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December 26, 2018

Dialect Dissection: Lady Gaga

If you remember 2008 to 2011, you probably remember the unconquerable radio dominance of a singer called Lady Gaga. I remember not being able to listen to the radio without hearing "I'm your biggest fan, I'll follow you until you love me." I remember the first time I watched the music video for Bad Romance - on YouTube, where we now take online music videos for granted - and thinking it blew any other music video I'd seen out of the water. I remember being perched for any news regarding a new album. And in 2018, I stood in line to watch her act in "A Star Is Born." Whether you love her for her accessibly weird synth-pop, her casually avant-garde outfits, her phenomenal vocal chops - or whether you don't love her at all, Lady Gaga has left her mark on 21st century pop and doesn't seem to be leaving anytime soon.

Gaga once proclaimed herself too pop for theatre and too theatre for pop. While countless thinkpieces have been written about Lady Gaga's use of theatricality in relation to music, style, fame, videos, promotional strategies, etc. very few people have turned their eyes to looking at how Lady Gaga uses language. This Dialect Dissection will show how Lady Gaga constructs her image not just audio-visually and sartorially, but linguistically. While many of the previous Dialect Dissectees have purposefully used accent as part of their music and image, Gaga has consistently experimented with different sounds that aren't really part of a dialect. We are going to examine how she speaks, what she borrows, and what she invents.

A Brief Career Retrospective

If you are already familiar with Lady Gaga's career path, click here to get to the good stuff. If you are not, read on. Lady Gaga's first album was The Fame, which was released in 2008. It was part of a wave of albums (such as Britney Spears's Blackout, Rihanna's Good Girl Gone Bad, and Madonna's Confessions on a Dance Floor) that brought dance-pop music back to the forefront after a decade of hip-hop and r&b domination. She had a number of hit singles from this era, with songs like "Just Dance," "Paparazzi," and "Poker Face." This era featured her baby-sounding voice and a strong funk/disco influence on her music.

She re-released The Fame in 2009 with the addition of eight new tracks: The Fame Monster, which would also go on to be released as an EP. It was around this time that her music became darker, the costumes became wackier, and the media provocations became stronger. Her music videos were more focused and followed more in the paths of the "Paparazzi" music video - longer, with storylines and more avant-garde clothing. She ditched the baby voice and tan blonde look in favor of a more natural sounding voice and an ethereal look. This era was another success for her, with "Bad Romance," "Alejandro," and "Telephone" being major hits.

Born This Way was released in 2011, and was basically the entire energy of The Fame Monster, but more. She famously arrived in an egg for the Grammys. She experimented more with her lyrics and spoke about the importance of recognizing the essence of the creative process - what she called "honoring your vomit." Her hits included "Born This Way," "Judas," and "The Edge of Glory". The single "Marry the Night" failed to catch on, and was in some ways the first crack in her impenetrable pop shell.

After a two year silence, Lady Gaga released ARTPOP in 2013. This album took cues from the then-popular EDM (mostly electro house) and a stab at trap. She released had success with "Applause" and "Do What U Want", but the era found itself off track when Gaga and her manager Troy went their separate ways. The execution for this era was botched - a companion app for the album counted down to an event that never happened, the video for "Do What You Want" was never released, and after self-funding the music video for "G.U.Y," Gaga went silent. She had undergone a hip problem during the Born This Way tour, and the pain led her to self-medicate with drugs.

She then released a jazz album, Cheek to Cheek, with Tony Bennett, and appeared in American Horror Story as the Countess. She performed a well-received tribute to The Sound of Music. In 2016, she released Joanne, which was inspired more by Americana, country, and rock than electronic dance-pop. The first single, "Perfect Illusion," didn't perform to expectations, but after a critically lauded performance at the American Superbowl, "Million Reasons" became a hit. In 2018, she starred in the remake of "A Star Is Born" and played a part in writing and performing for the soundtrack. "Shallow", with Bradley Cooper, became an unexpected hit. Her career rebranding from zany dance-pop singer to talented triple threat appears to have gone swimmingly, finally fulfilling the prophecy foretold in the Paparazzi video: "We love her again!"


