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Lady GaGa: Totally Ga-Ga

'I'M NO TV talent-show wannabe," declared Lady GaGa from behind her trademark enormous sunglasses, on the day that she knocked X Factor winner Alexandra Burke off the number one spot in the UK singles chart. "I did this the way you're supposed to: I worked hard. I'm involved in every aspect of my work. I'm not like some singers, who just turn up to put their vocals over another person's song."

Miaow! But then Lady GaGa, the brash 22-year-old New Yorker who has taken the British electro-pop scene by storm since she touched down at Heathrow ten days ago in a pair of spike heels, a black rubber suit and those fabulous sunglasses, is unafraid to show her claws. This is, after all, a woman who attended the same Catholic convent school as Paris Hilton, whose live shows have featured hairspray skooshed over the audience and then set on fire, and who once received an indecency citation at a music festival for wearing miniscule hotpants.

But while she may be high on theatrics, Lady GaGa also has the musical goods to back it up. She learnt piano at the age of four, performed her own compositions at open-mic club nights aged 14, and was writing songs for Britney Spears by the age of 21.

Lady Gaga – real name Joanne Stefani Germanotta – is the self-appointed head girl in a new class of female singer/songwriters whose work packs the same amount of electric post-feminist punch as their outfits. There is Little Boots, 24, from Blackpool, who was last week announced as the BBC's Sound Of 2009, and 20-year-old La Roux (using your real name is obviously so last year), another electro queen whose slick vocals have sparked a bidding war between several record labels.

Meanwhile, Lady GaGa is riding high with her funky chart-topper, Let's Dance. Her album, The Fame, is "about how anyone can feel famous" and has been lauded by the critics both in her native America and in Europe. As much a fashionista as a performer, her outfits combine space-age style with Gwen Stefani-esque grooming, plus a nod to Donatella Versace, whom she cites as her muse. "When I'm writing music, I'm thinking about the clothes I want to wear on stage," she says. "It's all about everything altogether."

Last night she played her first gig in Glasgow, supporting the Pussycat Dolls, another band for whom, despite her tender years, she has written several songs. It was all part of a musical apprenticeship that saw her appearing in burlesque shows on New York's Lower East Side, with drag queens and go-go dancers, while she was still in her teens – to the horror of her parents.

"I was in leather thongs, so it was hard for him – he just didn't understand," she said of her father's reaction. "But my parents saw me getting better, and now my father cries when he sees me perform."

Her musical ability was quickly noted on the New York club scene, however: in 2008 she was signed to Interscope Records as a songwriter and ushered into the studio with such established names as Fergie, Akon, Spears and the re-formed New Kids On The Block. It was Akon, pictured left, who, upon hearing her sing a reference vocal for one of his tracks, recognised that she also had vocal talent and signed her to his own label, Kon Live Distribution.

Songwriters-turned-singers are in the minority, yet it's rare to find a female songwriter who is not penning lyrics in the hope of singing them herself. Those who have broken through include R&B singer Christina Milian, who first found success when, aged 19, she co-wrote the song Play for Jennifer Lopez. A recording contract followed soon afterwards. Dolly Parton has maintained a successful songwriting career as well as a being a singer, with some 600 songs to her name.

Singers-turned-songwriters are more common: there's Cathy Dennis, briefly a popstar in the 1990s before going on to become an incredibly prolific and successful songwriter for Spears, the Sugababes, Kylie and others. Linda Perry experienced some fame with the mid-1990s US band 4 Non Blondes before going on to write songs for Gwen Stefani, James Blunt and Robbie Williams.

As for GaGa, her future appears to lie in the dual role. "For me, it's everything coming together and being a real story that will bring back the super-fan," she has said of her career trajectory. "I want the imagery to be so strong that fans will want to eat and taste and lick every part of us."

It's enough to make you go gaga.

 
 
 

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