­sid­ered and strate­gic, be­gin­ning with al­ready-in-cir­cu­la­tion im­ages from her Septem­ber cover shoot for V, again shot by van Lam­sweerde and Matadin, show­ing the star com­pletely naked.

“There is a sense of strip­ping bare and then putting things back on. That’s the process she’s go­ing through,” van Lam­sweerde says.

“I al­ways say to her: ‘Look at you. You are in­cred­i­bly beau­ti­ful. Ac­cept it. Don’t try to hide your face. Just shine through.’ For her, it’s a part of that not hid­ing be­hind wigs and glasses and all kinds of stuff.”

Her stylist and fash­ion di­rec­tor Maxwell also en­gages in some philo­soph­i­cal mus­ings about the di­rec­tion: “I think that this time it is about let­ting some of it go and the fo­cus be­ing on the mu­sic be­cause now she’s com­fort­able be­ing naked and be­ing who she is. The world has seen ev­ery­thing.”

But he also ac­knowl­edges that there will be clothes, most of them cus­tom. Alexan­der Wang for Ba­len­ci­aga cre­ated some cus­tom pieces.

“It’s more toned down and pulled back and chic,” Maxwell says.

“But it’s also that we’re mak­ing suits out of things that they would not nor­mally be made out of, like plas­tic, but they’re su­per well-tai­lored and clean. Maybe she’s just wear­ing a sim­ple cat­suit and a head wrap like she’s wear­ing here, but we sort of do the crazi­ness on the face.”

So, there are clues to Gaga’s new look, but what about Art­pop’s sound, will it also be stripped down and min­i­mal? Not nec­es­sar­ily. “It’s true Gaga,” van Lam­sweerde says. “You can’t get it out of your head.” That’s it for de­tails. Lit­tle Mon­sters will have to wait for the VMAs to see what’s in store from the woman who fa­mously ar­rived at the 2011 Gram­mys in an egg.

“I’m send­ing a dop­pel­ganger,” she says.

“I’m go­ing this year as a fried egg in­stead of hard-boiled.”


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