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"Her quote to me was 'I want to penetrate pop culture,' " said senior writer Brian Hiatt, who wrote the upcoming Rolling Stone magazine cover story on Gaga after spending a week on-and-off with the singer a month ago as she was finishing up vocals and playing the last gigs on her Monster Ball Tour. "Which is why she'll compromise if necessary to get an edited version of her video on 'American Idol.' She' a pop star, so she doesn't come from that punk or indie pose where certain things are anathema."
What's unusual about Gaga, Hiatt added, is that she's both an uncompromising artist and a pop star, with the latter side allowing for unlimited promotion from the seemingly inexhaustible 25-year-old who is willing to push herself to the limits of human endurance and beyond to get the word out.
That has included a well-received performing (and acting) spot on last weekend's "Saturday Night Live," her mentoring stint on "Idol" (as well as a rumored appearance on Wednesday night's season finale), a drop in to the final rounds of "The Oprah Winfrey Show," time on the couch with David Letterman and Ellen DeGeneres, as well as her much-hyped HBO special, an ongoing series of behind-the-curtain "Gagavision" webisodes, guest editorships of several magazines and a landmark deal with game-maker Zynga for a custom version of its popular Facebook game "FarmVille" called "GagaVille" that featured exclusive listens to new songs from the album.
With a one-day 99 cent download offer, Born This Way crashed Amazon.com's new cloud service's servers, and Best Buy reported strong response to a deal in which it is giving the disc away to anyone who buys a mobile phone with a service contract. You can find it at Starbucks (which is hosting an online Gaga-themed scavenger hunt), in a touching Google Chrome commercial and a $4.99 version of "Tap Tap Revenge" called "Born This Way Revenge" that give fans access to the whole album.
She's even squeezed in time to do an old-fashioned in-store appearance in New York this week to greet fans at a Best Buy store. Gaga also sat down with MTV for "Lady Gaga: Inside the Outside," a one-hour documentary that airs Thursday at 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET/PT on MTV.
"I don't know if it's the biggest push ever, but it's definitely big, and she's definitely giving it her all," said Ian Drew, senior music editor of Us Weekly, which just released a special edition of the magazine dedicated to Gaga. "Beyoncé has had some huge ones and Madonna back in the day ... so it's not bigger, but just different. Gaga's success is built on her incorporating new technologies. She was the first one to take over Twitter and Facebook and use those mediums, and that's why she's so big. ... She's been a risk-taker, and that's what it takes to be successful."
That focus on technology has clearly paid dividends during the Born This Way push. According to online media measurement company BigChampagne, Gaga's weekly number of new Twitter followers and Facebook "likes" has nearly doubled since the beginning of the month, and views of her music videos on YouTube tripled between the first and second weeks in May, from around 6.7 million to 21.7 million.
The blitz has also included the release of elaborate, high-concept videos for "Born This Way" and "Judas" and a splashy visit to the Cannes film festival, where she stole the spotlight from some of the world's biggest directors thanks to a waterfront performance as part of a nearly constant jet-setting schedule that makes 16-year-old pop machine Justin Bieber look like a slacker by comparison.
While Michael Jackson put up giant statues of himself to promote his HIStory album and the Backstreet Boys raced across six continents in four days to get the word out on Black and Blue, the tireless push by Gaga begs the question of whether her pop peers will now have a new, exhausting standard to live up to. "I think it will change, but not to emulate Gaga, but to find their own voice and way of doing things," Drew said. "If you copy it, it won't work. It works for her because she's the only one doing it."
While Born This Way has gotten mostly solid reviews so far, Billboard reported that it was on track to sell at least 800,000 copies in its first week. That figure, while gaudy for any artist, is below the numbers put up by fellow young stars such as Lil Wayne and Taylor Swift, who each managed to sell more than a million copies of, respectively, Tha Carter III and Speak Now in recent years.
Is all this running around worth it then?
"Wayne's audience is built in, so he doesn't really have to advertise at all to get them to come out, but Gaga's platform is different," said Leah Greenblatt, music editor at Entertainment Weekly. "Artists like Rihanna and Katy Perry can sell a ton of records without doing what [Gaga's] doing, but for Gaga's core fanbase, it's about quality, not quantity. She has a core group she's speaking to, and she speaks so much and so constantly to these fans, but not necessarily to casual fans. She's got that army who will support her, and all those other casual fans will still buy all the other stuff [out there]."
Hiatt said he witnessed Gaga's singular drive during his week in her orbit, including her one day off, which she canceled in order to fly out to appear on DeGeneres' show. "There is no one in the music industry who can outwork her," he said, noting that she has, literally, been watching the "Rocky" movies to get herself psyched up for the sleepless album-release push. "I don't think she sees it as a promotional push. She still thinks of herself as the underdog. She still feels misunderstood. ... She sees it as a fight to get her message out there and to get her music out there."
Don't miss "Lady Gaga: Inside the Outside" to hear Mother Monster herself open up about the creative forces behind her generation-defining career. Our exclusive documentary airs Thursday, May 26, at 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET/PT on MTV, followed by a live stream on MTV.com hosted by MTV News' James Montgomery and featuring special guests Lady Starlight, Justin Tranter from Semi Precious Weapons, documentary director Davi Russo, producer Fernando Garibay and Gaga's biggest Little Monsters.