Lady Gaga was born in Manhattan to an Italian-American family and grew up in New York City's Upper West Side. Being a New Yorker is part of her identity - she talks about how she didn't have a driver's license due to New York City's subway system, and she says "All my friends call me Marisa [Tomei] when I get angry, because my New York accent just flies out of my body and I start smacking my gum." In the movie A Star Is Born, her character, Ally, has a father with a strong New York Accent. She has played characters with New York Accents. As such, it may come as a surprise that Lady Gaga does not naturally have a strong New York accent. She lacks one of the most distinctive features, which is the diphthongized vowel in words like talk, bought, or fought. In fact, she seems to have the cot-caught merger and pronounces "fought" like "fot", as can be seen in the video below.

The lack of this feature has resulted in some commenters saying that she actually has a Western or California accent (1, 2,3, 4). Although the strong diphthongization is not present in her speech, she does have other characteristics of a New York accent, and has purposefully employed a more exaggerated New York accent for effect.

  • Marry-merry distinction: She pronounces words like "marry" with the vowel of "mat" [mæt], resulting in something like "maarry" [mæri] 🔊. Meanwhile words like "merry" are pronounced with the vowel of "met" [mɛt], resulting in "meh-ri" [mɛri] 🔊. Most Americans do not distinguish between -arry/-erry words and pronounce them the same, as -erry. Brits and New Yorkers, on the other hand, do distinguish these words.
    • "The charm about you will carry [kæri] me through" - Cheek to Cheek, Cheek to Cheek (2014)
    • "If you love me, we can marry [mæri] on the west coast" - Americano, Born This Way (2011)
    She does not use this "aa" /æ/ sound in "Marry the Night" and uses the "eh" /ɛ/ sound instead. This may have been an attempt to downplay her New York-ness; she clearly says "maarry" in Americano. However, the hook in the song "Marry the Night" goes "I'm gonna marry the night [...] m-m-m-marry." The word "marry" is repeated many times in the song. "Marry The Night" was released as a single, which suggests that going with "Meh-ry the night" was a purposeful choice. We can't know for sure why she pronounced it like this on this song, but the change either made the word easier to sing ("marry" is on a high note), or made it more commercial by making it sound less "New York."
    • "I'm gonna marry the night... I'm gonna marry... M-m-m-marry [mɛri]" - Marry the Night, Born This Way (2011)
  • /ɑr/-/ɔːr/ distinction: New Yorkers pronounce the "-or-" [ɔr] 🔊 in words like "horror", "orange", and "Florida" as "ar" [ɑr] 🔊 , resulting in pronunciations like "harror", "arange", and "Flarida". Gaga uses this pronunciation in Bad Romance.
    • "I want your harrar [hɑrər], I want your design" - Bad Romance, The Fame Monster (2009)
  • /ɔ/ 🔊 → [ɔa] 🔊 : New Yorkers pronounce the vowel in words like 'bought' with a diphthong, like 'bwat' [bʊət]. In the demo of Bad Romance, she does use a very New York diphthongized vowel in "walk walk." Ultimately, this was removed in the final version of Bad Romance. Instead, she uses the more Californian pronunciation "wok" [wɑk]. She uses the Californian [ɑ] sound most often, but sshe also uses a conservative General American "aw" [ɔ] on occasion, such as in Dancing in Circles.
    • "Wuak wuak [wʊək wʊək] fashion baby" - Bad Romance (Demo) (2008)
    • "Wok wok [wɑk wɑk] fashion baby." - Bad Romance, The Fame Monster (2009)
    • "Up awll [ɔl] night trying to rub the pain out" - Dancing in Circles, Joanne (2016)
  • /aɪ/ 🔊→ [ɑɪ] 🔊: The vowel in "eye" [aɪ] is pronounced using the more back vowel in "spa" [spɑ] so that you get "ah-ee" [ɑɪ]. This In "Boys Boys Boys," this is taken to an extreme and both backed and raised so that "twice" /twaɪs/ sounds like "twoice" [twoɪs].
    • "In the sailence [sɑɪlɪns] of the night" - So Happy I Could Die, The Fame Monster (2009)
    • "You're just a pig insaide [ɪnsɑɪd]" - Swine, ARTPOP (2013)
    • "Drink my tears tonaight [tʊnɑɪt]" - Government Hooker, Born This Way (2011)
    • "Saw you twoice [twoɪs] at the pop show" - Boys Boys Boys, The Fame (2008)
  • New York æ-tensing split: This is a complicated sound shift in New York City English (Joseph & Janda 2010:325). It has two parts. First, the sound "aa" /æ/ is pronounced as a diphthong [eə] before voiced stops like /d/, /g/, and /b/. This means that "bad" [bæd] 🔊 becomes "beh-ad" [beəd] 🔊. The second part is that "aa" /æ/ is pronounced as a monophthong before nasals. This means that "mat" and "man" would have the same vowel, [æ] 🔊. Most American accents have a diphthong before nasals, so they would pronounce "man" as "meh-an" [meən]. Gaga noticeably uses the General American pronunciation "eh-an" [eən] 🔊 more in her album Joanne - perhaps to sound more relatable to listeners?
    • "You and me could write a bead [beəd] romance." - Bad Romance, The Fame Monster (2009)
    • "Take off to the plaanet [plænɪt]" - Venus, ARTPOP (2013)
    • "Groove, slaam [slæm]" - Starstruck, The Fame (2008)
    • "Line up for the dance [dæns], yeah bring those fancy pants [fænsi pænts], you know there's disco in the air and hairspray everywhere." - Disco Heaven, The Fame (Deluxe) (2008)
    • "Can't blame a treamp [treəmp] for something he don't have" - Sinner's Prayer, Joanne (2016)
  • Non-rhoticity: "Dropping" the 'r' sound after a vowel is typical of New York English. Singing non-rhotically is very common among American singers, so I decided to only use examples from speech. Notice how instead of "parrrty" 🔊, Gaga says "party" as "pahty" 🔊 in the spoken word portion of "Hair Body Face," and how she says "eh-uh" instead of "aiRR" in "Disco Heaven."
    • "Did the pahty [pɑːɾi] room just see that?" - Hair Body Face, A Star Is Born (2018)
    • "Line up for the dance, yeah bring those fancy pants, you know there's disco in the air [ɛə] and hairspray everywhere [hɛəspreɪ ɛvriwɛə]." - Disco Heaven, The Fame (Deluxe) (2008)

