With varying degrees of intimacy, many pop stars have let cameras trail them for tell-all documentaries. But Lady Gaga wanted more than a mere record of her tour prep when she partnered with visual artist and director Chris Moukarbel for “Gaga: Five Foot Two.” In fact, Gaga sees the entirety of 2017 as the opportunity to crystallize her legacy.
“Doing the Super Bowl this year, as much as it was for the fans and as much as it was to entertain the world — this is my most important and favorite thing to do: to entertain people and make them happy — it was also for me,” the singer said Friday during a press conference at the Toronto Film Festival, where “Five Foot Two” will premiere. “It was like, ‘I’m going to take this.’ Everything that I’ve worked for, that I’ve obtained, that I’ve believed in, the message that we’ve all spread together, I am going to put this trophy on the top of Everest and do this for myself. It’s almost like the Super Bowl and this film are like a hedge of protection on my legacy for the past 10 years.”
Dressed in a black pantsuit and platform heels, Gaga was in a reflective mood during the 25-minute question-and-answer session. She mentioned more than once that it has been almost a decade since the April 2008 release of her popular debut single, “Just Dance,” making this an apt moment to pull back the curtain for a “vérité” documentary.
Having built a career that often comments on the complicated nature of fame, art and commercialism, Gaga said she is accustomed to cameras in her face. But if her stylized, highly manicured performances reflect the work of an ostensible perfectionist, Gaga had to prepare for a movie that would tell another side of that story — all while her latest album, “Joanne,” faced mixed critical reception and failed to net a No. 1 single.
“The most important thing to me in this whole process is that this film, or documentary, didn’t come across like a big commercial for me, of everybody watching it and seeing how perfect I am and how perfect my career is and how perfect every little thing that I do and touch is, because that is just simply not true,” she said. “That would be not in line with everything that I am as an artist. I think the most important thing that you can be is authentic.”
Gaga maintained the right to order Moukarbel, the movie’s director, to turn off the cameras at any given moment, but the singer said that only happened a few times, when she “was overwhelmed and needed space.” Otherwise, Moukarbel had access to what Gaga calls “extreme highs” and “lowest lows,” including family issues, a breakup and the loneliness of stardom.
“I’m not in the business of trying to make you all like me,” she said, departing momentarily from her earnestness to resurrect the defiant persona Gaga is known for. “I’m in the business of creating fantasies and music and experiences of theater and art that inspires people, hopefully. The most important thing to me in my career has always been spreading a positive message. And I’d say that’s my most favorite thing about what I know I have heard this film to be about, that there is a positive message behind it and me as a woman. I’m happy to show that. I think it’s important for artists, not just for me.”
Indeed, “Five Foot Two” follows in a long line of pop-star concert documentaries, a genre that owes credit to Bob Dylan (“Dont Look Back,” 1967) and Madonna (“Truth or Dare,” 1991), Gaga’s forerunner turned rival. One might assume that Gaga, who has been a vocal advocate for female empowerment, LGBTQ rights and mental-health acceptance, would seize the opportunity to turn this project into a political statement. Instead, the content she is seen creating in “Five Foot Two” is her political statement.
“One thing I didn’t agree with about what you said is … you have to do more than just make music,” Gaga said, addressing a journalist who posed a question about activism. “You know, music is pretty powerful. It can be more powerful — and I would dare to say is infinitely more powerful — than a tweet or an Instagram post with a selfie with me and a statement that I’ve made about the world. Music has the power to heal people. It’s vibrations, it’s science. When music happens and it comes out of the speakers, there are things that happen in your body and in your spirit that are not the same as what you feel when you are reading the internet. That’s what I would say ― I would say that everyone should do their part, and part of artists being good at what we do, I think, is making sure art is perfected and strong, and that we know its power and that we use it.”
“Gaga: Five Foot Two” premieres at the Toronto Film Festival on Friday. It debuts Sept. 22 on Netflix.