April 05, 2010 12:00 PM

Had Lady Gaga gone gaga? As her pulsing hit “Bad Romance” filled the arena in Auckland, New Zealand, March 13, the singer known for her high-energy dancing lay down onstage, listless and wobbly as she battled through the song. “I passed out about three times onstage that night,” she later said on Australia’s Kyle and Jackie O radio show. “It’s never happened to me before. I was just really tired…the jet lag caught up with me.”

Jet lag-or the exhaust fumes from a stratospheric rise to stardom? Ever since Gaga (born Stefani Germanotta), 24, burst onto the scene with “Just Dance” in ’08, she has upped the stakes in everything from her videos (her latest, for “Telephone,” is a short film with Beyoncé) to her wardrobe (antlers as headwear) and her tour (announcing 38 new shows). But it’s taken a toll. The singer-visibly thinner these days-canceled four shows in January citing exhaustion. And three days after the collapse, more bad news: She was sued for $30.5 million by a former collaborator (see box). “She’s on the verge of tipping-she’s in bad shape,” says a source. “She’s come to embody the Gaga persona, but she’s only human.”

And one still trying to find her footing-in 10-in. lobster-claw heels-in a relatively new world. “Two years ago, I was playing in a bar that smelled like urine for 50 people,” Gaga told Kyle and Jackie O. “Sometimes I cry because I can’t believe [it].” Friends say they’re happy tears. “She loves this,” says producer Joe “Joe V” Vulpis, adding that she “finds her sanity with her family.” But can she tame the fame monster? “Gaga has to be careful,” says her pal, One Republic’s Ryan Tedder. “She’s already larger than life. How do you get larger than that?”

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