Texas Girl, Real Strong

Lady Gaga does not make as extensive a use of Southern accents as Taylor Swift and Lana Del Rey do, but she has also dipped her toe into using them in her music. Most fans noticed this starting in the Joanne era, which was less synth-pop compared to her prior albums and more Americana inspired. This coincides with the marketing campaign for the Joanne album as her most authentic yet. She also stated that she wanted to connect people:/p>

"What I really want to do is, I want to bring people together that wouldn't normally talk to each other, or hang out [...] Like somebody that listens to country music might think that they wouldn't be able to be friends with somebody that's really into art and dance music and avant-garde underground sounds".

Part of reaching out to "somebody that listens to country" seems to be dipping her toes into a Southern accent. This tactic has an unusual precedent: appealing to Southerners by adopting a Southern accent has been employed by U.S. American politicians. Lady Gaga did not straight up imitate a Southern accent like Taylor Swift, but she did forsake some of her other Gaga-isms and New York-isms. As mentioned above, she uses the General American "ean" [eən] instead of the New York City "aan" [æn], and uses General American "aw" [ɔ] instead of Californian "ah" [ɑ] or New York City "oa" [ʊə].

Gaga has also borrowed stray Southern pronunciations for dramatic or alien effect in other songs. These are not meant to sound folksy or appeal to the common people - instead, it sounds like she's doing them just because she liked how it sounded.

