Everyone at some point has been drawn to at least one Lady Gaga persona. From 2008 to 2011, with “The Fame” and “Born This Way,” she was inescapable. For me, it was Edge of Glory that did it. A proper dance floor anthem that heavily references the ‘80s (in that you can’t really dance to it; only bang your head and spin your hair around), Edge of Glory reminded me of power ballads of yore, with its soaring, eardrum-flooding Flashdance-like chorus and unexpected sax solo by Clarence Clemons (Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band). The verses and bridge tease, promising an explosive revelation that you can’t help but wait for — it strings you along till the end. More than Just Dance, Judas and Born This Way, it was this song that I connected with, perhaps because I wasn’t really ready for Gaga as she presented herself at that time. I couldn’t buy into the shock-and-awe, but I did appreciate her as a songwriter.
“Fame Monster” was a little too theatrical for me. It was Gaga, introducing herself and peaking, to becoming a full-on diva/performer and antidote to all that was basic and trendy at that time. Yet I, along with the rest of the world, was convinced that it wasn’t a performance. Many Little Monsters fell in love with Gaga for exactly this: her ability to shapeshift, change skins, sweat through them and bleed from them. It was Gaga embracing her status as queen of this universe that she herself created, and making music that reflected a new life that she’s claimed before it even happend. From “Fame Monster” through “Artpop,” she exuded this celestial persona that was not meant to be understood, not even accepted. Gaga is. And then, much to the surprise of her Little Monsters, she wiped the slate clean three years later. Gaga: Five Foot Two reveals her transformation — or rather, reversion.
It begins with a close up of upside down feet clad in bedazzled boots, hanging from what turns out to be the roof of an enormous stage. It’s the circus-act Gaga that we’ve come to know and love, but the camera never cuts to her face. The Netflix-produced Gaga: Five Foot Two, directed by Chris Moukarbel (Me at the Zoo, Banksy Does New York) and produced by Lady Gaga and Heather Parry (Live Nation), offers a rare peek into Stefani Germanotta’s private life, not packaged as a spectacle to gawk like most a-day-in-the-life shows, but an honest and sensitive documentation of her latest transformation and album, “Joanne.”
Dubbed as her most personal album to date, “Joanne” is a tribute to her father, grandmother, and her father’s late sister Joanne, who at 19 years old, died from lupus. Gaga also sees herself as a “Joanne.” In Five Foot Two, we see her playing the song for her grandmother for the first time. At this point in the documentary, you would have already been hooked and swimming in your own tears, so that even if you don’t know Joanne, or realize that Gaga never met Joanne, you feel her loss. Here, among all the footage in the documentary, we see Gaga at her most human. She has a grandmother! She is loved! And then she exits the house and goes on to say something like, “Let’s go smoke some week in grandma’s car.”
Five Foot Two confirms our suspicions that Gaga is a thoughtful, passionate and emotional creature. A Million Reasons couldn’t have been written by an unfeeling monster alien made out of atoms and space dust — Gaga needed to become Joanne to arrive at this point in her career. Make no mistake, there is no lack of self-awareness, artistic direction and genius marketing in creating Gaga’s Joanne, but it was nonetheless a necessary and inevitable twist.
Prominently featured in Five Foot Two are Mark Ronson, her producer, with whom she feels good enough “as she is,” and Florence Welch, whom she collaborates with in Hey Girl. We see Gaga in the studio, wearing her new “uniform” — black shorts, white shirt, hair in a bun. Although we’ve watched her perform stripped down versions of her hits many times, seeing her in the in this environment, unpolished and unhindered by meatdresses, futuristic armor and acrobatic choreography, you can only focus on her singing and frankly, won’t be able to focus on much else. The power in her voice, often overshadowed by the theatrics, shines in these moments — if you aren’t already a fan, you will be.
Five Foot Two is not completely humorless. Towards the end of the documentary, as she prepares for her big show, we see Gaga lying sick on a couch, being massaged and coddled by quite a number of people. She wonders, crying, how people without money cope with illnesses — and then she goes into a sci-fi incubator sauna box. It gives us a peek into the absurd life of a rockstar, and her attempts at staying grounded and never becoming detached.
One of the best and most memorable lines from the documentary is one about her loneliness, where she sums it all up with razor sharp accuracy: “I go from everyone touching me all day… to total silence.” She says, “I’m alone.”
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Gaga: Five Foot Two is now streaming on Netflix.