Madonna & Lady Gaga: they are performers, sure, but are they Threes?

'Enneagram Famous Figures' by Subhuti Healing & Meditation

While Subhuti examines the lives of both performers, we learn about the Enneagram numbers Three and Six.

The word ‘performer’ certainly applies to these two women. Madonna, referred to as the ‘Queen of Pop’, is the best-selling female singer of all time, while Lady Gaga is close behind her, breaking many sales records with her music albums.

Madonna Lady Gaga

Enneagram No. 3: The Performer, The Achiever

In the Enneagram system of nine personality types, however, the term ‘performer’ has a different meaning. It was coined by Helen Palmer, an American author, who was the first person to take the Enneagram into the mainstream, with her ground-breaking book The Enneagram – Understanding Yourself and the Others in Your Life.

Palmer used ‘Performer’ to describe the Number Three strategy, which has also been called ‘the Achiever’ by Don Riso, ‘Go’ by Oscar Ichazo, and ‘Success Through Appearances’ by Claudio Naranjo.

Children who develop the Three strategy learn at an early age that love and attention come their way when they can demonstrate to their parents – and others – what they can accomplish. This becomes the main focus. Achieving becomes the path to a promised land where success, praise and recognition are showered upon them.

So it’s not surprising that Threes tend to be ambitious, driven and image-oriented. In this sense, the word ‘performer’, when applied to people in this Enneagram category, does not refer to musical onstage talent, although it certainly includes it. Rather, it indicates a more general ability to produce results in any field in which Threes have chosen to excel.

So, how do Madonna and Lady Gaga shape up as Threes? On the face of it, they both qualify, since they have shown, over and over again, how professional and successful they can be. But there are differences between the two, exposing underlying motivations that are quite distinct from each other.

Madonna: striving to ‘make it’

Most Enneagram buffs type Madonna as a Three and I tend to agree with them. In a moment of humorous, self-mockery, the singer once said, “I have the same goal I’ve had ever since I was a girl. I want to rule the world.”

But this ‘modest’ ambition takes hard work and Madonna has never shied away from it. At school in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan, she was an exhibitionist, doing cartwheels and headstands in the corridors to show the boys her knickers – a personality trait she certainly emphasized as a star – but she also studied hard and always got good grades.

She attended college in Michigan but dropped out in 1978 to head for New York City with the dream of becoming a dancer. She threw herself into the task, waiting tables to earn a buck, taking classes, joining off-Broadway dance troupes, gaining experience as a backup singer and dancer, then mutating to singing and song-writing.

After her breakthrough, with hits like ‘Holiday’ and her massive global chart buster ‘Like a Virgin’, Madonna didn’t slow down. Whenever it looked like the public was getting tired of her, she reinvented herself with new singing styles, new clothing fashions, new movies. Madonna was always keen to sense a change in the public’s mood and intended to stay ahead of the curve.

For example, her 1984 “Virgin” fashion style of lace tops, fish-net tights and long, dangling crucifix necklaces, created a big fashion movement among young women. But two years later, Madonna suddenly destroyed that whole look with her “Papa Don’t Preach” video that portrayed her with brutally cropped hair, plain clothes and a taut, muscular body.

In March 1994, after releasing a spate of sexually explicit albums, books and films, she capped it off by appearing on the Late Show with David Letterman and using four-letter words like “fuck” many times. The horrified critics agreed: this time she’d gone too far. Her career was over. But Madonna mutated once more, presenting a new, softer, more subdued image in her songs, fashion outfits and public appearances. Soon, all was forgiven and she was as successful as she’d ever been.

Relationships have been important for this star, but always took second place to her career. In her early New York years, she more than once seemed to opt for a boyfriend who could help with her musical ambitions. In later years, one man hopped out of bed – and out of her life – when he discovered she slept every night in a plastic bag to keep slim by sweating off kilos during her sleep. Such was her dedication to her public image.

Where did it all begin for Madonna?

She had a rough start to life. Her mother died of cancer when she was five and her father, on whom she was leaning heavily for emotional warmth, shocked and dismayed her by marrying his housekeeper three years later. Not surprisingly, the young Madonna disconnected from her emotions and poured everything into ‘making it’. Striving for success became her lifeline. Public recognition substituted for parental care, adulation for love.

Here we can have glimpse into the underlying fear of all Threes: if they aren’t succeeding, then they are convinced they are unlovable and worthless.

Lady Gaga: overcoming anxiety

Lady Gaga, on the other hand, had a very different upbringing. Born into an Italian family, living in New York’s affluent Upper East Side, Stefani Germanotta – her real name – has always maintained a close relationship with her parents, especially with her father, entrepreneur Joe Germanotta.