  • Southern pronunciations: In the country-rock inspired song "You and I" she uses a pronunciation of "guitar" with the stress on the first syllable, which is common among Southerners. She does not, however, pronounce it "gittar" but "guh-tar" - so this may be more of a stress-related Gaga-ism.
    • "With the gui-ttar ['gʌtɑr] humming" - You and I, Born This Way (2011)
  • Pin-pen merger: Most English dialects differentiate the the vowels in 'dress' [ɛ] and 'kit' [ɪ] when they appear before 'n' and 'm'. This means 'pin' /pɪn/ 🔊 and 'pen' /pɛn/ 🔊 sound different. In Southern accents, they sound the same, so 'pen' and 'pin' both sound like 'pin' ([pɪn]), and 'hem' and 'him' both sound like 'him' ([hɪm]) (Source). Gaga has used this twice, in two very different scenarios. Compare her baby-voiced used of "intinsive" in the Fame-era "Money Honey" with the folksy "sinse" used in Joanne-era "Grigio Girls."
    • "Make it all make sinse[sɪns]" - Grigio Girls, Joanne (2016)
    • "But my knees get weak intinsive [ɪntɪnsɪv]" - Money Honey, The Fame (2008)
  • Feel-fill merger: This results in the sound 'eel' /il/ being pronounced as 'ill' [ɪl], so that "feel" [fil] 🔊 ends up sounding exactly like "fill" [fɪl] 🔊. Gaga pronounces "real" not with the vowel "ee", but as "rill," with the vowel sound "ih".
    • "I can't wait to blaze for rill [rɪl]" - A-YO, Joanne (2016)
  • /aɪ/ 🔊 → [aː] 🔊 : In General American, the "ai" sound (/aɪ/) is a diphthong, meaning it's made of two vowels. In Southern English, it's one long vowel ([a:]). This means "ride" (/raɪd/) sounds a little like "rad" ([ra:d]) (Source).
    • "If I had a highway [haweɪ], I would run for the hills" - Million Reasons, Joanne (2016)
  • /ɪ/ 🔊 → [iə]) 🔊 : In General American, the short "i" sound like in "bit" (/bɪt/) is one vowel made with the tongue held loosely. In Southern English, it's a diphthong with the tongue held tensely. This means "bit" can sound more like "beeyit" ([biət]) (Source) Gaga uses a less strong version of this in Diamond Heart.
    • "Young wild American [əmɛrɪkɪən]" - Diamond Heart, Joanne (2016)
  • /ɔ/ 🔊 → /ɑɒ/ 🔊 : Words like "bought" /bɔt/ that have a low, back vowel instead have a diphthong that sounds like "baut."
    • "Texas girl, real straung [strɑɒŋ]" - Grigio Girls, Joanne (2016)
  • /æ/ 🔊 → [ɛ(j)ə]) 🔊 : In General American, the "aa" sound like in "bad" (/bæd/) is one vowel made with the tongue flat on the bottom of the mouth. In Southern English, it's a diphthong with the tongue raised a little, so it sounds like "beh-add" ([bɛəd]) (Source). Gaga uses a triphthong in "Government Hooker" for no discernible reason other than it sounded cool.
    • "Unless you want to be deyad [dɛjəd]" - Government Hooker, Born This Way (2011)

Other languages

In contrast to the American-focused Joanne, Lady Gaga's pre-Cheek to Cheek music drew heavily from European electronic music. She says Bad Romance was inspired by "German techno house" (Bryant, 2010) and Born This Way was inspired by "the industrial sound of German house music". After The Fame, Gaga switched from making cute bops to cultivating an image that was larger than life. Just as her success was international, so was her music. In fact, with Born This Way, she dared to go not just beyond nations but beyond our planet and started presenting herself as an alien being capable of saving us all with the power of love. Her use of non-English languages in her music peaked during Born This Way. This was exemplified by the song "Scheiße," which has a hook composed of fake German. After ARTPOP, which was both not as successful as Born This Way (though it still produced two hits) and was linked to a difficult emotional period, she dialed back the use of non-English languages extensively. Gaga mostly sticks to languages from the Indo-European family - Spanish, French, Italian from the Romance family and German from the Germanic family. Her sole usage of a non-Indo-European language is Japanese, and it is a background vocal in Government Hooker.

