A songwriter and music producer claims pop star Lady Gaga squeezed him out of her lucrative career after he co-wrote some of her songs, came up with her stage name and helped her get a record deal.
Rob Fusari has filed a $35m (€26m) lawsuit in New York City against the Grammy Award-winning singer, saying his protege and former girlfriend ditched him as her career soared.
His lawsuit says he has credits on such hits as Will Smith’s 'Wild, Wild West' and Destiny’s Child’s 'Bootylicious'.
It says a friend steered the piano-playing Lady Gaga to him in March 2006, when she was known by her real name, Stefani Germanotta.
Lady Gaga’s spokesman, Dave Tomberlin, was not available for comment.
Although he initially dismissed her, Fusari realised she had star potential after hearing her play in his Livingston, New Jersey, studio, the lawsuit said.
He spent the next few months working with her every day and “radically reshaping her approach”, persuading her to drop rock riffs for dance beats, it said.
As they co-wrote songs such as 'Paparazzi' and 'Beautiful, Dirty, Rich', which would appear on her debut album, 'The Fame', he transformed Germanotta into Lady Gaga, a name adapted from Queen’s 'Radio Ga Ga', the lawsuit said.
In a 2009 interview with the Associated Press, Lady Gaga said her “realisation of Gaga was five years ago, but Gaga’s always been who I am”.
“I was Gaga from the time that I was 19 through my first record deal,” the 23-year-old said of her over-the-top, avant-garde style, which has captured the imaginations of millions of fans.
“I always dressed like that before people knew me as Lady Gaga. I was always that way ... I stuck out like a sore thumb.”
According to the lawsuit, Lady Gaga and Fusari’s relationship turned romantic and became a business partnership in May 2006, when they created a joint venture called Team Love Child LLC to promote her career. Fusari’s share was 20%, it said.
Fusari – whose account of his role in the multiplatinum-selling artist’s early career has been told in interviews – says he introduced Lady Gaga to a record executive who ultimately shepherded her to Interscope Records, which released 'The Fame' in 2008. The album has sold more than three million copies in the United States; Fusari has a producing credit.
But the lawsuit says their personal and business relationship had soured by then and he has been denied a 20% share of song royalties, 15% of merchandising revenue and other money he is owed.
He acknowledges getting cheques for about $611,000 (€448,000) but says that is not his full share.
Lady Gaga won two Grammys in January: best dance recording for 'Poker Face', and best electronic/dance album for 'The Fame'.