Why things aren’t working out for Lady Gaga
It’s a strange day in pop music when Lady Gaga isn’t getting any attention. Once the media’s spotlight darling, the onetime contender for the title of Pop Princess seems to have lost her regal touch. Gone are the days when the media would gratefully print each and every outlandish outfit she would parade around in, complete with teacups, disco sticks and drag wigs. These days, not even a customised wheelchair gets that kind of attention.
In a promo video for her new album, ARTPOP, Gaga employed reverse psychology and declared herself ‘over’. A few weeks into her first single off the album, Applause, it seems reality may be imitating what was meant as a promo trick. Measured in Gaga numbers, the song has sold poorly and lost the head-to-head her record company had staged with Katy Perry and her new single, Roar (which, by the way, is every bit as lacklustre).
Both Gaga’s single and her new era seem to take their inspiration in the loss of the spotlight and a superstar’s fall from grace. Her performance at the VMAs featured fake booing, which emphasised the lyrics to Applause. But while Gaga’s message is an interesting and certainly sympathetic one, it doesn’t change the fact that she is living the situation she’s portraying.
It seems unbelievable that things could change as much as they have for a star of Gaga’s calibre and fame. And yet a couple of very important factors have made themselves felt. Since her big makeover, which happened at some point around Poker Face, Gaga started marketing herself on her crazy looks and strong, very honest opinions. But while every outfit was more incredible than the last, it all became a bit too much.
Why? Because Gaga was missing a leitmotif; a theme. One day she looked like an amazing alien, the next she was covered in meat. And in the end, people became visually saturated to a point where they stopped caring. Had she stuck to a theme and worn several takes on that theme for longer periods of time, audiences would have had more time to digest each look and its meaning, and as a result, digest Gaga and stay focused, interested, and excited about her. Musically, things haven’t been ideal for Lady Gaga either.
While her last album was a huge success, her alleged plagiarism of Madonna’s Express Yourself was recognised by many, and it didn’t help that Gaga never tried to make amends. It triggered Madonna’s fury, and the Queen’s global power should never be underestimated. After the word ‘reductive’ had made its rounds on the internet, courtesy of an interview Madonna gave, and Madonna had performed a mash-up of Express Yourself and Born This Way on her tour (without changing a single key) and finished it off with She’s Not Me every night for several months, the anti-Gaga effect actually set in.
Damaging Gaga’s career was hardly Madonna’s intention, but while people loved Madonna’s witty campaign, Gaga’s defense seemed self-important and boring, and at some point during it all, people’s views on her will inevitably have changed. It didn’t help that the rest of Gaga’s singles off the album lacked the slick Euro dance sound of The Fame Monster, for which a lot of the arbiters of taste of the world initially liked her. Suddenly we were left with a strange sound, most of all resembling a Queen tribute band, or perhaps an ode to Elton John.
During her world tour, Gaga didn’t manage to stay in the spotlight the way she’d managed it on her previous tour, and when she was confined to a wheelchair after having surgery, it only fuelled her absence. Of course, for a lot of artists, time away from the spotlight isn’t a problem, but for Gaga, who’d been a daily occurrence on gossip blogs since she first got famous, remaining in the it constantly was and is synonymous with having a career.
When she returned to the spotlight not long ago, wigs and fancy dress in tow, it was as if people weren’t ready to have her back. Perhaps forgetting about Gaga didn’t feel that bad, and maybe she should have waited a while longer. She is quite a mouthful, after all. But what seems sad about this third era of Gaga’s is that there’s nothing new about it. If people are bored, unimpressed or just indifferent, it’s because it feels as if we’ve seen and heard it all before.
And when it comes to Gaga, maybe we have. It’s a shame because if she hadn’t exhausted every single visual reference and theme known to history and pop culture in five years, there would have been a lifetime of concepts to draw on. And who knows, maybe the music would sound a little better for it as well. Gaga is good artist with even better beliefs, but maybe she’ll have to rethink herself to get the applause she was once used to.