Her use of fake German in "Scheiße" is interesting, as it shows which features of German she finds most "Germany." She uses the diphthong "au" [aʊ] a lot, as well as the "sh" [ʃ] sound. The official transcription of the German gibberish in Scheiße doesn't match up exactly with what she actually says, but it is revealing in its own right. She includes the letter "ü", which is used in German, but does not pronounce it like a German would. She uses the "oo" [u] sound instead of "ü' [y]; this isn't strange as most English speakers have a hard time with the ü sound. She also seems to include some fake French in the lyrics with the inclusion of "monstère"- the actual French word for "monster" is "monstre."

She mostly switches to a foreign language for a complete sentence, as in Bad Romance, Bloody Mary, Government Hooker, and parts of Americano. However, she also mixes English and the other language in differing amounts. In Alejandro, we have "she hides true love en su bolsillo [in her pocket]," with the Spanish portion replacing the prepositional phrase "in her pocket." This echoes the opening line "she's got both hands in her pockets" but without repeating the word in English. In Americano, she says "If you love me, we can marry on a Wednesday, en un verano en agosto [in the summer in August]" with one prepositional phrase in English("on a Wednesday") and the other prepositional phrases in Spanish ("en un verano", "en agosto"). She switches from English to German in GUY, to interesting alliterative effect that works in German and English: "Fourteen, fierzehn, freihit [fifteen, freedom]." Perhaps my favorite is the use of French in "LoveGame", where the preposition "in" in English is replaced with "dans": "Dans the LoveGame." In real life, people who code-switch between languages usually switch between entire sentences, smaller phrases, or culturally important words, but they usually don't switch for a grammatical word like a preposition. It's jarring, funny, and a little strange.

  • "Mis canciones son de la revolución [My songs belong to the revolution]. Mi corazón me duele por mi generación [My heart hurts for my generation]. On a Wednesday, en un verano, en agosto [in the summer, in August]. In the mountains, las campanas están sonando [the bells are ringing]. Todos los chicos (chicas) y los chicos (chicas) están besando [ All the boys (girls) and the boys (girls) are kissing). I don't speak your, I won't speak your Jesús Cristo [Jesus Christ]. I don't speak your, I don't speak your Americano [American]." - Americano, Born This Way (2011)
  • "Je veux ton amour et je veux ta revanche [I want your love and I want your revenge]" - Bad Romance, The Fame Monster (2009)
  • "Je veux pas mourir toute seule [I don't want to die all alone]" - Bloody Mary, Born This Way (2011)
  • "I wish I could be strong without the scheiße [sh-t], yeah
    Ich schleiban austa be clair [ɪkʃ libɛn aʊsta bi klɛɐ]
    Es kumpent madre monstere, [ɪs kʊmpe madre monsteɹ]
    Aus-be aus-can-be flaugen, [aʊʃ bi aʊʃkabi flaʊgen]
    Begun be üske but-bair [bigon bi uske bot beə]
    Ich schleiban austa be clair, [ɪkʃ libɛn aʊsta bi klɛɐ]
    Es kumpent üske monstère, [is kompen uske monsteɹ]
    Aus-be aus-can-be flaugen, [aʊʃ bi aʊʃkabi flaʊgen]
    Fräulein uske-be clair [froɪlain wiʃə bi klɛɐ]" - Scheiße, Born This Way (2011)
  • "Io ritorne [I return]" - Government Hooker, Born This Way (2011)
  • "Dans [in] the lovegame" - LoveGame, The Fame (2008)
  • "Mi amore vole fe [my love requires faith], yay" - Born This Way, Born This Way (2011)
  • "She hides true love en su bolsillo [in her pocket]" - Alejandro, The Fame Monster (2009)
  • "Fierzehn, freiheit [fourteen, freedom]" - G.U.Y., ARTPOP (2013)
  • "Iku iku [I'm coming, I'm coming]" - Government Hooker, Born This Way (2011)
  • "Oi mi papito [oh, my daddy]" - Government Hooker, Born This Way (2011)

Being Gaga

Much like Lana Del Rey has her Lana-isms, so Gaga has her own idiosyncratic pronunciations that don't clearly line up with any dialect. Gaga enjoys experimenting vocally in her work, and isn't afraid to employ more unusual pronunciations for artistic effect.

