With everyone going gaga over Lady Gaga’s recent Super Bowl performance, the pop star’s records have been receiving major hits as listeners just can’t seem to get enough. Along with a montage of hits such as “Bad Romance” and “Born This Way,” her Super Bowl show lineup also included a song from her new album, Joanne ( which will tour this August in Chicago) called “Million Reasons.” It left the audience humming.
Something deeply human sounds from the notes of that song, something that stems from the larger purpose of Gaga’s Joanne. Released this past fall, Joanne marks a new stage for what we know of the artist. Though it contains signature elements of the Gaga we all know and love—booming vocals, pop-strung energy, unmitigated expression—the album also reveals a side of her we are not so familiar with. Along with its pop prowess, the album has strong intonations of blues, rock, country, and folk. With Joanne, Gaga takes her music to a whole new level as it expounds on a personal journey of identity, influence, and a kinship that is absolutely ringing with soul. It all goes back to a woman named Joanne.
Lady Gaga, born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, was named after her father’s sister, Joanne Stefani Germanotta. In 1975, twelve years before Gaga was born, Joanne passed away from complications in lupus just at the age of 19. Though Gaga was never able to meet Joanne while she was alive, she found a connection with her through her own life. She has even credited overcoming her battle with addiction to Joanne, stating that “Joanne gave me strength to live the rest of the life she didn’t get to have” (Sunday Times).
This carried into Gaga’s exploration of her own self-identity in the album Joanne, which we enter into from the very start upon looking at its cover. Honest and delicately raw, Lady Gaga stands in side profile against a pale blue backdrop. She wears an expression of perseverance, looking strongly yet humbly forward. Her hair is down over her shoulders, and atop her head is a dusky pink wide-brimmed hat.
The hat, which has become a quintessential identifying feature of Gaga, also ties into the story of Joanne. Designed by L.A. milliner, Gladys Tamez, the hat was inspired by folk rock singer Marianne Faithfull, who rose to fame in the 60s. Working with Tamez, Gaga took her own spin on the hat’s design by personalizing it with a variation of shape, a white ribbon, and her favorite color, pink. The pastel shade specifically references a color palette popular in the fashion of the 70s, going back to when Joanne spent the last years of her life. Tamez fittingly named the hat “Lady Joanne” in her honor, also marking her strong influence on Lady Gaga’s identity. Gaga first wore the hat when she began writing Joanne in 2015, and has since been seen wearing several variations.
Putting on “Lady Joanne,” Gaga set out on a personal journey, exploring her roots, her family, her relationships, and ultimately her sense of self. “Returning to your family and where you came from, and your history… this is what makes you strong,” said Gaga in an interview with PEOPLE. “ It’s not looking out that’s going to do that—it’s looking in… Joanne is a progression for me. It was about going into the studio and forgetting that I was famous.” This also feeds into “the influence that all the men in my life have made on this record. That’s at the center of it, as well: I always wanted to be a good girl. And Joanne was such a good girl, but I have such a rebellious spirit, and my father was always very angry. He drank because of his sister’s death. I was trying to understand him through making this record, and in that, also trying to understand why I love men that are cowboys.” Gaga explores how her influences relate to her individuality through the album, using her aunt as a guiding force to assert her sense of self and her identity as a woman.
In going back to her roots, Gaga also carries many of her musical influences directly into the sound and feel of her album. Joanne’s tracks are strongly reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen, Led Zeppelin, and The Beatles, all long-time sources of inspiration for Gaga. She makes her own take on Springsteen’s blues-riffing voice and narrative lyrics, Zeppelin’s screeching folk air and hard rock waves, and the colorful pop bounce of The Beatles.
With all of these inflections, the album contains spikes of energetic release as well as tender moments of reflection. Mixed altogether, Gaga’s own unique voice emerges strong, not just a result of, but distinct among the impact of her influences.
At the very heart of her album is the song for which it is named, “Joanne”. In this song, Gaga speaks one-on-one with Joanne herself, confronting the pain of letting go while also acknowledging the strength in hanging on to the things that are important to us. In its entirety, Joanne is a resonation of her experiences, her values, and the conquering love prevalent in the emergence of her character. Joanne is an unrelenting, blissfully raw, and sincerely beautiful testimony to what is means to be human, and to the woman we know as Lady Gaga.
Lady Gaga sets out for her world tour of Joanne this August. She will be performing in Chicago on August 25th at 7pm at Wrigley Field. Tickets go on sale this Monday, February 13th and can be purchased here.