Born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, the New York native quickly develops a passion for music, learning to play the piano by ear at 4 and composing her own ballads by 13. Working with Christina Aguilera's vocal coach, Gaga studies classical piano and sings in a classic-rock high school band at Manhattan private school Convent of the Sacred Heart.
At 19, Gaga drops out of New York University after her freshman year to pursue music full time. "I thought I could teach myself about art better than the school could," she tells Elle. Working as a waitress and designing her own stage outfits by day, Gaga begins to make a name for herself by dancing in Lower East Side burlesque clubs and singing in dive bars.
After being signed and quickly dropped from Island Def Jam records, Gaga lands a deal with Interscope on her 20th birthday. The singer, who writes all of her own tracks, makes her debut with the electro-pop single "Just Dance." "I write about what I know: sex, pornography, art, fame obsession, drugs, and alcohol," Gaga tells Elle. The single burns up the charts, landing at No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100 list.
Channeling '70s glam rockers and pop art, Gaga’s over-the-top style
is much examined in the press. Though she makes
headlines for wearing giant hair bows and a jacket made of Kermit
the Frog dolls, Gaga's pants-less ensembles become her signature look. "It's not that I don't like pants," she tells British newspapers, "I just choose not to wear them some days."
Wearing a transparent dress made of bubbles, Lady Gaga covers Rolling Stone's annual Hot List issue. Thanks to consecutive hits "Just Dance," "Poker Face," and "LoveGame," Gaga becomes only the third artist in history to score three No. 1 hits off a debut album. "My true legacy will be the test of time," she tells Rolling Stone, "and whether I can sustain a space in pop culture and really make stuff that will have a genuine impact."
After scoring five Grammy nominations, Gaga takes home best dance recording and best electronic/dance album at the ceremony. "Thank you to all of you little monsters," she tells fans at a Boston concert. "If it weren't for you, I wouldn't be where I am today." In the New Year, she also scores her fifth No. 1 hit with the infectious song, "Bad Romance."
Giving love a second shot, Gaga reconciles with former flame, musician and bartender Luc Carl, with whom she makes her romance public at a New York Mets game. "Gaga's first album is entirely about their relationship and her latest song, 'You and I,' is about how they got back together," a source tells PEOPLE. "They've been in love for a while."
Nominated for a record-setting 13 trophies, Gaga takes home eight at the MTV Video Music Awards, including the coveted video of the year Moonman for "Bad Romance." "I love my fans so much. All my little monsters watching," she tearfully says, "Tonight, little monsters, we're the cool kids at the party."
Days after releasing her hit anthem "Born This Way," a freshly incubated Gaga adds three more Grammys to her collection, winning best pop vocal album for The Fame Monster, best female pop vocal performance and best short form music video for "Bad Romance" at the 53rd annual Grammy Awards. "I had this dream when I was really young, that I could be whoever I wanted to be," she says at the podium, "no matter who didn't believe in me."
Gaga releases her latest studio album, Born This Way, which debuts at No. 1 on the Billboard albums charts. "The most paramount theme on the record is me struggling to understand how I can exist as myself as someone who lives halfway between fantasy and reality all the time," the singer explains of her megahit release, which earns her three Grammy nominations including album of the year.
BIOGRAPHY (top to bottom): Splash News Online; Adam Bielawski/PR Photos; amazon.com; Eaglepress/INF; Courtesy Rolling Stone; Lucy Nicholson/Landov; Anthony J. Causi/Splash News Online; Scott Gries/PictureGroup; Lucy Nicholson/Landov