Lady Gaga’s latest album — the stripped, introspective Joanne — offered fans a peek behind the wigs, sequins, and disco sticks that helped create one of the most iconic pop personas of all time. Now, during this week’s episode of CBS Sunday Morning, Gaga sat down with the network’s Lee Cowan for an emotional interview in which the Oscar nominee discussed shedding the theatrics of her early career, connecting with her family while writing her fifth studio album’s highly personal lyrics, and preparing to tackle the stage as the Super Bowl LI Halftime Show headliner.
“I don’t know that you can put a label on growth. I’m just me. [I’m] growing up, I’m 30; it’s just what I want to do now,” Gaga said of the Joanne album cycle, which has thus far seen the “Million Reasons” singer sporting toned-down, Americana-inspired looks and crooning over more organic instrumentation versus the electronic dance stylings of albums like The Fame Monster and Artpop.
She told Cowan her creative process — which involved co-writing and producing tracks with the likes of Hillary Lindsey, Mark Ronson, BloodPop, Jeff Bhasker, Josh Homme, and Kevin Parker — saw her looking inward for inspiration, especially with regards to her aunt, who died in 1974 at the age of 19 and ultimately inspired the album’s title.
“There was a lot of crying, a lot of pain, a lot of learning about myself… playing the music for my father for the first time was very powerful, and my grandma, too,” Gaga revealed, referencing the album’s title track, which sees the Grammy winner lamenting the loss of her relative. “My father was very emotional, and my grandmother was, too. She held my hand and she said, ‘I hope, my dear, that you won’t be too maudlin when you’re putting this music into the world.’ She didn’t want me to have an obsession with the death of my aunt.”
Though the album charts a different sonic course for Gaga, its chart position rang true to what fans have come to expect from the performer; in October, the album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, becoming her fourth straight LP to do so. Despite its chart domination, her work on the album (and subsequent Dive Bar Tour, during which she played small venues akin to the ones that launched her career in Manhattan) reminded Gaga of her humble beginnings.
“If this were all to go away tomorrow, all the big success, I would still be very happy going from bar to bar playing music for people,” she admitted. “The reason that I’m here at all is because of my relationship with my family and their encouragement of me to be a musician and to work hard. As long as I stay there in that space, I can do anything. That’s my truth.”
It wasn’t always easy to maintain a grasp on those bonds – specifically at the peak of her phase as one of the biggest names in pop music across the early 2010s.
“I used to come home and I think my mom used to watch me having a real hard time washing it off. I’d keep the wigs on, I’d keep the makeup on, I’d keep the outfits on. I never wanted to let my fans down, I always wanted them to see me in my art form,” she said, tearing up as she discussed the difficult balance of forging a life for herself as Stefani Germanotta — her birth name — while carving a lane of independence for herself amid the cutthroat music industry. “I’m very acutely aware that once I cross that property line, I’m not free anymore. As soon as I go out into the world, I belong, in a way, to everyone else. It’s legal to follow me, it’s legal to stalk me at the beach, I can’t call the police or ask them to leave. And I took a long hard look at that property line and I said well, you know, if I can’t be free out there, I’m going to be free in here.”
She continued: “I miss people. I miss going anywhere and meeting a random person and saying hi, and having a conversation about life. I love people.”
Still, as she readies to take the stage at the NRG Stadium in Houston on Feb. 5 (“you gotta play a dive bar like you play an arena, and you play an arena like you play a dive bar” she said of the gig), Gaga insisted the genuine victory for her after nearly a decade of mainstream success is her relationship with her family.
“Making your dad happy, especially for an Italian Catholic girl, feels really good. I feel that today. All the awards in the world [can get you] into all the night clubs [and designers] send you the nicest clothes,” she mused. “[But there’s] nothing better than walking into your dad’s restaurant and seeing a smile on his face, knowing that your mom, your dad, and your sister are real proud of you, and that you haven’t lost touch with who you are. That, for me, is real success.”
Watch Gaga’s full interview on CBS Sunday Morning above.