  • Gaga likes to fully release stop consonants, including nasal stops - this makes it sound like she's adding an "uh" [ə] to words ending with a nasal consonant. I have been told by friends in theatre that this is a technique taught to musical theatre performers because nasal consonants are "low energy" and "harder to hear". I can't find a citation for this, but you can hear this pronunciation in Broadway singers.
    • "I think that I could be fine-a [faɪnə]. I think we'd have a good time-a [taɪmə]" - Mary Jane Holland, ARTPOP (2013)
    • "But ARTPOP could mean anything-a [ɛniθɪŋə]. I just love the music not the bling-a [blɪŋə]" - ARTPOP, ARTPOP (2013)
    • "Makes me want to screama [skrimə]" - Do What You Want, ARTPOP (2013)
    • "You're just a pig inside-a [ɪnsɑɪɾə]" - Swine, ARTPOP (2013)
    • "He can't read-a [riɾə] my poker face." - Poker Face, The Fame (2008)
    • "Look at him-a [hɪmə]" - Monster, The Fame Monster (2009)
    • "I'll bring him down-a [daʊnə]." - Judas, Born This Way (2011)

    • You can listen to a musical theatre performer do the same thing in the following clip from the 2003 revival of "Little Shop of Horrors."
    • "My future's starting-a [stɑɹɾɪŋə] [...] that means more killing-a [kɪlɪŋə] [...] that means I'm willing-a [wɪlɪŋə]." - The Meek Shall Inherit, Little Shop of Horrors, Broadway Revival (2003)
  • /ɜr/ 🔊 → [ɜ] 🔊: Instead of pronouncing the "errr" /ɜr/ sound with an 'r', Gaga often uses a British 'euh' [ɜ] vowel instead, with no "r". "Herd" ends up sounding like "huhd". American singers sometimes adopt it in an attempt to "de-rhoticize" their singing - another singer who did this is Madonna. Rhotic vowels are subjectively considered "ugly" in the English singing tradition, so American singers often adopt non-rhotic pronunciations partially to avoid sounding "ugly." Noticeably, Gaga uses this pronunciation even when a British speaker would not - for example, in "insecure" a Received Pronunciation speaker would likely say "insekyo" instead.
    • "Beautiful, dirty dirty [dɜɾi dɜɾi] rich rich." - Beautiful Dirty Rich, The Fame (2008)
    • "I don't speak German [dʒɜmən]" - Scheisse, Born This Way (2011)
    • "The girl [gɜl] from the planet" - Venus, ARTPOP (2013)
    • "Behind the burqa [bɜkə]" - Aura, ARTPOP (2013)
    • "Salon's enough for her not to feel so insecure [ɪnsɪkjɜ]" - MANiCURE, ARTPOP (2013)

