Want to know where Lady Gaga draws her inspiration for her songwriting? Just take a look at her left arm; the answer's literally etched into her skin. In 2008, while on tour in Osaka, Japan, Gaga got inked twice. The second tattoo, inked on her inner arm in German script, is a quote by her favorite romantic philosopher/poet, Rainer Maria Rilke. The English translation of Gaga's tattoo:
"Confess to yourself in the deepest hour of the night whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. Dig deep into your heart, where the answer spreads its roots in your being, and ask yourself solemnly, Must I write?" — Rainer Maria Rilke
Must Lady Gaga write? Heck yes. In stark contrast to most other pop stars, she has always written all of her own songs (or at least co-written them), both lyrics and music. In fact, she broke into the industry as a songwriter long before anyone ever heard of her as a performer, writing songs for other big acts like Britney Spears and The Pussycat Dolls. As she honed her technique over time, she started leaning away from writing for others and towards a solo career.
A classically trained pianist, Gaga's songwriting technique is far from ordinary. First of all, she believes that if a song is right, it will come together very quickly and not take days or even hours to complete. As she explains her songwriting recipe to iProng Magazine: "It's got to have that undeniable melodic big chorus. It's something that I'll really, really look at, and I don't know how to explain it, it's like the song comes on and that thing kicks in, and you just know it's a hit record. It's not really explainable. I always say that the best songs ever written kind of write themselves. You start writing the melody and then you get the lyrics real quick and then it just kind of goes. If it takes you longer than, like, ten to thirty minutes to write a song, it's probably not a good song."
While some musicians start with an idea or a few lyrics and then build a melody around it, and others start with the tune and insert the words later, Gaga approaches songwriting as a holistic process; the simultaneous development of the whole package—from the words and music to the stage performance, costuming, and music video. For Gaga, it's all part of one piece of art. She explains this concept in an interview with About.com:
Interviewer: I heard you say this quote I loved, and I'd love for you to explain it—you 'make music for the dress.'
Lady Gaga: Yes, absolutely. I mean I don't write records and then decide what the video will look like. I instantaneously write things at the same time so it's a complete vision, the song and the visual, the way that I would perform it on the stage. It's something that all comes to me at once. So when I say I make the music for the dress, the dress is a bit of a metaphor for 'I make the music for everything,' for the entire performance vision.
This is certainly true of "Paparazzi." Though obviously not as dense as say, Lord Byron, Lady Gaga still holds her own as a writer with vivid imagery, metaphor, and hyperbole to convey the sensationalistic feel of celebrity, the over-the-top reality of a rock n' roll lifestyle, and the heartbreaking intensity of unrequited love. The descriptions she uses are often tactile, conjuring up different types of fabrics ("velvet ropes," "leather and jeans"). The lyrics are also visual ("eyeliner," "flashing lights," "garage glamorous"), colorful ("yellow dance," "purple teardrops"), and sometimes invoke smell, taste, and touch ("lashes are dry," "cigarettes"). The words are rich in metaphor: she compares herself to the paparazzi, her lover to the star, everyone to plastic, and a shadow to something that can be burned.
The overall effect is staggering and places us right alongside Lady Gaga as she navigates the surreal world of fame and glamour. We can smell the smoke from the cigarettes and the cameras as flashbulbs pop all around us, feel the red carpet under our feet, hear the reverb from the guitars backstage, and sweat under the heat of the blinding stage lights. Lights of every color flood our senses and later, after the show and the heartbreak, it's not hard to imagine the make-up smear of tears that runs down our cheeks. It's fast, intense, and unforgettable.
Maybe that's why you just can't stop getting "Paparazzi" stuck in your head.