Two distinct reactions ensued when dance-pop diva Lady GaGa recently strolled into a San Francisco caf wearing hot pants, platform heels, a fedora and a see-through top.
The jaws of every male patron hit the floor, while the eyes of their gal pals narrowed to slits.
The girl, currently in the midst of a national tour opening for (wait for it) New Kids on the Block, can't help it. She cuts a colorful wake wherever she goes. And she couldn't care less.
"I really scare myself sometimes the nerve that I have," says GaGa, born Stefani (as in Gwen, go figure) Germanotta. A convent-schooled New Yorker, she re-imagined herself as an outrageous 1980s disco queen three years ago.
"But I'm a businesswoman," she adds. "I'm very smart and I came from the depths. I literally clawed my way up."
That temerity has paid off. The 22-year-old GaGa has a bubbly club hit, "Just Dance," that's found its way into the Top 10 in 14 countries. Her buoyant debut album The Fame was released two weeks ago on Cherrytree/Interscope.
Her originals are delivered live in a campy theatrical package that comes complete with lasers, mirror balls, backup singer and dancers, and plenty of lingerie-like outfits she designs herself.
But not everyone gets her burlesque style. At last year's Lollapalooza Festival, she was cited by Chicago police for indecent exposure. Before she got the deal with Interscope, one executive signed her, but was too frightened to meet with her during her three-month stay. Others were equally leery.
"I remember auditioning for one exec, and he said, 'I've heard so much about you apparently you're the talk of the town!'" says GaGa, who'd been holding down three jobs while taking any gig club or otherwise that was offered.
"I sat down in his office and played the piano," she recalls. "And afterwards, he just stared at me and said, 'What planet are you from?' And not in a funny, ha-ha way, either. But I took it as a compliment, because it was so new and different to him that he couldn't even wrap his brain around it."
Frustrated, the Robert Plant-influenced artist tried musical theater, but casting directors told her she was too pop. She says, "Then record labels would tell me, 'You're too theatrical.' So I just thought, 'Well, why don't I do both?'"
Despite similarities in eyeliner and audacity, the singer doesn't foresee herself crashing like Amy Winehouse, having already lived through her drug phase.
"My father looked at me on cocaine one day and said, 'You're screwing up, kid,'" she says. "And we never talked about it again, but I was able to stop. The label always gets mad at me for talking about it, saying it's not proper behavior for a pop star."