Image Credit: Albert L. Ortega / PR PhotosMusic producer Rob Fusari has filed a $35 million lawsuit against Lady Gaga claiming that after he helped develop her into a viable artist and cowrote several tunes (including “Paparazzi”), she failed to make good on an agreement that awarded him 20 percent of her earnings. (UPDATE: Lady Gaga responded to the suit in a court filing made public on Friday.)
We got a copy of the lawsuit, and it’s the best read we’ve had in a long time, beginning with the introduction, a quote from William Congreve’s The Mourning Bride (“Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned”) and a foreboding prologue: “All business is personal. When those personal relationships evolve into romantic entanglements, any corresponding business relationship usually follows the same trajectory so that when one crashes they all burn. That is what happened here.”
So here’s the story Fusari is telling (all quotes taken directly from the suit):
• According to Fusari, it all began on the night of March 23, 2006, when Stefani Germanotta (as Gaga was known back then) approached singer-songwriter Wendy Starland at a New Writers’ Showcase at The Cutting Room in New York City and asked if she remembered her from her days interning at Famous Music Publishing. Starland had been collaborating with Fusari for more than two years at that point, and knew that “Fusari had been searching for months for a dynamic female rock-n-roller with garage band chops to front an all girl version of The Strokes. Starland was blown away by Germanotta’s performance and immediately called Fusari and told him she had found him his girl.” Fusari talked with Germanotta on the phone and listened to some of her music, and “While not overwhelmed by Germanotta’s song selections, he could tell she had more to offer creatively and invited her out to his production studio in Parsippany, New Jersey. The next day Germanotta took the bus to Parsippany from the Port Authority depot and then hiked a quarter-mile to reach Rob Fusari’s 150 Studios. Fusari was expecting someone a little more grunge-rocker than the young Italian girl ‘guidette’ that arrived at his doorstep and was worried that he had made a mistake. Fusari then asked her to play one of her songs on the studio piano and within seconds realized that Germanotta had star potential. The trick would be coaxing it out of her.”
• Germanotta took that bus to the Jersey side every day to work with Fusari, who “thought Germanotta’s songs were brilliant but lacked commercial appeal… Fusari finally convinced Germanotta to abandon rock riffs and add dance beats. He demonstrated how the sound of a drum machine would not hurt the integrity of her music.” They wrote “Beautiful, Dirty, Rich” together, as well as her future hits “Paparazzi,” “Brown Eyes,” and “Disco Heaven.” Fusari claims he created the name “Lady Gaga.” Fusari likened Germanotta’s dramatic personality to Queen’s Freddie Mercury, and would always welcome Germanotta to his studio with his rendition of Queen’s “Radio Ga Ga.” “One day when Fusari addressed a cell phone text to Germanotta under the moniker ‘Radio Ga Ga’ his cell phone’s spell check converted ‘Radio’ to ‘Lady.’ Germanotta loved it and ‘Lady Gaga’ was born.” Yeah, we’re gonna need a demonstration of that, Fusari. But let’s continue, because things are about to get physical!
• “Working intensely in such close emotional quarters over a sustained period nurtured Fusari and Germanotta’s relationship to a new, personal and romantic level, and the two began to spend all of their time together as a couple.” She was sleeping at his place, he was getting to know her family and siblings. He began shopping a CD they produced to record companies. Around May 2006, they made their business partnership official. Though Fusari wanted her to sign a standard production deal with him, her father, Joe Germanotta, who had already formed Mermaid Music Inc. with his daughter, said no. “Instead, Joe Germanotta suggested a compromise whereby Mermaid and Fusari could share control of the exploitation of his daughter and her sound recordings through a third company…. Not wanting to create any friction with the family of his girlfriend, Fusari agreed to this arrangement.” Don’t you love how the word “exploitation” is actually used? Per the deal, Fusari claims, he owned 20 percent of this new company, TLC, and Mermaid owned 80 percent — and he was granted peace of mind knowing that his signature would be required on any agreements concerning Germanotta.
• Fusari played Germanotta’s music for Joshua Sarubin, Vice President of A&R for Island Def Jam, and Sarubin immediately brought her into the office to play live. “During that session, L.A. Ried [sic], then President of IDJ, who heard Germanotta performing from his office, came into the audition and decided on the spot to sign her to a record deal. Her first album was tentatively scheduled for release in May 2007.” Now Fusari and Mermaid had to renegotiate their Production Agreement, which hadn’t addressed “exploitation of merchandising rights” or guaranteed that he would be a producer on her albums. With this September 2006 amendment came some provisions, like if the record deal went belly up and a new one wasn’t secured in 12 months, Germanotta’s ties to Fusari would expire. Three months later, “L.A. Ried’s [sic] capriciousness struck again” and Germanotta was dropped. “Germanotta’s confidence was bruised, but Fusari encouraged her to keep writing and recording. Unfortunately, the stress of the set-back with IDJ also negatively impacted the personal relationship between Fusari and Germanotta. The couple was now constantly bickering as Germanotta became more and more verbally abusive towards Fusari. Fusari wanted to return their relationship to a purely professional level, so in January 2007, he ended their romantic involvement.”
• Now, Fusari claims, his personal manager, Laurent Besencon, who he’d introduced to Germanotta and had taken her on as a client before her Island Def Jam deal, started hooking her up with other songwriter-producers, including Red One, with whom she’d pen “Poker Face,” “Just Dance,” and “Boys, Boys, Boys.” He was being pushed out on all creative decisions. Fusari reached out to his old friend and mentor, Vince Herbert, whose Streamline Records distributed through Interscope Records. Herbert brought Germanotta to the attention of Jimmy Iovine, Chairman of Interscope Records. Fusari, however, felt he was being “frozen out” of the negotiations that were taking place between TLC and Interscope and demanded to be involved in any new distribution agreement. “After a while, Germanotta and her father stopped taking his telephone calls or otherwise responding to Fusari’s texts and emails,” the suit claims. Fusari alleges Besencon failed to represent his interests in the negotiations, which were finalized by May 2007. Lady Gaga’s debut album, The Fame, was released on Interscope and featured four songs co-written and produced by Fusari. Two more of their collaborations, “Retro, Dance, Freak,” and “Again Again,” were included on the European album.
• Fusari claims the Germanottas have acknowledged his entitlement to 20 percent because TLC issued him one check in June 2009 in the amount of $230,000 with the description “Lady Gaga Interscope Deal 20% Commission,” and another in December 2009 in the amount of $394,965. On the back of that check, beneath the endorser’s signature line, TLC had written “Endorsed In Accord And Satisfaction Of All Sums Due To Undersigned.” The suit claims, “By adding this endorsement to the back of the check, Defendants had attempted to trick Plaintiff into depositing said check and thereby settle all outstanding debts due him by Defendants under the TLC Amendment and to bar Plaintiff from seeking any additional payments of the Fusari Interest as they came due in the future.” Fusari has refused to endorse and/or deposit the check, and has returned it to TLC.
The suit goes on longer, but this is only a one-hour show! So what do you think? Weigh in below.
UPDATE: In a court filing made public on March 19, Lady Gaga responds to Rob Fusari’s lawsuit
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