Lady Gaga's Colorist Breaks Down The Right Way To Go Blonde

When you think of iconic blondes through history, a few big names probably come to mind. The '30s debuted Mae West, the '50s gave us Marilyn Monroe, the '70s had Dolly Parton, and the '00s? Well, we have Lady Gaga. Although plenty have come before her, the pop star has rooted herself in time as one of he most recognizable blondes of our generation. Even with everyone — from Zoë Kravitz to Hilary Duff — going platinum these days, Gaga's silvery, white-rooted hair is still a favorite.

No matter how much Gaga's aesthetic changes, there's always been one piece of her look that has stayed the same. Since the very beginning of her love games, disco sticks, and ensembles that consisted of bedazzled bras or raw meat, her hair's been a signature. Like any other good head of hair in Hollywood, there's one particularly talented colorist behind it — and in Gaga's case, it's Patti Song.

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Almost as enigmatic as Gaga, Song hasn't done an interview since the '90s (until this one), refers to herself as a "non-participant" in social media, and leaves zero traces of her A-list work online, which is exactly why she's filled with valuable information. Once referred to as a "[blonde] mad scientist bleach warlock" by Gaga, Song has been one of the Golden Globe nominee's go-tos for 10 years now, working with her ahead of tours and music videos, like "Alejandro" and "Paparazzi."

Going platinum blonde is for the brave, but even so requires a professional's touch, so we asked her everything, ahead.

[Editor’s note: Because Song is not Gaga’s sole colorist, some of the following images accompanying this Q&A may reflect the work of other professionals.]

Photo: Chris Polk/FilmMagic.
When did you first start working with Lady Gaga?
"I first met Gaga in 2009. She flew out from New York because she had been in someone else's chair for a couple days in a row and her hair looked like the color of a squirrel's tail. There was a lot of breakage and the pieces at her crown were about one-inch long. So, I said to her, 'Look, we're going to bleach your hair every three weeks, grow it out to a bob, and then you're going to start wearing wigs.' And she did. The thing about a properly-done bleach is that nothing, not photoshop or anything like that, can make her hair as light as I made it for her. To fix her breakage, we attached about ten, single extensions to the one-inch broken pieces, but the rest was all her hair. That's the thing: A lot of people in the public eye will go from like black to blonde and have to heat style it every single day. She's busy. Her hair goes through a lot. And then she started wearing wigs to keep it healthy."

Gaga travels a lot, so how often do you see her now?
"I get called now for Gaga when it's a big deal and we can't play around. It's the biggest compliment when she calls me and says, 'Patti, I know whatever I show up with, you can fix.' She's so lovely and patient because of what she's experienced before working with me."

What, to you, is the right shade of platinum?
"Platinum should be as seamless and bright as white hair. You know your bleach has been done properly, even once the toner fades, if the shade doesn't grow warmer in between appointments. The blonde should only grow lighter. Once you learn what my blonde looks like, you can see it. When a bleach is done right, you can tell. Look at [Gaga's] disco stick in [some photos], her hair is white, clear, and sparkly — not rainbow, brushed-out yarn."
Photo: Tabatha Fireman/Redferns/Getty Images.
In 2015, Gaga posted a series of photos tracking her journey of going platinum with you. Do her color appointments normally take two days?
"First, Gaga has a lot of hair. Also, she's really busy, so I work around her other appointments. That day in particular we were bleaching her dark hair, which was done with a demi-permanent dye. It looks like it took a long time, but she was doing a million other things, so I had to start and stop. I ended up staying over after she offered, and we woke up a 6:30 a.m., made coffee, and finished. If you have tons of hair, like Gaga, it's a bigger application. Same goes for color: If you're a brunette, it'll take some more time for the bleach to cook."

How many rounds of bleach does it take to maintain Gaga's brunette-turned-platinum hair?
"In my whole career, since 1985, I've only had to rinse off and reapply bleach two times. I don't need two rounds of lifting to get her hair, or most people's hair, that white."

How long should that take?
"You can lift brunette hair in one go. Period. That's it. It takes, max, 55 minutes. Not much longer than a normal color appointment. Of course, anyone with naturally dark, virgin red or brown hair will cook longer than a natural blonde. The whole appointment, from start to finish, shouldn't take longer than anything between two to three hours for someone with short hair that has an average density."
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Photo: Michael Stewart/WireImage.
Should people be afraid to go platinum?
"No, not if it's done right by a licensed professional. It shouldn't make all your hair fall out, stringy, translucent, murky and beige, or take four to five hours to get right [in a salon]."