    • Madonna uses the r-less "er" in "Burning Up":
    • "You know you got me burning up, baby, you know you got me burning up, baby" - Burning Up, Madonna (1983)
  • /ə/ 🔊 → [a] 🔊. Pronouncing the unstressed "uh" sound [ə] with a stressed sound is unusual in English. She uses the Spanish "a" [a] sound, which does not exist by itself in American English. The result sounds instead like something from a Romance language. She also takes words that are pronounced with an "-er" and pronounces them non-rhotically (no "r" sound) as "uh" [ə], and then takes it even further by converting the "uh" to "a" [a]; this happens in "Government Hooker" (hooker > hookuh > hooka). Gaga liked using this a lot during the Born This Way era, but she began doing it during the Fame Monster with Bad Romance. Her use of it stopped after ARTPOP.
    • "Gaga, a-a-aa [gaga]" - Bad Romance, The Fame Monster (2009)
    • "Government hooka [hʊka]" - Government Hooker, Born This Way (2011)
    • "Judas [dʒudas]" - Judas, Born This Way (2011)
    • "Heavy metal lova [lʌva]" - Heavy Metal Lover, Born This Way (2011)
    • "Aurra-a-a [ɔra]" - Aura, ARTPOP (2013)
  • /ɹ/ 🔊 → [r] 🔊. She pronounces 'r's as trills. This is another one borrowed from the Romance languages, and the trill and [a] are sometimes found together. She also uses the alveolar trill to imitate the sound of drums in "The Queen" (a quotation from the Christmas song "The Little Drummer Boy"), as an onomatopoeia.
    • "Rroma rroma-ma [roma roma ma]" - Bad Romance, The Fame Monster (2009)
    • "Aurra-a-a [ɔra]" - Aura, ARTPOP (2013)
    • "Rrram-pa-pum-pum [rʌmpəpʌmpʌm]" - The Queen, Born This Way (2011)
    • "Roberto [roberto]" - Alejandro, The Fame Monster (2009)
  • Stress on the wrong syllable. This one also started in The Fame Monster and was ratcheted up in Born This Way.
    • "All my bu-BBLE [bʌ'bəl] dreams" - Speechless, The Fame Monster (2009)
    • "Sometimes I want some RAC-coon ['ɹækun] or red highlights" - Hair, Born This Way (2011)
    • "When he comes to me, I am reaDY [ɹɜ'di]" - Judas, Born This Way (2011)
  • Overarticulation. Gaga fully pronounces consonants that normally are not fully released. This comes off as her emphasizing her consonants a lot. Another way that she does this is where instead of flapping "t"s (so "butter" sounds like "budder"), she pronounces them as complete aspirated "t"s ("buTTer").
    • "Free my mind, arT-poP [ɑrtʰpɑpʰ]. You make my hearT stoP [hɑrtʰ stɑp˭]." - ARTPOP, ARTPOP (2013)
    • "JupiTer [dʒupɪtʰə]." - Venus, ARTPOP (2013)
    • "I stand here waiTing [weɪtʰɪŋ] for you to bang the gong." - Applause, ARTPOP (2013)
  • Gaga likes grammatical fun. In "MANiCURE", she has a lot of fun with the syntax and morphology, adding a fake -en suffix to "care" to make it sound like a past participle, a la "eaten" and "broken". In "Hey Girl", she takes the phrase "one upping" and moves the "ing" from the "up" to the "one", creating "one-in' up". In "Venus", she says "worship to the land" - "worship" does not take a prepositional phrase, but her use of it here creates the image of worship moving directionally. In "Money Honey", the use of "intensive" in "my knees get weak intensive" is ambiguous - "intensive" could be modifying "weak" ("my knees get intensively weak") or it could be modifying "get weak" ("my knees intensively get weak"), which is a little unusual.
    • "She want be take caren of" - MANiCURE, ARTPOP (2013)
    • "We don't need to keep on one-in' up another" - Hey Girl, Joanne (2016)
    • "Worship to the land, the girl from the planet" - Venus, ARTPOP (2013)
    • "But my knees get weak intensive" - Money Honey, The Fame (2008)
  • Lady Gaga likes to emphasize her consonants, especially her "b" sounds. It's unclear exactly what she is doing articulation-wise in the clips below, but it sounds to me like she's using an implosive "b" (also known as the "cowboy b" by one researcher).
    • "He's the monster in my BED [ɓɜd]" - Monster, The Fame Monster (2009)
    • "But we got no money! [...] BANG BANG [ɓæŋ ɓæŋ]!" - Beautiful Dirty Rich, The Fame< (2008)
    • "Glamaphonic, electronic, disco BBBaby [ɓeɪbi]" - Boys Boys Boys, The Fame (2008)
  • Reduplication. Although repetition at the phrase level ("can't read my, can't read my poker face") and word level ("Swine, swine, swine, swine") is very common in songwriting, repetition within the word is rarer. Gaga loves using repetition. Indeed, reduplication is one of her techniques for crafting catchy hooks. Although electronic "stuttering" and "skipping" is also found in her music, we are going to look at places where she herself sings every part of the reduplication. Repeating the first part of a word is her most common technique, but she also likes to repeat the final syllable as well.
    • "Pa-pa-pa-poker face." Poker Face, The Fame (2008)
    • "I'll follow you until you love me, papa-paparazzi." - Paparazzi, The Fame (2008)
    • "Va-va-va-va-va-va-va-va-vanity, va-vanity, va-va-va-va-vanity" - Vanity, Rhapsody Digital Single (2008)
    • "Ale-alejandro, ale-alejandro." - Alejandro, The Fame Monster (2009)
    • "Ra-ra a-a-a, roma, roma-ma" - Bad Romance, The Fame Monster (2009)
    • "Judas-Juda-a-as" - Judas, Born This Way (2011)
    • "In the sha-ha-sha-la-llow, in the sha-ha-sha-la-la-la-low" - Shallow, A Star Is Born (2018)

