Lady Gaga is opening up about her most emotional album to date.
The 30-year-old pop icon, whose last solo record was 2013’s ARTPOP, says that her fifth studio album, Joanne, which drops Oct. 21, is deeply autobiographical. The cover, showing a minimalist, makeup-free Gaga in a pink hat, seems to reflect the personal spirit of the album.
“Returning to your family and where you came from, and your history … this is what makes you strong. It’s not looking out that’s going to do that – it’s looking in,” Gaga tells PEOPLE. “Joanne is a progression for me. It was about going into the studio and forgetting that I was famous.”
The album – named after her father’s sister, Joanne Germanotta, who died of lupus complications at age 19 – required Gaga to dig deep into her personal life. Undoubtedly, the men in her life had an impact on this process.
“When you listen to the album, it’s clear the influence that all the men in my life have made on this record. That’s at the center of it, as well: I always wanted to be a good girl. And Joanne was such a good girl,” Gaga says. “But I have such a rebellious spirit, and my father was always very angry. He drank because of his sister’s death. I was trying to understand him through making this record, and in that, also trying to understand why I love men that are cowboys.”
The process of making Joanne allowed Gaga to work through the emotions tied up with many of those relationships.
“I’m figuring out all of those relationships in my life through the music, and going very deeply into it. But in a totally beautiful way,” she says. “It’s not a sad album. It’s an album that is very revealing of me as a woman.”
In revealing a more emotional side of herself, Gaga hopes to connect to people she hadn’t been able to before.
“I really wanted to reach that girl in the crowd who’s got a kid in her hand and two kids running around her and a glass of beer in the other and she’s crying her eyes out with heirloom jewelry on from her grandma,” she said.
The pop star, who is slated to headline the Super Bowl halftime show, has partnered with Bud Light, appearing in a spot for the brand on Sunday and performing in dive bars across the country. (At 10pm on Wednesday, fans can watch the first performance from the Bud Light Facebook page.)
“It’s very reminiscent of how I got my start,” she says. “I began singing in dive bars and really small clubs. I dragged my piano down the stairs, and I went down the street with my keyboard and I would go to every different dive bar that I could get to agree to let me play. I’d call and pretend I was Lady Gaga’s manager.”
She’s come a long way from pretending to be her manager to book gigs. Since her last album in 2013, Gaga won a Grammy with pal Tony Bennett for their jazz duets album, took home a Golden Globe for her performance on American Horror Story and landed Oscar nomination for “Til It Happens to You,” a ballad inspired by sexual assault on college campuses.