How Lady Gaga Overcame the Toughest Years of Her Life to Come Back Better Than Ever

Heartbreak, a debilitating disease and body-shamers were just some of the obstacles the 32-year-old pop icon overcame ahead of her turn in Bradley Cooper's musical love story that has critics raving

By Tierney Bricker Jan 04, 2019 11:00 AMTags
Watch: Lady Gaga Originally Wanted to Be an Actress, Not a Singer

"It's an interesting time in my life. It's a transition, for sure. It's been a decade."

It's hard to believe that Lady Gaga first released "Just Dance" in the summer of 2008, blazing onto the pop culture scene with her hair fashioned into a bow and introducing the world to a "disco stick." Oh, how far she's come. 

Gaga, whose real name Stefani Germanotta, has accomplished more in those 10 years than many have achieved in their entire careers. But this past August, the 32-year-old pop icon began a whole new chapter of her already impressive career, and it might just be her most successful one yet.

Forget a star, a New Lady Gaga has been born, with her turn as Ally in the summer's hit film A Star Is Born earning her rave reviews, and she's considered the frontrunner in the Best Actress in a Drama race at the 2018 Golden Globes, which take place Sunday, Jan. 6.

Lady Gaga's Best Style Moments From the A Star Is Born Press Tour

As Gaga continues her first awards campaign as an actress, she's been retrospective about her career thus far in interviews.

Rob Latour/Variety/Shutterstock

"There has been a galaxy of change," Gaga recently told Vogue of her life over the last 10 years. "I would just say that it's been a nonstop whirlwind. And when I am in an imaginative or creative mode, it sort of grabs me like a sleigh with a thousand horses and pulls me away and I just don't stop working." Another pause. "You...make friends, you lose friends, you build tighter bonds with people you've known for your whole life. But there's a lot of emotional pain, and you can't really understand what it all means until ten years has gone by."

Gaga's 10-year journey in Hollywood could very well culminate with her standing on stage accepting a Golden Globe and potentially an Oscar for her work in A Star Is Born, the third remake of the 1937 film of the same name. But her potential walk to that podium was filled with obstacles and setbacks...and she almost didn't even get the role of Ally, the young woman who has all but given up on her dreams of being a singer until she meets Jackson Maine, an alcoholic country singer played by Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper

The road to making A Star Is Born was a long one—for both its leading man/director and its leading lady. Cooper, who makes his directorial debut with ASIB, worked hard for years to prove he was ready to make the jump from acting to directing a major motion picture. He co-wrote it. He learned how to play the piano and guitar. He dropped his voice by an octave by working with a vocal coach for over a year. He had to convince Warner Bros. this was the movie he had to make as a first-time director. 

(Ironically enough, in Clint Eastwood's previous attempt to make the film a few years ago, Beyonce, whom Lady Gaga took over for when she had to cancel her 2017 Coachella set due to her pregnancy, was attached to star.)

Clay Enos/Warner Bros.

After seeing Gaga perform "La Vie en Rose" at a fundraiser event in 2016, Cooper believed he had found his Ally. "My mind was blown," he told The New York Times

The studio, however, wasn't convinced, and needed her to audition, even though she had won a Golden Globe for her turn on American Horror Story and is one of the biggest stars in the world. But would it truly be Lady Gaga's story if she didn't have to fight for it?

"That was the studio—that wasn't Bradley or the producers, but a former executive at Warner Bros. who wasn't convinced Gaga should get the role," Bill Gerber, one of the film's producers, told The LA Times. "So we convinced them. Bradley believed in her, and Warner's was generous enough to budget a proper screen test. It wasn't unanimous until we did the test, and when they saw it, it took them seconds to say yes."

While it may be surprising to hear that studio executives needed to be convinced Gaga, a Grammy winner, was their star, she understood it, telling the paper that some people "don't really know what I look like." (Plus, she kind of gets off on proving people wrong: "I'm totally that girl that's like, ‘Bring it. I'll show you.'")

