Deconstructing Gaga

By Alison Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer

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Even visionaries have to start somewhere.

Lady Gaga invented herself, fashioning her oversized persona out of a mix of high and low culture; drag queens and heavy metallers, pop stars and random provocateurs.

Unlike Madonna, pop history's other great appropriator, Gaga, 24, wears her influences proudly: She's smarter than the average pop star. Better read. More extensively traveled. Deeper. And she wants you to know it.

But exactly what goes into a Gaga? And where might Gaga go next?

In anticipation of her concert Thursday at the Verizon Center, we've pieced together a compendium of the people, movements and events that created Lady Gaga, or, more specifically, that Lady Gaga used to create herself. Everything -- from the classic rock records her parents played when she was growing up to the outfits worn by the burlesque dancers she befriended on the Lower East Side -- finds its way into the mix, though it doesn't always fit together as well as Gaga might have hoped.

Some of Gaga's influences she has acknowledged openly and a few are so obvious as to be undebatable. Still others, like the inspiration for the glowing space egg from which she emerged at the Grammys, may forever remain a mystery.

Perhaps like Gaga herself.

Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, an Italian girl from New York City, absorbed what she could from others, taught herself the rest, and fashioned it all into Lady Gaga, an avant-garde cocktail of fashion, art, high culture and film that fascinates even as it sometimes fails to cohere.

"What's that phrase, [jack of all trades], master of none?" asks Jonathan Van Meter, who interviewed Lady Gaga for a March cover story in Vogue magazine. "She's super-interested in pop culture, in all the arts. I think she takes some things in more deeply than other things."

Click on the names above to learn more about the influences that have made Lady Gaga who she is.