10 Questions for Lady Gaga

Pop icon, singer and now philanthropist Lady Gaga on her mom, kindness and going to Harvard

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Dimitrios Kambouris / Getty Images for Nespresso

You just launched the Born This Way Foundation. Is it aimed at preventing bullying?
This is not an antibullying foundation. This is a youth-empowerment foundation. This is about combatting meanness and cruelty. This is about inspiring bravery in young people and their parents and culture worldwide to work toward a kinder and more accepting society.

Isn't inspiring kindness the same thing as combatting bullying?
We do not make a distinction between the bully and the victim. Each person is an equally important and valuable member of society. What the foundation is about is a transformative change that is going to take a long time to affect the overall culture. Bullies were born this way too.

You have enormous cultural capital. Why use it on this issue?
Many people think that because I was bullied in school, that was the inspiration behind wanting to deal with this issue. But actually, once I put the Born This Way album out, I noticed a tremendous desire among fans to become braver and more active members of society.

How would, say, an 11-year-old girl live out your idea?
She could go up to one person in class who maybe is not one of the cool kids and say, "I really like your T-shirt." That would be her one great loving and accepting deed for the day.

The song "Born This Way" has some religious overtones. Does this foundation come from a set of beliefs?
No. Some of the religious implications are meant to be sort of double entendre and irony.

You said in 2008 that you write about what you know: "sex, pornography, art, fame, obsession, drugs and alcohol." How do you balance that with how you're talking to teens today?
When did I say that?

In 2008.
That's a long time ago. Different album. My work as an artist is completely separate from my work as a philanthropist.

One of the hallmarks of everything you've done is your nerve. Is this courage born of feeling rarely accepted or is it born of saying, "I know what it's like to not feel accepted, and I can deal with it"?
In fact, my courage and my bravery at a young age was the thing I was bullied for, a kind of "Who do you think you are?" This is not coming from a place of "I'm a popular kid. Let's all be brave." If anything, there's a sort of stigma around doing good deeds that's maybe not so cool. I'm doing everything that I can, working with experts, really studying the statistics to figure out a way we can make it cool or normal to be kind and loving.

Maintaining the Lady Gaga persona must take so much of your energy. How do you find the bandwidth to take on yet another big thing?
My mother. My mom and I are very close. One of the things I hope to impress upon everyone is that all it takes is just one person to believe in you.

You're partnering with, among others, Harvard University on this. In an alternate Lady Gaga universe, would you have liked to have gone to Harvard?
I don't know. I am going to Harvard today. So that'll do.

If you think people should be themselves, why do you have the elaborate costumes that seem so much like a disguise?
Well, this is myself. How else would I maintain it every day? It may be perceived that my creativity is something I have to work on, when that's probably the most natural part of me. I think we should try not to be cynical about the individuality of others. Perhaps instead of a disguise, people should see it as an expression.