Why Lady Gaga’s ‘ARTPOP’ Is Considered a Failure
Lady Gaga's 'ARTPOP' is not connecting on a visceral, primal level like its predecessor 'Born This Way.' It just isn't. It's also not selling at any sort of rapid, "must own" clip. But we're not about to write it off as a flop... yet. There is a simple prescription that can help the Mother Monster turn things around and cure all that ails Gaga in relationship to 'ARTPOP.'
While the album did debut at No. 1, it was with ho-hum figures, moving only 258,000 copies. That's in the same range as what Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus sold during their No. 1 debut weeks. So what gives? Why is Gaga dealing with so much criticism about her No. 1 album, which falls in line?
First, let's talk about Katy and Miley's albums. Katy Perry delivered the album we expected. It was terrific, but it didn't challenge or change what she does so well. She just did it better. And 'ROAR' was a monster single, both airplay and sales-wise. It was business-as-usual for Perry. In fact, stripping away her candy-coated image only served to make her more relatable, whereas Gaga was walking around like a ghost in London and practicing strange breathing techniques.
And Miley? Do we need to even talk about it? She twerked. She tongued. And she leveled our doubts with her 'Wrecking Ball,' one of her best songs ever.
So what about 'ARTPOP,' in relation to its peers and competition, was different? Well, it was advanced by the first single 'Applause,' which was not the juggernaut that 'Born This Way' (the song) was. Not. Even. Close.
'Applause' is a song about being Lady Gaga, whereas 'Born This Way' was about her being the patron saint of every disaffected group in existence. That resonated. People look for music to cling to, reductive or not. It was one of her best songs, a watershed, statement song that you wanted to listen to 500 times and dance to at a gay wedding.
She backed it up with more epics, like 'Judas' and 'The Edge of Glory,' which was about her grandfather dying. Who hasn't experienced that and who can't relate to that? Also, her semi-power ballad 'You & I' was about wanting that unrequited love. Those songs felt like they were from her marrow.
'Applause' was about her unique experience being Lady Gaga and loving when you scream and cheer for her. Sure, the deeper meaning is about the give-take reciprocity between Gaga and the little monsters, and her love for them, but it took more than a few listens to "get there," whereas it was BAM! You got 'Born This Way' out of the chute! Sometimes, hitting them from the get-go is more effective.
'Applause' focuses too much about the cult of personality and references to Jeff Koons. Who? Right.
Overall, 'Applause' wasn't as good as 'Born This Way.' A gay teen in Kansas or a bullied girl in Florida can't relate to Jeff Koons and being in pop culture but they sure can relate to the 'BTW' lyric "rejoice and love yourself today." That change is where she lost us a little bit.
Her 'SNL' hosting stint didn't do much to lift or elevate sales. But, realize that appearance wasn't going to boost sales to more than a casual fan, since the diehard little monsters already knew the album was coming out. Plus, 'SNL' is a marketing point. It's a gold star on her resume and a feather in her Philip Treacy hat.
Gaga also threw a rave on a Sunday night before the album release in Brooklyn of all places. It was not an open arms event for little monsters. It was attended by Marina Abramovic and Jeff Koons, two artists that little monsters are probably not fans of nor were they aware of before Gaga went gaga over them. Little Monsters are more into graphic novel illustrators, we'd think.
She should have held a two-night stand at Bowery Ballroom, in her former stomping grounds of the Lower East Side, packed it and had people swinging from rafters, begging to get in and sweating off 5 lbs. if they did. She should have played a mix of hits and new songs, instead of something that was hard to get to and which served as a snobby, PR stunt.
Having giant sculptures of herself made her seem disconnected from fans, rather than opening her arms to them. Gaga has always been more than aware of and open to the art of fame, but she went overboard with these life-sized avatars.
Since Gaga was off the stage for so long due to her injury earlier this year, she should have roared back onto that very stage to show how much it sucked being away from her little monsters, which she references in the 'Applause' lyrics. But she didn't.
Stunts like the rave, her black liquid perfume and a flying dress are better off happening mid-cycle, not at the beginning. Those interests shouldn't be promoted in conjunction with the album because it took the attention off the album.
Facts and figures-wise, she didn't gave the album away for 99 cents this time, which accounted for half of 'Born This Way' sales. (Madonna also did something similar with with 'MDNA': She gave away her record with a ticket purchase.) Gaga's discount deal didn't make her or Interscope money, but she got the marketing accolade of selling a million records in a week and that is a tool to get the attention of the even more mainstream audience.
She didn't do a discount deal for 'ARTPOP' (probably because Billboard has issued a new sales rule since). She just went off the rails with weirdness.
Firing her manager in the middle of the cycle was a mistake. He may have told her she was drifting too far out there, too far away from her core business and she probably didn't like it.
Gaga herself does say in the title track that her "ARTPOP" can be anything, and it seems like it's about anything but the music.
Gaga has commented on the backlash and hate that is landing on her doorstep. She tweeted about the critics and we can't accuse her of being a touchy, sensitive artist, since she stood up for One Direction when they got booed at the 2013 VMAs, as well. So she's consistent there.
She also demonstrated self-awareness of the haters when she posted a pre-'ARTPOP' video declaring that Lady Gaga is OVER. But now that 'ARTPOP' is here, was that just an act of foreshadowing?
All that said, 'ARTPOP,' while not without its flaws, is not going to sink her career. Lady Gaga's future is salvageable.
We can't write her off so quickly. Remember, Gaga writes her own songs. Most of her peers -- cough, Rihanna, cough -- don't write at all or they do so by committee (just ask Katy Perry's pal Bonnie McKee) ensuring their songs are hits. She is a true talent. She just needs to reel it back in and get back to music.
She's drifted far, but she can still see the shore. Millions of little monsters dot the horizon. She just needs to dive in and swim back to them. She'll just need to kick a little harder, and swim like she is being chased by a shark. We know she'll do so in six-inch heels.
Plus, America loves to see a superstar taken down, only to rise again.