My study of gender manipulation, though not a new endeavor in the fields of art and fashion, has been both revealing and terrifying — perhaps my most emotionally challenging performance to date. Beginning as an invention of my mind, Jo Calderone was created with Nick Knight as a mischievous experiment. After working together tirelessly and passionately for years, eating bovine hearts, throwing up on ourselves, giving birth to an alien nation and an AK-47, Nick and I began to wonder: how much exactly can we get away with? Given the nature of this V Magazine issue, an exploration of “the model,” I felt it appropriate to investigate, in diary form, how the past few months of my work have been a deliberate attack on the “idea” of the “modern model,” or, in my case, the “modern pop singer.” How can we remodel the model? In a culture that attempts to quantify beauty with a visual paradigm and almost mathematical standard, how can we fuck with the malleable minds of onlookers and shift the world’s perspective on what’s beautiful? I asked myself this question. And the answer? Drag.
Nick and I photographed Jo, omitted his biological sex, and shopped the photographs around to men’s fashion magazines. The cover of Vogue Hommes Japan, a major Japanese men’s publication, was a coup to say the least, exciting mostly because we had convinced the editors that Jo Calderone was a male model and had sold his look as the next big thing. Nick Knight, a photographer with intuition that borders on godly, wondered immediately if they would be able to feel my spirit in the photograph. He wondered, knowing good and well his photographs were marvelous and utterly masculine, if there was still no way to mask my intensity as a performer. What an interesting venture it was, because, in truth, really brilliant models have the chameleonic ability to transform into new creatures all the time. So why should I be any different? Was our experimentation devious? Or is it nobody’s business whether or not Jo has a cock in his pants? It was a few weeks later, after the cover was printed, that Nick said to me, sweetly, “Gaga, I believe Jo has to sing.”
I wrestled with this idea. Would it be convincing? What was the purpose of the piece? And if I were to do it, what would its significance be in relation to my work as Lady Gaga? Yes, this is me, but in the fantasy of performance I imagined (or hoped) the world would weigh both individuals against one another as real people, not as one person playing two. Lady Gaga versus Jo Calderone, not Lady Gaga “as.” That would be the intention of the process, to co-exist with an alternate version of myself — in the same universe. So I reasoned, how could remodeling my current image ignite a statement or revelation about me as an artist? What is the new model of the performer and how can I push the boundaries? The answer was that Jo would not just make a statement about me as performer, but would reveal things about me as a woman. I decided then that there was only one way to execute this piece: Jo and Gaga had to argue.
As I began to reckon with Jo, I found it important to excavate what he didn’t like about me, or rather, what I struggle with liking about myself. Concurrently, I felt it necessary to imagine what the public expects of me during a performance of this magnitude — the opening of the VMAs — and how I might destroy this expectation in a variety of ways. On a stage, the laws of fantasy are meant to be broken, but I have always found it difficult to bring my real pussy out there with me. (Or do I bring it out there and just don’t know it?) I have always feared that the reality of love, if brought into the spotlight, has the potential to destroy creativity. Needless to say, the line between fantasy and reality is blurred in my life, as this psychobabble may indicate, so I drew upon my personal experiences to initiate a deeper parallel. Do my lovers feel like an extension of my audience? Because I refuse to draw a distinction between what’s real and what is artifice, do they feel a part of the show? How can Jo become more relatable and lovable than I am?
During my performance and the three days I spent as him, I felt permission through him to confess things about myself as a woman, things I would normally keep hidden. In a way, it seemed that he could get away with a lot more than I can. He talked about his feelings, wore Brooks Brothers, smoked Marlboro Lights, drank beer on stage, and talked about what I refuse to discuss publicly: my relationships. It was by remodeling myself into something completely foreign, and in some ways crafting the anti-pop performance, that the complexities of “the model” began to unfold. For someone known as much for her image as for her music — and this has become my model — the presence of Jo in no way eradicated my spirit from the stage. I was still ever-present, and, in fact, more myself than ever. Jo had a clean slate. Jo had no past or future to answer to. Jo existed only in that moment, as I chose for him to.
By remodeling the “model artist,” “model citizen,” or “supermodel,” we can liberate the present. The transformation detaches the model from any universal paradigm and allows him or her to reinvent perspective in a pure, unattached moment. Within the different archetypes of our psychology, which part of ourselves can tackle an obstacle with more honesty or strength? Is it a farce to transform? Or is it an injustice to “the model” to treat him or her as a prototype? How will you remodel yourself and discover which model is best for today? Use every ounce of potential you have, raise revolution against what people expect of you, and tell the world this is not a rehearsal. This is the real me. And listen up, ‘cause it could be the most honest incarnation yet.