Lady Gaga and Madonna's 5-Year "Feud" Is More Complex Than You Think
This month, Netflix released a new documentary that offers a look inside the life of one of the world's most prolific pop stars. The film, called Gaga: Five Foot Two, captures a tumultuous year in the life of Mother Monster. We learn that Gaga suffers from fibromyalgia and endures chronic pain that stems from an old hip injury. We got a behind-the-scenes look at her incredible Super Bowl Halftime Show performance. We got a glimpse of her work on American Horror Story. And, most shocking of all, we find out she still feels a bit raw about her feud with Madonna. In order to add proper context to the deeply personal moment, we decided to do little research and recount the entire history of their rivalry. Strap in.
2009: The Humble Beginnings
Lady Gaga burst onto the scene in April 2008 with the release of her pop hit "Just Dance." Her debut album, The Fame, dropped on Aug. 19 of the same year. This image was taken at a Marc Jacobs fashion show in September 2009, just over a year after Gaga's emergence as a new pop princess.
While they may have hung out or seen each other in person since, this is basically the only official photograph of them posing together. Simpler times.
2009: The Tongue-in-Cheek Saturday Night Live Skit
In October 2009, Gaga and Madonna appeared in a skit together on Saturday Night Live. They both took part in Kenan Thompson's popular recurring fake MTV talk show called Deep House Dish. Ironically, the skit depicts them at each other's throats in a vicious pop feud that involves choking, slapping, wig pulling, and more.
At this point, many had drawn comparisons between Madonna and Gaga. Gaga was, after all, a new avant-garde pop star who pushed the envelope and delivered music interlaced with social commentary. At this point, though, the two were simply just pop stars who traveled in the same musical channels. And this feud depicted on SNL was fiction.
2011: The Bop Heard 'Round the World
On Feb. 11, 2011, Lady Gaga dropped "Born This Way," the lead single off her second studio album (which shared the same name). Fans and critics alike were quick to point out that the new song sounded eerily like Madonna's 1989 hit "Express Yourself," another self-love anthem that was also revered as an LGBTQ+ rallying cry. In the immediate wake of the song's release, Madonna didn't speak out about the comparisons.
2011: Lady Gaga Is Not Amused at All
A few months after the release of "Born This Way," Gaga addressed the whole thing in an interview with NME. The only similarity, according to her, was "the chord progression. The same one that's been in disco music for the last 50 years." Gaga added, "I am not stupid enough to put a record out and be that moronic. Why would I try to put a song out and think I'm getting one over on everybody? That's retarded." Problematic use of the word "retarded" aside, it seemed Gaga was not keen at all on conflating her own LGBTQ+ anthem with Madonna's.
Madonna didn't respond.
2012: And Then Madonna Called Her "Reductive"
Nearly a year after "Born This Way" came out into the world, Madonna finally broke her silence on the whole thing. And boy, did she have some choice words for Lady Gaga. In a 20/20 interview in January 2012, she said, "I certainly think she references me a lot in her work. And sometimes I think it's amusing and flattering and well done," she said. "When I heard ["Born This Way"] on the radio . . . I said, 'That sounds very familiar.'" On a final note, she remarked, "It feels reductive." If you hadn't guessed, that's not a good thing to be called at all.
Around the same time, Madonna expressed the same sentiment to Newsweek in a slightly different flavor. "I thought, this is a wonderful way to redo my song. I mean, I recognized the chord changes. I thought it was . . . interesting." Huh.
2012: Madonna Doubles, Then Triples Down on Her Shade
Once the cat was out of the bag, Madonna lashed out with extra helpings of distaste for Lady Gaga. In a July 2012 interview with a Brazilian TV show, she spoke about the song again. "I'm a really big fan of ["Born This Way"]," she said. "I'm glad that I helped Gaga write it."
That Summer, Madonna was also jet-setting around the globe for her MDNA tour. At one point during her show, she performed a mashup of "Express Yourself" and "Born This Way." She even interjected the remix with a brief chorus of "She's Not Me," a song from her 2008 album Hard Candy. Damn.
2012: Gaga Lives Her Own Truth
That same Summer, Gaga was on her own tour for Born This Way. During her Finland stop in August 2012, reports suggested Gaga may have mocked Madonna by flashing her ass in a thong and fishnets, something Madonna had very recently done on stage herself. "I don't give a f*ck what people say," Gaga allegedly exclaimed during this supposed mockery. "We don't give a f*ck. We know the truth." As an additional swipe, some reports suggested she was referring to Madonna's track "I Don't Give A —" from MDNA. Seeing as the incident occurred just weeks after Madonna's out jabs, it's possible (though tough to prove) that Gaga was issuing her own rebuttal.
