Editor’s note: This article was originally published March 9, 2014
Ending weeks of intense speculation and suspense, SXSW announced that Lady Gaga would deliver the music keynote in a conversation with John Norris of Fuse at 11 a.m. Friday in the Grand Ballroom of the Hilton Downtown, adjacent to the Convention Center.
The selection of Gaga was not especially surprising, as it had been rumored since news broke two weeks ago of a potential Gaga show on the downtown Doritos stage that eventually was moved to Stubb’s.
Regarding the delay between the performance and keynote announcements, SXSW managing director Roland Swenson said that show sponsor Doritos didn’t want the keynote news “to step on the publicity for the show. So we agreed that we’d wait until three days after they announced the show.”
This was by far the latest booking of a keynote in SXSW history, by more than a month. Asked if he was concerned about the delay, Swenson said, “Not really. I knew we’d get somebody. And then once we knew we had a good shot at Gaga, it was worth waiting for.”
At age 27, Gaga is the youngest music keynote SXSW has ever had; the only ones that came close were Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic, who was 30 when he delivered the 1996 keynote, and Bob Mould, who was 34 when he did the keynote in 1995.
The vast majority of SXSW music keynotes have been delivered by artists who had several decades of career experience to speak about. Examples include Bruce Springsteen, Bob Geldof, Smokey Robinson, Quincy Jones, Lou Reed, Pete Townshend, Neil Young, Robert Plant, Little Richard and Johnny Cash.
Other possibilities were in the works, though Swenson didn’t name names. “There was another person that we thought was going to do it, and initially, it sounded positive, and then it didn’t happen,” he said. “Gaga came into the picture pretty late, comparatively. And she’s been on our list for years. We just decided we’d gut it out and wait for it.”
Swenson confirmed that SXSW had approached Russian political activist band Pussy Riot. “We were trying to get them to speak, not necessarily as the keynote,” he said. “But then they ended up at the Olympics, which is why I think they turned us down.”
The selection of Gaga further emphasizes the evolution of SXSW from music toward interactive. Though Gaga is a major music artist, with five Grammy Awards and more than 25 million in album sales, she’s probably an even greater force in social media, with 63 million Facebook likes and 41 million Twitter followers.