Unlike Madonna, Stefani felt free to show her vulnerability, admitting that she felt “like a freak” at school and was insecure about being accepted by her classmates. Anxiety seems to have accompanied her from the beginning, which can probably be traced to a little girl’s fear of an authoritarian father. Many years later, her experience of being raped at the age of 19 added to her nervousness.

“It is a daily effort for me…to regulate my nervous system so that I don’t panic over circumstances that to many would seem like normal life situations,” she explained. “Examples are leaving the house or being touched by strangers who simply want to share their enthusiasm for my music.”

So, even though Lady Gaga and Madonna both worked hard in New York as young women to forge a career for themselves, with Gaga there was always the sense that she was continuously challenging herself to overcome her fear.

It is significant that, in 2006, when she was abruptly dropped from the Def Jam recording label after only three months, a devastated Gaga turned to her family for comfort and reassurance. “I’m married to my dad,” she once told reporters, and it was the strong influence of Joe Germanotta who, at a critical moment in her life, pulled her back from an increasingly self-destructive addiction to drugs, getting her back on track for success.

Feeling the need for a creative team to support her musical ambitions, she shifted to Los Angeles and created “Haus of Gaga”, her own group of full-time advisors.

Fame, when it came, produced even more anxiety, so much so that, when she toured the world in 2009, she needed someone to sleep with her almost every night – not in a sexual way, but simply to feel secure. “I spent more time in bed with Stefani than with my husband,” commented one female member of Gaga’s team who, with her husband, had accompanied the singer on the tour.

During that time, she released ‘The Fame Monster’, a collection of eight songs dealing with the darker and more terrifying aspects of becoming a famous person.

Enneagram No. 6: The Devil’s Advocate, The Loyalist

To assess Lady Gaga’s behaviour in the context of the Enneagram system is pretty straightforward. This is not a Three in action. This is a Six, called ‘Devil’s Advocate’ by Helen Palmer, ‘The Loyalist’ by Don Riso, ‘Coward’ by Oscar Ichazo and ‘The Persecuted Persecutor’ by Claudio Naranjo.

For Sixes, self-image is not the underlying issue. It is fear. They swing between a ‘phobic’ state of feeling nervous and anxious, to a ‘counter-phobic’ effort to prove to themselves – and to others – that they are not afraid, by pushing themselves into challenging situations.

When Lady Gaga performed the half-time show at the Super Bowl in January this year, it was no accident that she chose to begin by singing ‘God Bless America’ while standing on the roof of the stadium, and then literally jumping off and flying all the way down to the stage to continue her performance.

The wires attached to a harness on her back made this dramatic act safe. But, nevertheless, it was a typical Six gesture of self-validation, proving her courage not only to herself, but also to the stadium crowd and the record-breaking 150 million people who were watching on television and other media.

Backstage, when working with musicians, technicians and stagehands, Lady Gaga usually takes care to drop her public image and let everyone know she is an ordinary human being…shaking hands with everyone, talking to people, wearing casually low-profile T-shirts and jeans.

Obviously, when not performing, she feels more secure when she is recognised and accepted as Stefani Germanotta, rather than the global icon of Lady Gaga. But hers is an ambiguous attitude, because she also lives in fear of suffering a similar fate to John Lennon – being approached by a seemingly admiring fan who turns out to be a crazed assassin.

Again, this is not a Three trait. This is a Six being suspicious of strangers and wanting to feel safe. Championing the under-dog is another Six characteristic and Lady Gaga has done her share with school anti-bullying campaigns and supporting gay rights.

Romance? Well, she’s described herself as bisexual and has done several hot sex scenes with men and women in her videos, but she seems to have enjoyed a fairly orthodox relationship with boyfriend Taylor Kinney until they split last summer.

She likes to think of herself as a rebel, breaking social boundaries, but this is contradicted by her underlying need for security and dependence on her family.

Behind it all – the glamour, the stardom, the fuss and the fury – Gaga knows that if things go really wrong she can always run back to daddy. Joe will be there for her. It’s a loyal, secure relationship that this Six can trust.

SubhutiSubhuti gives workshops about the Enneagram all over the world and also gives individual online Enneagram sessions. Contact: anandsubhuti (at)

Related articles on the Enneagram by Subhuti

All articles in this series: Enneagram Famous Figures
The Enneagram – a journey with the Enneagram from Oscar Ichazo’s original school to Osho’s Multiversity
The Enneagram: Types – Enneagram type descriptions, childhood environments, problem areas and sentences which characterize each type

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