2012: Um, Turns Out Madonna Loves Lady Gaga? Or Maybe Not?
All things considered, 2012 was probably the most heated year between the two pop stars. But then, after everything Madonna did in the Summer, she did something even weirder come September. During a stop in Atlantic City, Madonna dedicated her performance of "Masterpiece" to Lady Gaga. "You wanna know something?" she said to the audience. "I love her. I love her. I do love her. Imitation is the highest form of flattery." But that's the thing, isn't it? Even while she layered on this thick "admiration," she was still saying, underneath everything, that she believed Gaga was an imitator. She continued, saying, "One day, very soon, we're going to be on stage together. Just you wait. You think I'm kidding? I love Lady Gaga."
By the time November rolled around, she seemed to change her tune yet again. Maybe Gaga had actually explicitly rebuffed Madonna or simply not answered her calls. During a concert in St. Paul, MN, Madonna claimed she had asked Gaga to perform with her. "You know, I invited her on stage to sing with me. But she turned me down," Madonna said. "It's OK. I've been rejected before. It builds a little character." It's hard to say where Madonna was really at emotionally when it came to the feud. But it seemed, in her eyes, that Lady Gaga was the one who was holding on to a grudge.
2013: Actually, Lady Gaga Doesn't Care
Gaga finally spilled during a long interview with Howard Stern. During the two-hour chat, Howard asked Gaga if she thought Madonna was jealous of her launch into superstardom. "There's not so many ways you can interpret it. To me, honestly, I think she's more aggravated that I'm not upset that she doesn't like me. Because I don't care that she doesn't like me. No, I don't care."
Gaga continued, "It's silly. There's always this pissing match, 'Did she take her torch?' [and] 'Is she the new her?' 'Is she going to outlast her?' . . . There's this thing with some people that I'm a threat to the throne. And I don't want your f*cking throne. And no thanks. And I have my own, and I don't actually want a throne at all."
2014: The Contentious Song Leak
In August 2014, The Sun claimed to have heard the lyrics for a new Madonna song called "Two Steps Behind Me." According to their reports, the lyrics read:
"You're a copycat, Where is my royalty?
You're a pretty girl, I'll give you that.
But stealing my recipe, it's an ugly look.
Did you study me hard enough?
You're never gonna be, you're just a wannabe me.
Like a sister all messed-up, who's gonna help you out?
In your fantasy, you can try it all. But you can't be me.
You can walk the walk, even talk the talk.
But you'll always be two steps behind me."
Interestingly enough, Billboard reported that the song was real, and a leaked demo version of the track did, indeed, have the lyrics first reported by The Sun. Even Madonna's manager didn't deny the existence of the song or its contents, but instead insisted on Twitter that the song wasn't about Gaga or anyone else in particular. Which, like, you can take that or leave it.
For what it's worth, even Madonna weighed in on the disaster. "[There] are people that are so hateful. They want to create feuds between strong women that do not exist!" she claimed. "I do not wish ill will towards any other female artist and I never have! The World is big enough for all of us!"
2014: This Perplexing Instagram Situation
Right around the time of the song leak, Lady Gaga posted a gorgeous, brooding selfie with the caption, "Careful witch, I'll put a spell on you. Or maybe I already did." There's no way of knowing if she was addressing the whole Madonna leak or just feeling herself and tapping into her witchy vibe of the day. The weird part is, Madonna reposted the selfie, which she marked up to look like the cover art for her new album, Rebel Heart. "I said love and I meant it!" she wrote in the caption. While we can't conclusively say Gaga was addressing Madonna in anyway, Madonna certainly alluded to her relationship with Gaga twice, and very explicitly, in the media spotlight.
2015: Madonna's Bored Now, So Move On
In spite of everything, Madonna sincerely deflected blame in her Rolling Stone cover story.