And yes, the legions of fans (and likely doubters) that will flock to the theater this weekend won't see the Gaga they've grown accustomed to seeing in extravagant outfits, wild wigs and battle-face of make-up; they will be seeing a stripped down bare-faced Ally.

Cooper and Gaga developed a true partnership and "beautiful friendship" in making the movie, with Gaga helping her director to become a musician (the two often wrote songs together while filming) and Cooper helping her become vulnerable. 

"In a lot of ways I feel like Bradley unveiled me," she told E! News. "It was his idea to strip away the makeup, to go back to my natural hair and for this to be Ally's character." In a now infamous story, he himself used a make-up wipe to remove her make-up during their first screen test together, wanting her to be "completely open." He had to be sure.

"The thing that I was very aware of from the beginning, and I cherish even to this day, is how much we both had at stake because it was a first for both of us," Cooper told E! News. "We knew that going into it, we were really going to have to rely on each other, because it's scary putting yourself out there to this degree."

But putting herself out there had been Gaga's way for almost a decade, whether she was daring people NOT to look at her on the red carpet while wearing the iconic meat dress or making political statements during her Super Bowl performance. 

It's easy to see Gaga's outfits and theatrics as an armor of sorts, a protective shield from the harsh criticisms people love to toss out on social media.

"I'm so insecure. I like to preach, but I don't always practice what I preach," she admitted to the L.A. Times

Cooper was quick to praise his star when talking to E! News, telling us, "She's somebody who works so hard and is dedicated. You know, she is very busy and she gave it all up for this movie."

After spending the late summer and early fall promoting A Star Is Born, Gaga will soon be busy on the awards circuit for the film, which is shaping up to be a contender in almost every major category. Oh, and she preparing a major return to the stage on Dec. 28, when she'll launch her Las Vegas residency.

Her first major film. Her first Las Vegas residency. It's hard to believe that Gaga was going through one of the greatest heartbreaks of her life, fighting back against body shames and being forced to cancel concert dates due to just a little over a year ago. 

In July 2016, E! News reported that Gaga and Taylor Kinney had called off their engagement after five years of dating after meeting on the set of Gaga's "Yoü and I" music video. The Chicago Fire actor had proposed on Valentine's Day 2015 .

"I really can't imagine being with anyone other than who I'm with right now," the Golden Globe winner told Howard Stern in a December 2014 SiriusXM interview. "He is the right guy. I have that feeling. I just know it."

Courtesy of Operation Smile

As their break-up was playing out in the media, Gaga was promoting her new album Joanne, her most emotional and vulnerable release to date, with she called "a very painful" time.  

"It's hard enough when love isn't working out the way you want it to, and you've got to walk down the street and have somebody go, 'Are you OK?'" Gaga admitted in a sitdown interview with Beats 1 radio host Zane Lowe.

And Gaga went more in-depth about her level of heartbreak over the split in her Netflix documentary Gaga: Five Foot Two, which documented her time working on Joanne and preparing for her Super Bowl performance.

"It's a sad day when I'm doing the Super Bowl, and I'm so excited to do it, but I can't help but realize that when I sold 10 million records, I lost Matt. I sell 30 million, I lose Luc. You know? I get the move, I lose Taylor. It's like a turnover," an emotional Gaga said. "This is the third time I've had my heart broken like this. I'm alone...every night. And all these people will leave. Right? They will leave. And then I'll be alone. And then I go from everyone touching me all day and talking at me all day to total silence."

In February 2017, Gaga put on one of the best Super Bowl Halftime Show's in recent history, delivering an electric 13-minute performance that included the pop star leaping from the roof of the stadium, a subtle political statement, outfit changes and more. There was no need for any special guests; she was more than enough.

