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Lady Gaga brought down the house at Billboard’s annual Women in Music event with a gripping performance of her tribute song to victims of sexual assault, “Til It Happens to You.”
Gaga was on hand to receive Billboard’s Woman of the Year honor and was introduced by her mother, Cynthia Germanotta, who recounted how her daughter learned to walk by grabbing the leg of the family piano, “and in the process managed to reach the keys.”
“Four years later, she was playing by ear,” she said. Germanotta also got a huge laugh from the audience by revealing that “at the age of six, she wrote her first song — called ‘Dollar Bills.'”
Gaga then took the stage wearing a ruby red suit to perform the social awareness anthem that she co-wrote with legendary songwriter Diane Warren for the college sexual assault documentary The Hunting Ground, which premiered at Sundance in January and will air on CNN later this year. She pounded away at her grand piano while an eight-piece string section accompanied her from the wings.
?Upon receiving the Woman of the Year honor from her mother, Gaga, who just received her first Golden Globe nomination on Thursday for American Horror Story: Hotel, described how it’s “really hard sometimes for women in music. It’s like a fucking boys club that we just can’t get into.”
“Sorry, Grandma,” she interjected to her grandmother seated with the rest of her family in the audience. She then expounded on the vital role of women in the music industry.
“Women provide a wisdom to music that is very unique and special,” she said. “It is a perspective no one else can have because we bear life. And because we go through things no one else goes through. And because it’s right. Because we’re all equal.”
She ended her speech with a message to all of those who didn’t believe in her along the way (“probably more than did believe,” she noted): “I couldn’t wait to prove you wrong. Because I may not be a lot of things, but I can write songs, and I can sing.”
Billboard‘s Women in Music aired on Lifetime Dec. 18 at 8:00 p.m. ET. Read her full speech below:
I don’t think I’ve ever dreamed of anything more than being a performer. I don’t really know why. I’m so sorry. I’m a very emotional person. (Laughs) I think that’s what you are as an artist. You have a lot of strength, but you’re sort of intrinsically very emotional.
I never thought anything like this would have ever happened to me or my family. My grandma’s here tonight, Angeline. My grandfather made shoes, and my grandma was by his side every day for 60 years. My father was an entrepreneur. My mother was a dancer who didn’t make it and then decided to sell telephone lines. So in short, my family was willing to do anything to give my sister and I everything that we had. Music was the single thing that kept me going in my life, my music education, my discipline. It was a warm blanket on my darkest days. Something so powerful for me.
I have so many people I’d like to thank today. All of the table, Kenny, Bobby, beautiful wife. Taylor. My grandma. My father. Tony. Marty. Jody Gerson, I’m so proud of you, that you’re winning this evening. You deserve this so much. Jimmy Iovine. Vincent Herbert. My attorneys. (Laughs) Interscope Records. Universal.
But what I really want to say is that it is really hard sometimes for women in music. It’s like a fuckin’ boys club that we just can’t get into. Sorry, grandma. But yeah, I tried for so long. I tried for so long. I just really wanted to be taken seriously as a musician for my intelligence more than my body ever in this business. To be here today means that I’m recognized for my songwriting and for my legacy, which means a lot because you don’t always feel like — when you’re working — that people believe that you have a musical background, that you understand what you’re doing because you’re female. And that’s why tonight is so important. Because women provide a wisdom to music that is very unique and special. It is a perspective that no other person can have because we bare life, and we go through things that no one goes through. And more importantly because it’s right, because we’re all equal.
But thank you for this moment tonight so that my family can appreciate the hard work that I’ve put in, that’s kept me away from them, my passion. And I hope that any young girl or boy that’s watching this tonight knows that — listen, this industry might never get better over time. There’s all kinds of problems all over the world. We can’t expect things to be perfect. But what you can do is have the heart. No matter what, you can have the heart. And it might be hard, and it might be ruthless, and it might be the ugliest thing you ever saw. But if you want it, you can do it. It’s there. And that’s all I want everyone to take away from tonight, and the most important thing for me being here was the one song that I got to sing that I would maybe in this moment get to give something back to the world for everything you’ve given to me and my family — thank you, from the bottom of my heart. More than anything, I just never thought my family would have the kind of blessings that we have to take care of our future. So thank you.
To my vocal teacher, Don Lawrence, who’s been my mentor since I was a baby girl, always looked out for me. To anyone that’s ever believed in me. And I’d like to say thank you also to everyone that didn’t believe in me. Thank you. Because there was a lot of people. Probably more than believed, and you gave me a fire in my belly so strong I couldn’t wait to prove you wrong, I’ll tell you. Cause I might not be a lot of things, but I can write songs, and I can sing.
Support your children in making music. If they have a creative instinct, don’t ask them to deny it because it will make them so sad and depressed. It’s part of your life destiny if you’re born with that gene. I am so grateful to my parents that they didn’t deny me my right to express myself at a young age — thank you. And to my sister Natalie who’s here tonight who I’m so proud of — who knew? She’s the designer. She does fashion. I do music. It was a creative family. It’s something different. Thank you for being here. Thank you for honoring me. I am a Italian American girl from New York who was the first to go to college in their generation with my family, so thank you for everything and God bless. To the next Woman of the Year.
This article originally appeared on Billboard.com.
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