08/03/2011 10:42 am ET Updated Oct 03, 2011

Lady Gaga: Born This Way... And That Way... And That Way...

You wouldn't think that Lady Gaga has a lot in common with Joy Behar.
But you'd be wrong. Because, as it turns out, they're both Italian, and
they both love to cook. And, if you must know, they both go to the same

On Monday morning, Lady Gaga -- avant-garde superstar and white-hot center
of the pop cultural universe -- was just another chatty co-host on The
. And guess what? She fit right in. Decked in pearls and a
ladylike, Chanel-esque houndstooth skirtsuit (with matching
houndstooth-patterned sunglasses, hat, and grand piano), Gaga more than
held her own as she dutifully discussed the morning's Hot Topics with
her fellow kaffeeklatschers. When debating the current issue of
smoking's cancerous effects versus those of processed meats, Gaga
charmingly offered: "Hot dogs are just jealous that cigarettes are more
controversial." Then, later in the show, Gaga gave a stirring
performance of her new power ballad "U and I," and, lest anyone in the
audience doubt just how game she is, changed the lyric "sit right down
on the couch where we made love the first time" to "sit right down on
the couch where we watched The View the first time."

It seems that as much attention as the media devotes to analyzing Gaga
and her particular brand of world domination, one aspect of her appeal
is going under-examined: her masterful ability to transform,
chameleon-like, into different versions of herself for various outlets
as the situation dictates. Indeed, as it turns out, Lady Gaga's poker
face is just one of many. As she recently noted, "Every show has a
different demographic, and a different audience that wants to know
different things." And in our media-centered culture, Gaga's ability to
recognize these different demographics -- and bring out various elements
of her own personality to better speak to them -- is quite a powerful

There is the bawdy Gaga -- the witty smartass who, in another lifetime,
could have been a staff writer on National Lampoon. She's the Gaga who
appeared recently on Howard Stern's radio show, and meshed perfectly in
his notorious environment of fast-paced, raunchy humor. When Stern
asked her about her love life, Gaga, not missing a beat, quipped: "It's
hard to find a boyfriend who doesn't mind a good tuck."

And then there is High Art Gaga -- she of the meat dress; she who posed
for the cover of Japanese "Vogue" in drag and conducted the entire
interview in the voice of the beautiful young man she dressed up as;
she who flaunts otherworldly, exaggerated cheekbones -- meant to suggest a
new evolution of the human race -- in the video for "Born This Way." This
Gaga is a deeply gifted thinker, writer, and student of style who, in
her first column for V magazine, wrote: "I can look at almost any
hemline, silhouette, beadwork, or heel architecture and tell you very
precisely who designed it first, what French painter they stole it
from, how many designers reinvented it after them, and what cultural
and musical movement parented the birth, death, and resurrection of
that particular trend."

But, lest you think that High Art Gaga takes herself too seriously,
remember that she exists peacefully alongside Self-Deprecating
Gaga -- she's the one who has no problem pretending to be a bottle of wine
(complete with a giant cork on her head) on a Saturday Night Live
skit alongside Justin Timberlake, or appearing in a faux commercial for
a line of Lady Gaga baby clothing, "Gaga Goo Goo," on Jimmy Kimmel
. (While hugging an infant that's donned in a tiny version of her
famous bubble dress, Gaga smiles joyfully at the camera and exclaims,
"We were born this way!")

Perhaps she herself summed it up best on Good Morning America, while
putting on a green wig during a performance for her devoted Little
Monsters in Central Park: "Without my wigs, I can only be one person,"
she said. "And I want to be so many."

It may be tempting to find something disingenuous in Gaga's ability to
transform herself so easily for so many different platforms. But that
would be a mistake. Because Gaga is not being two-faced (or two-dozen
-faced, as the case may be). Instead, she truly does seem to have all of
these widely divergent elements within her, and the fact that she does
allows her to connect deeply with a wide range of fans, whether they be
young or old, gay or straight, cool kids or nerds, male or female, or,
as Gaga sings, "black, white, or beige."

Indeed, Gaga is so gifted at connecting with the varied masses that
when Oprah Winfrey was finishing the last season of her talk show, and
ABC's Cynthia McFadden asked Barbara Walters who might be able to fill
the void Oprah was leaving behind, Walters replied: "Lady Gaga... [Oprah
and Gaga have] the same message: 'I had to struggle... Look at me, I made
it, and you can too.' And both of these women -- Lady Gaga at 25 and Oprah
in her fifties -- both of them mean it."

Actually, if there is one common thread that runs through all of Gaga's
many guises, it may be one we don't often associate with megawatt
superstars: kindness. There is an open-heartedness to Gaga, a decency
and a goodness that can be found in almost everything she does (aside
from that bizarre mermaid-in-a-wheelchair stunt). The notion that we
can and should be kind to one another seems to inform her entire
worldview. And a lot of that may have to do with what Gaga's girlhood
was like.

Although her upbringing was relatively cushy -- she grew up in a beautiful
pre-war building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and attended the
tony Sacred Heart school -- Gaga had a rough time as a kid. She was
teased mercilessly at school, and was treated like garbage by her peers
(literally -- the girls who bullied her actually threw her into a trash
can on the corner of a New York City street). But Gaga rose above a
tough adolescence to wield her immense powers for good.

There are the big, important ways in which she uses her power, such as
lobbying Congress for gay rights. But then there are the smaller ways,
which are deeply meaningful as well. When she poses for photos with her
Little Monsters, and a photo doesn't come out right, Gaga will rush
back to pose for more, making sure the shots are perfect. She treats
the NYC radio DJs that she listened to as a kid -- relative untouchables
in the music-industry caste system she now reigns over -- as if they were
the ones worthy of worship, not her.

And then there is the story of a ten-year-old girl from Winnipeg,
Canada named Maria Aragon. Maria uploaded a video of herself singing
"Born This Way" onto YouTube, her sweet young voice accompanied only by
the tinny sound of the small synthesizer she played. Lady Gaga saw the
video, and promptly tweeted it to her millions of Twitter followers,
commenting: "Can't stop crying watching this. This is why I make music.
She is the future. " Were Gaga another pop star, perhaps she would have
sent the girl some autographed merch, or more likely, done nothing. But
she's not another pop star. She's Gaga. So she invited Maria Aragon to
sing "Born This Way" with her, live, onstage, in concert, in front of
thousands of fans, on her Monster Ball tour.

Lady Gaga's latest single is an exuberant tune that's nearly impossible
to listen to without your head starting to bob back and forth like
those '90s nightclub guys played by Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan on
Saturday Night Live. In the song, against the rhythm of a
relentlessly danceable beat and the haunting cry of the late Clarence
Clemons's saxophone, Lady Gaga sings, "I'm on the edge of glory." But
really, thanks to her talent, her decency, and her heartfelt
willingness to be whoever her audience needs her to be, she's not on
the edge of glory. She's already there.

Entertainment journalist Susannah Gora is the author of "You Couldn't
Ignore Me If You Tried: The Brat Pack, John Hughes, and Their Impact on
a Generation." Visit her on the web at