A Star Is Born

I would be remiss not to mention her first starring role, "A Star Is Born." Lady Gaga is not just a performing artist, though - she was moved into acting and soundtrack writing with the 2018 remake of “A Star Is Born” where she stars as Ally, the eponymous star being born. The core of the movie is contrasting a performing beginning her career - Ally - with a performer whose career is on the decline - Jackson - and how this affects their relationship.

There has been some research on previous versions of a Star Is Born and how the language of the “Ally”-equivalent character changes between when she is discovered by the Jackson-equivalent and when she becomes a star in her own right. The research by Dr. Nancy Elliott shows that the level of rhoticity changes between films, but also in the movie itself. Early versions show that the Ally-equivalent uses fewer and fewer final “r”s as she becomes more famous, while the Barbra Streisand version shows that the Ally character uses more “r”s as she becomes more famous.

In the 2018 version, my impression on watching the movie in theaters is that the level of rhoticity stays constant throughout the movie, with Ally using General American throughout the whole film. My impression was that she did not change her accent or language use during the movie. I also did not notice any usage of a “put on” accent in Ally’s country/rock songs. Gaga used a vocal technique similar to the one she used in Joanne for these songs, but without the scattered Southernisms. Her tone sounds harsher and she has a notable vibrato.

"Ah... I'm off the deep end, watch as I dive in..." - Shallow, A Star Is Born (2018)
"One, five, ten, lay a million on me before the end of this song. Young wild American, come on baby, do you have a girlfriend..." - Diamond Heart, Joanne (2016)

Ally’s pop songs, which are more synth-heavy, use a vocal technique more similar to the one Gaga uses in The Fame Monster and Born This Way. Her tone is sweeter and she suppresses her vibrato for a mostly-straight tone. There is no particularly large difference between the pop and rock songs in accent. Ally uses a consistent accent throughout. This may be because the focus of the film is less on Ally changing or becoming uppity, and more on focused on Jackson’s decline and perceived inferiority in his relationship to Ally. By using a consistent General American accent for Ally throughout, it reinforces that Ally has not changed as much as Jackson thinks she has.

"Trying to leave here, but you won't let me leave saying that if I care what they think, I'll never succeed..." - Hair Body Face, A Star Is Born (2018)
"Don't call my name, don't call my name, Alejandro, I'm not your babe, I'm not your babe, Fernando." - Alejandro, The Fame Monster (2008)


Lady Gaga began her career as a semi-satirical take on the vapid, blonde pop star. At her peak, Lady Gaga was trying to look and sound like an alien force. Her "comeback" as a vocal and acting talent has positioned her away from competing with the chart-toppers and is trying to cement her status as a talented legend. As she has moved between these different social spaces, so too has she moved between different vocal spaces, treating the vowel space as a palette to use and not as something to cling to rigidly. She has moved fluidly from one sound to another, bringing an unnoticed diversity to her performances.

As Lady Gaga prepares her follow-up to Joanne, I wonder what direction she'll move in. I doubt she'll go back to saying "BBBaby" and "ga-GAAA," but will she try something new out? Will she shed the fun Gaga-isms for a more conventional vocal approach? As a fan, I love seeing the way she uses and plays with language. But who knows where she'll go next? That's the frustration and the joy of Lady Gaga.

Works Cited


  1. ������!!

  2. Hot dam, how long did it take to work on this? Great job

    1. Many thanks! It took several weeks to listen to her discography in depth and write the article.

  3. thanks for this--super fun to read (and hear)!

  4. So well written and researched. Really enjoyed reading your article :)

  5. Wow, this was incredibly in-depth :) Great job!

  6. this is so awesome. looking forward to lg6!!

  7. This is so incredible. Thank you. Wow

  8. Her accent was developed by daily diction classes at Convent of the Sacred Heart.