Born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta in 1986, Gaga was raised by Italian-American parents. She and her parents — Joseph, an Internet entrepreneur, and Cynthia, a Verizon executive — lived in a duplex on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Gaga is known for her work ethic and her studiousness — and it started because her parents cared deeply about education from a young age and enrolled their daughter at Convent of the Sacred Heart, an Upper East Side private Catholic school. That's where the merciless bullying began.
"I used to do these really big Evita brows," Gaga told Rolling Stone in 2011. "I used to self-tan, and I had this really intense tan in school, and people would say, 'Why the fuck are you so orange, why do you do your hair that way, are you a dyke? Why do you have to look like that for school?' I used to be called a slut, be called this, be called that. I didn't even want to go to school sometimes."
But Gaga credits that bullying, for better and for worse, with her drive to overcome. "Bullying really stays with you your whole life," she told Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer. "And it really, really never goes away. And I know you're using words like 'superstar' and 'most-Googled' and 'billions of YouTube [views].' But I was never the winner. I was always the loser. And that still stays with me. And do I want to stick it to anybody? No. I just wanna make music."
taking vocal lessons from Christina Aguilera's singing coach, Don Lawrence. She still takes lessons from Lawrence to this day; to prep for her Sound of Music tribute, Gaga practiced with him every single day for half a year leading up to the performance. As a kid, she learned classical piano and took a full day of acting classes every Saturday. She never underestimated the value of thoughtful study — as a child in a classic rock cover band or as a grown superstar.
At 22, Gaga had released her first album, The Fame, to critical and popular acclaim. "It'd be easy to dismiss a 22-year-old debut artist sporting a blonde Cher wig, hooded Catwoman suit and glowing staff she calls the 'disco stick' — but not if she delivers an album full of hits," Billboard wrote in their praising review. "The full-length The Fame proves she's more than one hit and a bag of stage tricks." The album went on to sell more than 4 million units. It made her a legend, and she began returning the favor to her fans almost immediately.