‘Gaga: Five Foot Two’ Shows The Real Person Behind The Superstar Aura
Talking with director Chris Moukarbel
Will the real Lady Gaga please stand up?
In the 2013 song "Aura," Gaga asks her lover if they want to see the girl behind the aura; the enigma pop star game, she says, is fun. This we've come to know to be true, from her debut LP and follow-up EP musing on the highs and lows of fame. Spectacle is a thing Gaga shines at; it's how she's gotten to where she is today. Yet despite the open arms she welcomes her Little Monsters with, there's always been something untouchable about Lady Gaga. Who is she? What goes into being Lady Gaga? How does Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta make it all work? Those answers are (mostly) found in Chris Moukarbel's new documentary, Gaga: Five Foot Two.
For roughly eight months in 2016, Moukarbel was granted unprecedented access into Gaga's home, studio, and work life. Through his lens, we see Gaga bring her fifth studio album Joanne, to life, we witness the end of her engagement to Taylor Kinney, we watch her open up about her chronic pain, and we observe as she prepares for the biggest performance of her career, the Super Bowl Half Time Show.
"It doesn't get any bigger than this," Gaga says multiple times. "Where do I go from here?"
If the Super Bowl is the top, then up isn't really an option. But authenticity—more of it, anyway—is. At one point in the documentary, Gaga says, "I know we wanna elevate everything, but I can't elevate it to the point where I become Lady Gaga again." She is, of course, speaking of becoming the Gaga who steps out in high fashion every day, wig on, full makeup beat, the whole nine yards. Joanne, in a way, is her molting process; she says she's going to "fight like hell" for her fans to like it, but she's keenly aware of how necessary it is for her to stick to her gut. "She really is trying to find a sustainable path to being an artist and having a career where she doesn't have to wear a million wigs and 12-inch heels," Moukarbel tells me. "There's nothing about her previous catalog or her previous eras that she doesn't identify with." The focus is now on finding a balance, to not only prevent burning out but for her to stay healthy.
"Very few people are built for the type of fame she has," Moukarbel says. "You realize very early on in meeting her that she's one of those people that is. A lot of people can't handle that, and it's definitely something a lot of people think they want, and it's interesting to watch a person get everything they want and how they negotiate that afterward." Indeed. Moukarbel's lens lifts the veil on the business side of pop stardom, showing how isolating it can be to throw your everything into performances only to go home at night, alone.
On the flip side, though, Moukarbel's access grants us an intimate look at the strong working relationships Gaga has fostered, especially when making Joanne. He says she more or less ignored the camera being around her (the first time, we learn, she's been in front of a camera in three years), which allows for her to let go, light up a joint if need be (there are many), work through a lyric, and kick it with the likes of Florence Welch. It's intimate. It's raw. It's the most in-depth look at the workings of fame we've seen in a while.
"Fame is not all it's cracked up to be," Gaga writes in a statement she shared to Twitter. "It is lonely, it is isolating, and it is very psychologically challenging because fame changes the way you're viewed by people." With Gaga: Five Foot Two, both Moukarbel and Gaga reclaim that public view. At long last, the real Lady Gaga has stood up and is proudly present.
Gaga: Five Foot Two is available to stream on Netflix now.