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A Guide To Lady Gaga's Massive Tattoo Collection
Long before Lady Gaga (née Stefani Germanotta) landed a Las Vegas residency, she was performing in dive bars in New York wearing nothing but handmade bedazzled bras and fishnet stockings. Since then, she's become known for embracing her body in all its forms — along with the tattoos that cover it.
Gaga's ink might be particularly buzzy right now (especially because one of her latest may or may not be a subtle tribute to A Star Is Born co-star Bradley Cooper), but the star has actually had most of the designs for years. She got her first tattoo at 17, and eventually vowed to her father that she'd keep any additions on the left side of her body ("He asked that I remain, on one side, slightly normal," Gaga said).
But that was a decade ago, and if we've learned anything from Gaga in her career, it's that she's unpredictable — which is probably why she's since grown a collection of ink that (sorry, Mr. Germanotta) has her right side covered, too. In any case, with 24 tattoos and counting, we knew it was time to dive deep into Gaga's collection. Ahead, a comprehensive guide to Gaga's evolving tattoos — and the sentimental meaning behind each one.
Before Gaga was, well, Gaga, she was a struggling musician determined to make it big. Her first tattoo, at age 17, was a treble clef on her lower back — which she used a fake I.D. to get. When Gaga was 22, she got a tattoo cover-up by Kat Von D (yes, thatKat Von D) to hide the musical note she said once gave her parents "heart attacks."
Some time in 2006, Gaga added a peace sign inspired by John Lennon to her left wrist. Gaga told radio host JoJo Wright that the meaning is in the details, not necessarily the tribute. "You will notice that if you’re looking at it, it’s upside down, but for me it’s right side up,” she explained. “The reason I had it put upside down is because I wanted it to be a reminder to me that, even though I write fun music about sequins and panties and fame and money, I make sure to always keep in mind the important things.”
It's not known when, exactly, Gaga added the trio of daisies to her left shoulder, but this wouldn't be her last flower tattoo...
In 2008, Gaga paid a visit to Kat Von D to create a tattoo cover-up for the aforementioned treble clef. Von D created the cluster of roses that now occupy half of Gaga's lower back.
Gaga added her "Tokyo Love" tattoo to her shoulder while on a trip to Japan in 2009. The design is to commemorate the first time Haus Gaga, the musician's creative team, worked with Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki. "I was honored to be the first American woman he’s photographed, and only the second pop artist, in the company of Björk," Gaga told InterviewMagazine. "He signed the Polaroids 'Tokyo Love,' and the Haus [team] got tattoos of his marking in celebration."
Letters to a Young Poet Quote
Gaga got a second tattoo while in Japan, a quote in German from Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet on the inside of her left arm. The translation: "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?"
Soon after Gaga's father underwent open-heart surgery, she added this tattoo — "dad" written on the inside of a heart — to the outer corner of her left shoulder in 2009. She also wrote the song "Speechless" as a tribute to him and his struggle with a heart condition for years, even telling Ellen DeGeneres that the song is what finally convinced him to get the surgery (which, for the record, was successful).
Not long after getting the Rilke quote, Gaga added a tiny detail on the inside of the script: "12/18/1974." It's the date her aunt Joanne Germanotta died. (This is the same aunt who inspired Gaga's album Joanne.)
Gaga inked "Little Monsters" below the Rilke quote in honor of her fans. She first revealed the tattoo after winning two Grammys for her album The Fame in 2010, writing alongside the photo, "look what i did last night. little monsters forever, on the arm that holds my mic. xx”
What happens when Gaga launches a fragrance in the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum? In this case, she gets a tattoo — on the back of her head. Gaga enlisted tattoo artist Mark Mahoney to tattoo a cherub on the back of her freshly-shaved head during the launch event for her new perfume. Gaga's hair has since grown over the ink, but you better believe the angelic figure is still there.
Gaga added "RIO" behind her left ear to commemorate her time in Rio de Janeiro while on tour. The font is comprised of three different fans' signatures, with the "I" specifically drawn to look like a cross. After showing off the new tattoo, Gaga tweeted: "R†O. Monsters, all over the world you continue to inspire me everyday."
Gaga waited over a year to add her next tattoo to honor her younger sister, Natali Germanotta, whose childhood nickname was "Mouse." Look closer and you'll also notice that the mouse on the back of Gaga's arm holds a needle and thread to symbolize her sister's love of fashion design. And if that weren't enough, it also spells "Nat" below the mouse's feet.
Months before releasing Cheek to Cheek with Tony Bennett, Gaga got a trumpet tattoo in honor of the jazz singer, who actually drew the image specifically for Gaga.
In late 2014, Gaga added the paw to her side as another tribute to her "little monsters." She showed off the finished design on Facebook, thanking her fans for their support: "I never realized before but I put the tattoo of my fans 'monster paw' the symbol of our fan base right over my heart. It's not easy to perform this song, but I know you will have my heart in your hands holding me up like you have for almost a decade. Thank you for being the pillars that hold up my roof, everything i stand for is in you."
One month later, she recruited Eric Gonzalez, the same artist behind her paw tattoo, to tattoo "Mother Monster" on her ribcage in honor of the five-year anniversary of her album The Fame Monster.
A day before Gaga was set to perform a tribute to the late David Bowie at the 58th Annual Grammy Awards in 2016 (a month after his passing), she got an image of the singer's face added to her growing rib tattoo collection. "This was the image that changed my life," she shared on Snapchat, referring to Bowie's Aladdin Sane album cover.
Fire Rose Unity
A week later, Gaga performed her nominated song "Til It Happens to You" at the 88th Academy Awards. During the emotional Oscars performance, 50 sexual-assault survivors joined Gaga on stage. Later, one of the survivors — California-based illustrator Jacqueline Lin — wrote on her website that Gaga made a pact with everyone that she would get a tattoo in honor of their message. Later, she added what is called the "Fire Rose Unity" symbol to her left shoulder.
Lin, who designed the tattoo, wrote on her website the meaning behind the unique symbol: "The tattoo was made for, and dedicated to, survivors. It is a unity symbol inspired by the loops of our DNA structure and our universal infinity sign. It combines inspiration from Lady Gaga's favorite flower, the white rose, to breathe life into an organic and growing symbol. The final image embraces a fiery shape to give us power and strength everywhere we go."
As is tradition, Gaga tattooed her 2016 album title Joanne to her arm, written in her aunt Joanne's handwriting.
"La Vie En Rose"
By the time Gaga was nominated for another Oscar, she'd added a rose back tattoo to her collection, anchored by the words "La Vie En Rose." Not only is "La Vie En Rose" the song that convinced ASIB director Bradley Cooper that Gaga was perfect for the lead role as Ally, but it's also the song her character sings when Cooper's character, Jackson Maine, encounters her for the first time in a drag bar.
The same day Gaga enlisted L.A. tattoo artist Daniel Winter to create her rose tattoo design, she also requested a musical note tattoo on her right forearm. Although there was an error in the initial design (Gaga left out the fifth line on the sheet music, making the notes incomprehensible), Winter quickly fixed it to properly spell out the notes "GAGA."
Some fans also pointed out that, while it reads "GAGA" in treble clef, the same notes read as "BCBC," Bradley Cooper's initials, in bass clef. Nowadays, however, fans are far more concerned with the fact that this design and those notes could be a major clue to Gaga's new album. After all, it would fit with her tradition, right?
A Comprehensive Guide To Lady Gaga's Tattoos & Meanings