NEW YORK — You might say that Lady Gaga's year really began in an egg.
That's how she arrived at the Grammys in February, encased in a large, translucent pod carried by scantily clad dancers. When she "hatched" onstage, she effectively gave birth to "Born This Way," performing the eponymous lead single of her second studio album and anthem to self-acceptance. In 2011, the album would carry her around the world, where she rarely went unnoticed.
After a year of extravagant globe-trotting and relentless advocacy of tolerance, Lady Gaga has been voted Entertainer of the Year by members of The Associated Press.
There were 135 ballots submitted by U.S. news organizations that make up the AP's membership. Editors and broadcasters were asked to cast their ballots for who had the most influence on entertainment and culture in 2011.
Lady Gaga narrowly edged out the late Apple founder Steve Jobs by three votes. Many others received numerous votes, including Taylor Swift, Charlie Sheen, Adele and the cast of "Harry Potter." Previous winners of the AP Entertainer of the Year include Betty White, Swift, Tina Fey and Stephen Colbert.
But it was Lady Gaga whose eminence in 2011 stood out most to voters. While accepting the best pop vocal album Grammy for her previous disc, "The Fame Monster," earlier this year, she said stardom was an adjustment for her.
"When I wrote `Born This Way,' I imagined (Whitney Houston) was singing it because I wasn't secure enough in myself to imagine I was a superstar," she said.
When the album was released in May, 1.1 million copies sold in the first week, partly aided by a dramatic discount from Amazon, which sold it for 99 cents. But it was an industry-shattering moment because an extraordinary 60 percent of sales in the first week were digital downloads. Altogether, it outsold the next 42 albums on the Billboard chart combined. As of October, worldwide sales had surpassed 8 million copies.
"One of my greatest artworks is the art of fame," the 25-year-old told "60 Minutes" earlier this year. "I'm a master of the art of fame."
Lady Gaga, whose real name is Stefani Germanotta, is prepping for a "Born This Way" tour. Her "Monster Ball Tour" was still going strong earlier this year, which went a long way toward making her, according to Forbes, the highest grossing female musician in 2011. The magazine, which compiled pretax income earned from May 2010 to May 2011, said Lady Gaga earned $90 million.
Paul Pronovost, editor of the Cape Cod Times, called Lady Gaga's "A Very Gaga Thanksgiving" a bizarre ABC holiday special hosted by the singer "a brilliant reach to mainstream America."
"Transcendent performers like Lady Gaga come around as often as Halley's Comet," says Pronovost. "She has that rare gift of sophisticated self-promotion, so outlandish at times you just can't look away" and the talent to back it up. "This is Madonna 4.0."
The concerts spawned an HBO special, which was nominated for five Emmys Awards and won one. Lady Gaga was a regular presence at award shows throughout the year. She won three Grammys in February, including best female pop vocal performance. She won two MTV Video Music Awards. She was recently nominated for three Grammys for next year's awards, including best album. This summer, her infamous meat dress made of layers of Argentinian beef was put on display at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
She visited the White House and appeared as the musical guest on "Saturday Night Live." She performed at former President Bill Clinton's 65th-birthday bash with an ode to Marilyn Monroe. She remained the person most followed on Twitter, with more than 17 million Little Monsters or more people who live in Greece and Ireland combined. And for the mark of true fame, she was parodied by Weird Al Yankovic, who turned "Born This Way" into "Perform This Way."
She collaborated with a number of music legends, including Elton John ("Hello, Hello" for "Gnomeo & Juliet"), Tony Bennett ("The Lady Is a Tramp") and Cher ("The Greatest Thing"). She continually released ambitious videos, most recently the 13-minute epic "Marry the Night." It had 5 million views in less than 48 hours.
"She gets people talking," says Greg Retsinas, digital director of the Press Democrat of Santa Rosa, Calif. "She's a polarizing figure not just in music and fashion but in pop culture and society. In a recent week, I heard her referenced personally by my 9-year-old daughter, a prominent local CFO and an airline pilot, all glowingly."
With the help of the MacArthur Foundation and Harvard University, Lady Gaga also founded the Born This Way Foundation, a nonprofit focusing on youth empowerment and "issues like self-confidence, well-being, anti-bullying, mentoring and career development." She has spoken frequently about such issues. At EuroPride, a gay pride concert in Rome in June, she said, "We beckon for compassion, understanding and above all we want full equality now."
"I am a child of diversity," she said. "I am one with my generation."
Lady Gaga will be ringing in the New Year with typical showmanship. She'll be the featured guest on Dick Clark's annual "New Year's Rockin' Eve" special from New York City's Times Square. Meanwhile, Christmas shoppers can walk through the holiday display she designed at Barney's in New York: 5,500 square feet of bright colors, crazy shapes and a gigantic cartoon statue of the superstar herself.