14 Surprising Facts About Lady Gaga When She Was Just Stefani Germanotta

The world may know her best as Lady Gaga, but the woman behind the fame, the glitter, the wigs, and that unforgettable meat dress was once just a New York singer with big dreams and (in her own words) even bigger "balls."

Most people don't know that before her musical breakthrough and sudden ascent into global fame in 2008/2009, Stefani Germanotta was learning about classical music, singing Led Zeppelin covers, and dancing for tips at underground New York burlesque clubs and gay bars.

Whether you're a casual listener or a certified "Little Monster,"  here are all the facts you need to know about Lady Gaga before she became Lady Gaga.

  • Her Real Name Is Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta

    Her Real Name Is Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta
    Photo: Gagapedia

    In 1986, Lady Gaga was born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta. Her Italian-American parents, Joseph and Cynthia, worked as an Internet entrepreneur and an executive at Verizon, respectively. Along with her little sister Natali, Gaga was raised on the Upper West Side of Manhattan - an area of the city with a rich avant-garde history that would end up having a big influence on her and her music.

  • Her Stage Name Was Inspired By A Queen Song

    Gaga's unique stage name was inspired by the Queen song, "Radio Ga-Ga." She originally came up with the idea after her producer Rob Fusari sang the song to her in response to hearing some of her early glam rock-influenced music.

    In addition to Queen, Gaga became obsessed with many other glam artists of the '70s and '80s, such as Elton John and David Bowie, just as she was beginning to experiment more with her sound and style. In fact, without the likes of Bowie there may never have been a Lady Gaga at all. Gaga even paid tribute to Bowie's inspiring aesthetic in her very first video for "Just Dance" by sporting a lightening bolt across her face in the style of Bowie's Aladdin Sane album cover.

  • She's Been Playing Music Since The Age Of Four

    She's Been Playing Music Since The Age Of Four
    Photo: flickr / CC0

    Though Gaga has perhaps become best known for her outlandish fashion choices and over-the-top performances, her success has always been rooted in good, old-fashioned, musical talent and a studious attitude. She first started playing the piano at the age of 4 and went on to take her first singing lessons at 11. By the age of 13, she had already written her first song and from that moment on it was clear she was destined for big things.

  • She Swapped Juilliard For Catholic School And Paris Hilton

    At age 11, Gaga was accepted into the highly esteemed Juilliard School in Manhattan, but instead (at her parent's behest) attended Convent of the Sacred Heart, an Upper East Side private Catholic school.

    Her schoolmates there even included Paris and Nicky Hilton, who seemed to make a bigger impression on her than the nuns did. “I am fascinated with the blonde woman as seductress,” she told The Telegraph. Gaga is, of course, naturally brunette. “There’s a way that these women position themselves in front of the cameras. There’s a real art to fame.”

  • She Was Bullied For Her Outlandish Style From A Young Age

    Catholic school helped Gaga develop her strict work ethic, but it also forced her to develop a tough skin as a result of the ruthless bullying she experienced while there. She told Rolling Stone that her experimental style is what made her a prime target: "I used to do these really big 'Evita' brows [and] I used to self-tan [...] and people would say, 'Why the fuck are you so orange, why do you do your hair that way, are you a d*ke? Why do you have to look like that for school?' I used to be called a sl*t [...] I didn't even want to go to school sometimes."

    Ultimately, she's managed to draw strength from her dark teenage years. "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' [...] 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."

  • She Was Trained By Christina Aguilera's Vocal Coach... And Xtina Wasn't Pleased

    Gaga first started taking singing lessons at age 11 with Don Lawrence, Christina Aguilera's vocal coach. And this fact was not lost on Christina when Gaga's career started to take off in 2008, with many comparing the two blonde singers: "I'm not sure who this person is, to be honest," Aguilera replied coldly when asked about Gaga, adding, "I don’t know if it is a man or a woman."

    Gaga was unfazed by the antagonistic comments: "I think she’s very talented and, anyway, look at me: I might as well be a gay man. When I hear comments like that, I’m like, ‘She’s dead on,’ because she saw the Warhol in me."

    Gaga also still takes lessons with Lawrence to this day. Leading up to her triumphant Sound Of Music performance at the 2015 Oscars, she practiced with him every day for a year and a half.