NEW YORK — Lady Gaga doesn't get why some people don't get her.
"I am so often puzzled (by journalists). Sometimes they go, 'So what's this all about? ... What do you look like when you go home? Do you dress like this all the time?' It's rude! It's not nice," the "Poker Face" singer laments.
The questions may not be polite, but they are understandable for a woman who arrives for a low-key breakfast interview at a nearly empty hotel restaurant sporting a face full of makeup, two pairs of false eyelashes, a sheer outfit strategically cut to showcase her silk bra, platform pumps AND her now-signature hair bow.
It's hard to imagine that she can keep up this act when the spotlight fades away.
But that's the kind of thinking the singer is trying to dispel. She may have been born Stefani Germanotta, but Lady Gaga insists this is no Sasha Fierce act.
"My realization of Gaga was five years ago, but Gaga's always been who I am," says the 23-year-old, in a soft, girlish voice.
"I don't appreciate when people call me Stefani, because if they don't know me, I feel like it's their way of acting like they do ... they're completely ignoring my creative existence," she says, before adding coyly: "(Lady Gaga) is who I am. Me and my hair bow, we go to bed together. She sleeps where I sleep."
It's that kind of pop philosophy that has helped to make Gaga's music the latest sensation, and a confounding one at that. While she's surpassed the platinum mark with her debut CD, "The Fame," thanks to the throbbing disco beats of songs like "Poker Face" and "Just Dance," she has captured the imagination of millions _ and left an equal number scratching their heads _ with her futuristic outfits, outrageous Gaga-isms (most recent: a suggestion of a foursome with the wholesome Jonas Brothers), and her eye-popping live shows, which are as much art as music performances (she starts a tour with the equally provocative Kanye West in October).
"She offers a degree of mystery that has been pretty rare among pop stars over the past few years," says Brian Hiatt, a Rolling Stone editor who interviewed the star for the cover of the magazine.
"She has a more fully formed artistic persona than we've seen for a while," he adds. "She's this intriguingly odd character."
And Gaga is perfectly comfortable with being music's peculiar "it" girl, a role she has played from grammar school.
"I'm kind of the odd person out in general," she surmises. "I don't really like hanging out with celebrities and I don't fit into that world, as I sort of keep to myself. So in a way, even in the new group of cool kids and the pop music world, I'm still the odd girl, but I'm OK with it; I like being the odd girl now, it's where I live."
By now, most Gaga fans know her back story. A piano prodigy, she grew up on Manhattan's Upper West Side, went to the tony private school the Convent of the Sacred Heart and spent her early teen years singing in cabaret clubs.
She attended New York University's Tisch School of the Arts before leaving to pursue her music recording dreams. She was signed to Def Jam Records and dropped, then got picked up by Interscope Records, which released her best-selling debut CD.
But most fascinating is what has been described as the defining period in Gaga's life: her days immersing herself in the drug and sex haze of the New York City party circuit in her "journey to Gaga." A fan of Andy Warhol and the Studio 54-lifestyle, her research into that era involved cocaine, sexual experimentation and other eyebrow-raising behavior.
While Gaga is not ashamed of that phase, she's frustrated so much has been made of it _ especially the drug use.
"I think it's a terrible message to young people that you have to ruin your life in order to make music, because I don't think you have to," she says. "But it's just the way my brain and my heart and my obsession for love and art were functioning at the time."
It also plays into the mystique of Gaga as an artsy, kooky figure who rode her love of mirrored disco balls and club culture to the top of the charts. But in describing her plan for success, while she constantly professes her love for making art, she also sounds as strategic as a veteran record exec.
"I went to art school, I studied pop culture, I know everything about music and iconography, pop, cultural and religious," she says. "I'm self-manufactured. ... (I look) at it not as poison or lowbrow, but looking at it in a very highbrow way, and self-making myself to be a powerful visionary and say something that will genuinely speak to people."
Gaga draws comparisons to Madonna, in the same way that the Material Girl pushed the envelope culturally and sexually when she emerged from the dance clubs years ago. And she is a huge fan of Madonna, who came to check out Gaga when she performed recently in New York City: an excited Gaga gushed with excitement when she heard that her idol _ who, like Gaga is of Italian descent _ was coming to her show.
But when Gaga sees similarities to Madonna, she doesn't see them artistically.
"I think what they're more genuinely drawing upon is the strong ambitious part more than anything. I think that's what _ and I hope I'm not being hyperbolic _ but I would like to think that's what I share with her more than anything, is my ambition, and my strength," she says.
Hitmaking producer RedOne, who worked with Gaga after she was dropped by Def Jam and ended up producing several records on "The Fame," including "Poker Face" and "Just Dance," says the singer's confidence is partly what drew him to working with her.
"The moment I met her, I was like, 'Oh, she looks like a star' _ she had this thing about her," he says. "That's the kind of artist I was looking for to showcase my music, a real artist in every way. ... She took it to the next level for every artist."
When asked how she managed to not only get, but also retain that kind of self-confidence in an industry that feeds on the insecurity of artists, Gaga says simply: "Because that's your fame. That's where your fame lives. ... my luminosity. My constant flashing light. It's in my ability to know what I make is great. I know it is, I know it's great, and it's that sureness. That sureness is infectious."
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(This version CORRECTS Corrects to show RedOne worked with Gaga after she was dropped from Def Jam, sted before. AP Video.)