Lady Gaga has been named Billboard's Woman of the Year, which is slightly ironic, considering she almost gave up her career as a pop star at the tail end of 2014. "It speaks volumes to me that I'm being recognized as Woman of the Year in 2015," she says. "This is the year I did what I wanted instead of trying to keep up with what I thought everyone else wanted from me."
What a difference a year makes. "At the end of 2014, my stylist asked, 'Do you even want to be a pop star anymore?' I looked at him and I go, 'You know, if I could just stop this train right now, today, I would. I just can't. [But] I need to get off now because I'm going to die.' When you're going so fast you don't feel safe anymore, you feel like you're being slapped around and you can't think straight. But then I felt hands lifting me," the singer says. "It was like everybody came together to try and put a star back in the sky, and they weren't going to let me down."
Famous since her debut single "Just Dance" was released in 2008, Gaga says she needed to take a break to figure out what kind of artist she wanted to be. "You can't sell your soul once you make it. It's a big mistake to just go after the money to try to stay on top. I think that's what everyone wanted me to do. But I'm a different kind of girl, and when being different is not in style it's hard for me to function. People think, 'You can just sit down at a piano whenever you want and write,' but I couldn't write for two f--king years. For ARTPOP, I was doing beats instead. I didn't want to be near that damn [piano]. It was too emotional. I would start to play and sing, and my mind would go, 'You are way too talented for this shit. F--k, your voice sounds good. F--k, that's a beautiful chord. F--k, that's an amazing lyric. Why are you letting these people run you into the ground? When did you become the fashionable robot?' Can't being an artist be enough? Is talent ever the thing? I think for Adele it is. I think for Bruno Mars it is."
To find her center, Gaga recorded a jazz album and toured with Tony Bennett, who became a friend and mentor. "That's what I learned from working with Tony: If talent isn't the thing, then you are way off-base," she says. "That's why every up and down of my career was worth it—it has led me to epiphanies. We can't create without epiphanies. You could have one and not even know it because you're so high or there are seven models sucking your d--k or you're so intoxicated by the lifestyle. I'm grateful for what I have, but that doesn't mean I don't value the gift of life. Because while this house is beautiful, once I cross my property line I'm no longer free; it's legal to stalk me all over the world. The thing that makes me happy is that piano."
Today, Gaga is more sure of herself than ever before.
"My birthday is in March, so these are the last moments of my 20s," the American Horror Story: Hotel actress tells Billboard. "I already mourned that in a way, and now I'm really excited about showing girls, and even men, what it can mean to be a woman in her 30s. Why is it that we're disposing of people once they pass that mark? It's suddenly, 'You're an old woman.' I'm not f--king old. I'm more sexual and powerful and intelligent and on my shit than I've ever been. I've come a long way through a lot of heartache and pain, but none of it made me damaged goods. It made me a fighter. I want to show women they don't need to try to keep up with the 19-year-olds and the 21-year-olds in order to have a hit. Women in music, they feel like they need to f--king sell everything to be a star. It's so sad. I want to explode as I go into my 30s."
That said, Gaga admits it took a while to find such clarity. "Once you start being mindful and really going, 'Do I actually want that?,' you start to feel empowered and you find your value. I love being the annoying girl. I was a theater kid. I was in jazz band. I went to the Renaissance Faire. I was that girl who got made fun of, that nerdy girl. I believe in that girl," the singer says. "I believe in the integrity, intelligence and power of people like her, and I want to ignite it."