Part 3 of Gaga, Inc., a three-part series on Lady Gaga
The enforcers from "The Sopranos" or "Boardwalk Empire" could learn a thing or two from Team Gaga.
Entrusted with managing the sprawling affairs of music’s reigning meteoric star, the financial, business, legal and career gurus who surround Lady are ferocious in safeguarding her brand -- which is valued in the tens or even the hundreds of millions of dollars.
From an ex-boyfriend-music Svengali to merchandise counterfeiters, they have sought to inflict pain on those who threaten, or attempt to profit from, her pop-culture empire.
When her former boyfriend and manager Rob Fusari sued Lady Gaga for $35 million for money he claimed to be owed for launching her career, they quickly countersued, saying he owed her money for forcing her into an "unlawful" contract. (Both suits were dropped.)
Before her 2010 tour even began, they filed a trademark infringement suit against "John Does 1-100," asking for a nationwide seizure order of bootleg material that those unnamed and at-the-time unknown people might sell outside her concerts.
They’ve tried to press concert photographers to automatically relinquish copyright ownership.
And, most absurdly, the team successfully threatened the London confectionery Icecreamists for hawking “Baby Gaga” ice cream made with human breast milk. (Gaga's legal filing demanded that the store rename the flavor "something which is not aurally, visually or conceptually similar to Lady Gaga"; Icecreamists relaunched the flavor several days ago as “Baby GooGoo.”)
Also Read Part I and II in series:
Part I: Why Lady Gaga's 'Born This Way' May Save the Music Industry
Part II: Brand Theft Gaga: Meteoric Fame, Done the Madonna Way -- Exactly
As they busy themselves with this kind of zealous protection, as well as overseeing her panoply of licensing, publishing, merchandising, marketing and television arrangements, don’t think of Team Gaga as “handlers.” It’s Gaga who drives almost everything in her messaging and choices, one member of her inner circle told TheWrap.
“It’s all her,” the adviser said.
Gaga and Team Gaga steadfastly spurned TheWrap’s repeated overtures to participate in this story.
So who makes up Team Gaga?
As chairman and CEO of Interscope Geffen A&M -- home to U2, Eminem and the Black-Eyed Peas -- Jimmy Iovine is arguably the most powerful figure in Gaga’s professional life, with a major voice in financial and career decisions. He was instrumental, for example, in her selection as guest mentor to the top four finalists on “American Idol,” where he is a regular as an in-house mentor.
(Pictured, left to right: Dr. Dre, who markets Gaga's in-ear headphones, Gaga, Iovine.)
And if past is prologue, Iovine might well next steer Gaga into a starring role on the big screen. After all, the producer-turned-mogul co-produced hit films for his two biggest solo acts: “8 Mile” with Eminem, and “Get Rich or Die Tryin’” with 50 Cent.
Iovine gained his seat at her table thanks to one of his executives. Vincent Herbert -- perhaps the most unsung figure in the Gaga fairytale -- signed her to his Interscope imprint, Streamline, and shepherded her debut, “The Fame,” as executive producer. "I really feel like we made pop history, and we're gonna keep going," Gaga once said about Herbert.
Herbert (pictured left, with Gaga) was consumed by Gaga. Once, recalls public-relations executive Marvet Britto, he spent much of a meeting with rapper/actress Eve playing and marveling over Gaga tunes that later would be included on “Fame.”
According to an acquaintance of Herbert's, the young record exec was instrumental in the choice of Troy Carter (pictured below, right) as Gaga’s manager and day-to-day advisor on career decisions. All but certain that Gaga’s moment was approaching, Herbert is said to have remarked to her future manager, “You Troy, won’t want to miss this” or words to that effect.
At the time, Carter was reportedly close to succumbing to music-industry disillusionment, and on the verge of relocating from Beverly Hills back to his home on the East Coast. According to a friend of Carter's and Herbert's, that changed when he encountered Herbert and Gaga. (He still manages to spend some of his down time on the East Coast, at a $2.3-million Martha’s Vineyard spread that he purchased last year.)
Finally came Gaga's agent, Beverly Hills-based Dave Wirtschafter of William Morris Endeavor Entertainment. Three years ago Wirtschafter had never heard of Lady Gaga, but he was turned on to her when he heard her music played constantly on the four main radio stations in New Zealand, where he had a vacation home.
After returning to the U.S., he immediately checked out Gaga; the agency signed her the day after a first meeting. An entire WME team, including the powerful agency chief Ari Emanuel, works on her behalf. Among other projects, the agency has landed Gaga a high-profile gig as creative director for Polaroid.
At one point Gary Stiffleman was another key member of the Gaga team, but the prominent entertainment attorney quietly exited the team early this year, TheWrap has confirmed. He does so on the heels of talks with Interscope to renegotiate the star's 2007 contract.
Gaga is a massive loss for Stiffleman's company, the powerhouse Los Angeles-based entertainment-law firm of Ziffren, Brittenham, Branca, Fischer, Gilbert-Lurie, Stiffelman, Cook, Johnson, Lande & Wolf, perhaps on a par with its first abandonment by off-and-on client Michael Jackson in 1990.
And her exit is all the more stinging, considering her current legal representation: longtime archrival Grubman Indursky & Shire, where she’s handled by the high-profile hotshot Kenny Marsalis, whose other clients include Sean "Diddy" Combs and Mary J. Blige.
Then again, it's probably unfair to say that Gaga is "handled" by Marsalis. Like his fellow team members, he is at Gaga’s command.