There’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment in Gaga: Five Foot Two that strengthens a tie between Lady Gaga and one of her biggest inspirations, and it goes down about 10 minutes into the documentary when we’re invited into her intimate, filter-free sanctuary: the studio.
Gaga: Five Foot Two follows the pop star through one of the most tumultuous periods of her career, and director Chris Moukarbel spent a significant amount of the documentary zooming in as she wrote and recorded her 2016 album, Joanne, with her producer, Mark Ronson, and various musicians. One of its first scenes focuses on her taking a break after recording “Million Reasons” and additional material with a few of the players. Talk turns to the pressures of fame and maintaining a perfect, sexy image — favorite subjects of Gaga’s that double as emotional threads for the film — and she revisits her macabre performance of “Paparazzi” at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards.
She treated the song as a metaphor for fame’s harmful (and sometimes lethal) side effects, and she tells bassist Nicholas `Movshon and the camera that “Paparazzi” is a perfect example of what happens when people in charge put pressure on her to look, sing, or act a certain way.
“The methodology behind what I’ve done is that, when they wanted me to be sexy, or they wanted me to be pop, I always fuckin’ put some absurd spin on it that made me feel like I was still in control,” she says. “So you know what? If I’m gonna be sexy on the VMAs, and sing about the paparazzi, I’m going to do it while I’m bleeding to death and reminding you of what fame did to Marilyn Monroe, the original Norma Jean, and what it did to Anna Nicole Smith, and what it did to…” She trails off, her eyes lingering on Movshon. “Yeah. You know who.”
Gaga, here, is talking about Amy Winehouse. Movshon is one of the many musicians Ronson brought onboard for Joanne who also played on Winehouse’s Back to Black, the 2006 breakthrough album that launched the beehived British powerhouse to international acclaim. Of the 32 players credited in Joanne’s liner notes (besides Gaga herself), eight of them — including Ronson — not only worked on both albums, but are affiliated with the Brooklyn-based Dap-Kings.
This isn’t unusual, as Ronson has worked with the Dap-Kings since Back to Black, and continues to do so, Joanne aside: Movshon was the bassist who played on “Valerie,” for example, and Ronson also tapped the Dap-Kings’ horn section to sit in for “Uptown Funk,” his smash single with Bruno Mars. Still, that’s a full quarter of Joanne’s crew that helped shape Winehouse’s soulful pop, and a shared taste in a backing band is merely one of the many things that Gaga and the late singer have in common.
“She references ‘and someone else,’ and she never says Amy’s name, but it’s understood, I think, in that moment,” Moukarbel tells MTV News of that revealing studio conversation. “You know, it’s sad. They were friends. Obviously Mark, who was working with Gaga in the studio at that time, was very close with Amy, and produced Back to Black. Amy’s spirit was sort of felt around the studio a lot, maybe just for that reason."
"There are some obvious similarities between Gaga and Amy that people have always pointed out — physically; they came out around a similar time; they’re singer-songwriters; they’re both interested in these old sounds. I think in a way Gaga sees herself as a survivor. A lot of people didn’t make it past 27, and Amy is one of them. So, for Gaga to have gone through that threshold ... I think she thinks of herself now as somebody who’s made it past that and has survived.”
Moukarbel goes on to stress how artists like Gaga and Winehouse are victims of the fame machine because so much is expected of them on every mental, physical, and creative level.
“They have to take so much in, and they have to push so much out,” he continues. “It really can be destructive. A lot of them don’t survive, and they become sort of sacrificed to this experience. I think everybody thinks of Amy as one of those people. For her to evoke Amy in that moment was kind of chilling.”