"I've been planning this since I was 4, so I know exactly what I'm going to do," the singer said in a promotional behind-the-scenes video for the show. "For me, it's all about giving to the fans and bringing people together that wouldn't normally come together. The thing is, it's such a big world stage in terms of how many people see it and it's been done so many times."

But after one of the biggest milestones of her career, Gaga was forced to respond to body-shamers a few days after her Super Bowl performance.

"I heard my body is a topic of conversation so I wanted to say, I'm proud of my body and you should be proud of yours too. No matter who you are or what you do. I could give you a million reasons why you don't need to cater to anyone or anything to succeed," she wrote on Instagram. "Be you, and be relentlessly you. That's the stuff of champions."

Gaga told E! News in 2014 that she has "struggled with an eating disorder for over 10 years." 

After her Instagram post, Gaga went on to Ryan Seacrest's syndicated KIIS-FM radio show to explain why she felt the need to address the critics: "I couldn't ignore that I saw my fans talking about that and that it upset them. I think other people maybe that are just like normal girls and guys who either have their own body image issues or just didn't think it was a nice thing to say [were hurt]. I just thought I would impart some of my positive attitude about it so that they felt like they had someone who was strong on their side."

But Gaga was fighting a much bigger and more painful battle privately during this time, one she finally revealed in Gaga: Five Foot Two, which was released on Netflix in September 2017 and recently won Best Music Documentary at the 2018 MTV Movie & TV Awards. 

The star had been dealing with the pain from a broken hip suffered on the Born This Way Tour in 2013, with Gaga revealing she had fibromyalgia, a condition that affects the nervous system and causes pain throughout the body. And fans got an unfiltered look into her intense struggle with the debilitating illness in the documentary.

"I just think about other people that have maybe something like this that are struggling to figure out what it is, and they don't have the money to have somebody help them," she said in the film. "Like, I don't know what I'd f--kin' do if I didn't have everybody here to help me. What the hell would I do? ... Do I look pathetic? I'm so embarrassed."

In the same month Five Foot Two was released, Gaga was hospitalized due to "severe pain" and had to postpone the European leg of her Joanne World Tour.  Gaga was "devastated," but determined to get better in order to continue the tour in early 2018. 

But in February, Gaga had to cancel the 10 remaining European tour dates because she was "suffering from severe pain that has materially impacted her ability to perform live." 

Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images

In her Vogue cover story, Gaga opened up about her struggle with fibromyalgia and people who question the illness. 

 "I get so irritated with people who don't believe fibromyalgia is real," she told the magazine. "For me, and I think for many others, it's really a cyclone of anxiety, depression, PTSD, trauma, and panic disorder, all of which sends the nervous system into overdrive, and then you have nerve pain as a result."

She continued, "People need to be more compassionate. Chronic pain is no joke. And it's every day waking up not knowing how you're going to feel."

But today? Well, Gaga is feeling pretty good. And has a million reasons to. 

"It's getting better every day," she told Vogue of her fibromyalgia, "because now I have fantastic doctors who take care of me and are getting me show-ready."

Gaga is began dating talent agent Christian Carino in February 2017, and the couple seems happier than ever, with Gaga confirming their engagement in October 2018. The star who always dreamed of being an actress but never thought it would happen is earning rave reviews for her turn in A Star Is Born and is a projected Oscar nominee. She kicked off her two-year residency in Las Vegas at the end of December, earning rave reviews...especially from Celine Dion.


"I've always hated the stigma around Las Vegas—that it's where you go when you're on the last leg of your career," Gaga said. "Being a Las Vegas girl is an absolute dream for me. It's really what I've always wanted to do."

And it seems Gaga knows a bit about making her dreams come true. 

The 2019 Golden Globes winners will be announced live when the ceremony airs on NBC on Jan. 6, 2019 at 8 p.m. ET.

(E! and NBC are both part of the NBCUniversal family.)

(Originally published on Oct. 4, 2018, at 12:04 p.m. PST.)