"I don't think [Gaga] wants my crown. We live in a world where people like to pit women against each other. And this is why I love the idea of embracing other females who are doing what I'm doing . . . The only time I ever criticized Lady Gaga was when I felt like she blatantly ripped off one of my songs. It's got nothing to do with 'she's taking my crown' or 'she's in some space of mine.' She has her thing. I do think she's a very talented singer and songwriter. It was just that one issue. And everybody's obviously running with it and turned it into a huge feud, which I think is really boring, quite frankly. And you know what? I don't care anymore. Here's the thing: one day everyone's going to shut up about it. You'll see! I have a plan."
As a note, it's still ultimately kind of unclear what Madonna's plan was, but at this point, it seemed the feud had pretty much blown over. And, if you asked Madonna, there wasn't really a feud at all.
2015: It's Over, OK? It's Over
Let's go inside the 2015 Met Gala, where Gaga and Madonna finally crossed paths again. At one point during the night, the two world-renowned pop stars posed with Katy Perry. Madonna called the shot a "Girls night out" and said she was "Kissing the Ring," which does indeed have a multitude of possible interpretations. The next day, Gaga also posted a photo with Madonna from the same night. She didn't include a caption.
Regardless of internal sentiments, it seemed like the women were trying to make it clear that they were at least treating each other civilly. For all intents and purposes, they would no longer participate in this "feud" narrative.
2016: Lady Gaga Picks a Scab, Then Puts a Band-Aid on It
Despite their alleged make up at the 2015 Met Gala, Gaga seemed a bit sensitive when Madonna came up in an October 2016 interview with Zane Lowe. While on Beats 1 Radio, Zane tried to compare the two pop stars. Gaga adamantly opposed the claim.
"Madonna and I are very different. Just saying. We're very different. I wouldn't make that comparison at all, and I don't mean to disrespect Madonna. She's a nice lady, and she's had a fantastic huge career. Biggest pop star of all time. But I play a lot of instruments. I write all my own music. I spend hours and hours a day in the studio. I'm a producer. I'm a writer. What I do is different . . . I don't mean that in a disrespectful way. I just will not be compared to anyone anymore. I am who the f*ck I am, and this is me. My life story is my life story, just like yours is. The thing is we all express things in different ways, but my rebellion at my father for him being angry with me, that has ended."
I'm not saying she does care, contrary to her 2013 interview. I'm also not saying Lady Gaga necessarily reignited the feud with this moment. I'm just saying a lot poured out at the mention of Madonna and maybe that's something we can all think about together. Also, a "nice lady"? Savage.
What's interesting is Gaga seemingly tried to patch things over a couple months later. In December, Madonna gave a powerful speech about sexism in the music industry, as well as her own journey with feminism. Gaga tweeted at Madonna with words of praise: "@Madonna your speech at the Billboard Music Awards was inspiring. You're so brave & strong. Thanks for being that for us girls we need that."
Madonna, it seems, didn't respond. She did, however, tweet prior to Gaga's message, letting her fans know it was "I'M not your B*tch Monday!!!!" So, there's that.
2017: Gaga's Revealing Netflix Documentary
It's been five years since Madonna called Gaga "reductive," but this seems to be the insult that sticks with the pop star the most. In Gaga: Five Foot Two, Mother Monster laments the long-lasting feud.
"The thing with me and Madonna, for example, is that I admired her always. I still admire her, no matter what she might think of me. No, I do. The only thing that really bothers me about her is that I'm Italian and from New York, you know? So like, if I got a problem with somebody, I'm going to f*cking tell you to your face. But no matter how much respect I have for her as a performer, I could never wrap my head around the fact that she wouldn't look me in the eye and tell me that I was 'reductive' or whatever . . . I saw it on f*cking TV. Telling me that you think I'm a piece of sh*t through the media, it's like a guy passing me a note through his friend. 'My buddy thinks you're hot.' . . . F*ck you. Where's your buddy, f*cking throwing me up against the wall and kissing me? I just want Madonna to f*cking to push me against the wall and kiss me and tell me I'm a piece of sh*t."
All things considered, there may no longer be a feud between Gaga and Madonna. Even so, it seems not all of the wounds from the battlefield have healed. Madonna has yet to address the documentary or Gaga's sentiments therein. At this point, it's still clear that Lady Gaga is holding on to some part of the whole crusade, even if only in small ways. It's possible Gaga may never get her closure. It's possible Madonna will never call her a piece of sh*t to her face. It's possible Madonna doesn't even feel that way about Lady Gaga. And unless she publicly talks about Gaga again at some point, we may never have our answer. Then again, Madonna did, at one point, say she had a plan, so maybe this is something where time will tell . . . right? Right?