Since most people can't get their hair dyed by you, what questions should they ask their colorist before going platinum?
"You can go platinum with or without a consultation, but if you're going to talk to a colorist beforehand, don't bother going through with it if you don't come equipped with the right questions. Two things you should always ask are, 'How many times have you taken someone with my hair color platinum in one go?' and 'Was it successful?'"

How do you achieve a clean, solid shade of blonde?
"I use what you call a 'virgin bleach' application method. Instead of highlighting, or painting small piece by small piece, you coat the hair in bleach. This is basic coloring knowledge, but the best way to avoid banding, or uneven color, is starting the bleach at the ends and working your way up to the roots. The closer to the scalp, the quicker the bleach will cook, which is why most colorists start from the bottom to the top."
Photo: Atlaspix/Alamy Stock Photo.
What's your school of thought on bond-building products used in bleach appointments?
"When I first met Gaga, all these bond-building products didn't exist yet. I started creating her blonde hair with just boring, old, proper skill and bleach. These bonding products aren't bad because it helps general consumers from breakage, but it's not helpful for someone who is mediocre at coloring. It doesn't encourage [newcomers] and licensed professionals to to get better based on raw skill because these products aren't cure-alls and some people's hair will still break if the bleach job isn't done properly. It can create a false sense of reality for a professional. I don't have an issue with the geniuses who make these products, but I've never used it."

Is toner necessary when taking someone platinum?
"A toning treatment for a blonde means a chemical toner that can neutralize the color. Toners aren't bad, but before you even get to toning, you have to look at the base canvas. If what the toner is going to go over isn't even, then nothing — not even purple shampoo — will fix it. It'll come out shadow-y. Yes, the yellow parts will be less yellow, but the white parts might be too purple and the darker yellow parts will turn beige and look dirty."

What's the right way to use purple shampoo?
"The trick is to squeeze the purple [product] directly on to your hair and let it sit. Don't scrub and suds it up immediately because then you're just cleaning the hair without toning it."
Photo: Jason Merritt/Getty Images.
Should everyone expect breakage when going platinum?
"Some people are prone to breakage more than others simply because they were born with finer hair, but it also depends on the person putting on the [bleach] and their approach."

What's a clear red flag for an improper bleach job?
"For any blonde, if the top, center row of the hair comes out more yellow than the sides by your ears, then it's not done properly. Permanent damage is done only if the bleach was on too long, ate away at the inner layer of the hair [shaft], and all that is left behind is the outer shell. It's like if someone hollowed out a bundt cake. The hair kind of shrivels up and turns translucent. At that point, it's on the verge of breaking."

Should someone's scalp burn while being bleached?
"Burning depends on the person's body. My advice for professionals is that you can tell when someone's scalp might burn if the skin on their head appears tighter and shinier. For some reason, people with that skin type tend to be more sensitive to burning. Again, the burning also depends on the work of the professional. If you are preparing for a bleach appointment, make sure you don't wash or brush your hair a few days ahead of the appointment. Zero stimulation helps natural oils build up on the scalp [to prevent discomfort]."
Photo: Daniele Venturelli/WireImage.
Are inspiration photos helpful for a colorist?
"If you're going to bring in photos, you have to ask yourself if you want that person's hair color or you want their whole look, like their smile and their makeup. I also say to scribble whoever's face it is with a black marker so the client focuses on the hair color, not the person's entire face."

How soon can someone tell if their bleach will turn out the way they want it to?
"Look in the mirror right after the bleach is first rinsed. If you see that your roots are lighter and brighter, but notice your ends are warmer and maybe a little orange, then it's game over. It's not going to come out right. [After the toner], it'll come out a murky beige and you'll have to come back for another appointment to get it right."

If someone has Gaga-blonde hair, how often should they be getting a root touch-up?
"Touch-ups depend on the hair's rate of growth, but [if you're platinum] it shouldn't go more than five weeks. If it gets too long, it'll be more difficult to avoid the band of uneven color near the root."
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