Lady Gaga appears to be going through a bit of a rough patch. After her third full studio album, ARTPOP, fell short of expectations with an opening sales week of 258,000 copies (her previous album, Born This Way, sold 1.11 million albums in its first week), she has remained surprisingly—both by her own personal standards and especially those of a megawatt pop star with a new album to promote—quiet. On the heels of lead single “Applause,” she released “Do What U Want” (featuring R. Kelly), which peaked at No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 and now sits at No. 17 after 11 weeks on the charts.
Last week, Gaga released a new version of the song, featuring Christina Aguilera (following their performance of it on The Voice finale), presumably in hopes of breathing new life into the track. (The Xtina-Gaga duet currently ranks below the iTunes Top 200.) Meanwhile, the music video for the tune has yet to arrive, which led some of Gaga’s devoted Little Monsters to ask their deity about its status on her website last weekend.
Gaga responded with a long, somewhat circuitous response, which, ultimately, raised more questions than answers.[blabla old news]The music video] is late,” she explained, “because, just like with the Applause video unfortunately, I was given a week to plan and execute it. It is very devastating for someone like me, I devote every moment of my life to creating fantasies for you. All my my most successful videos were planned over a period of time when I was rested and my creativity was honored.” She went on to blame an unidentified “they” (rumored to be her former manager, Troy Carter) for her recent career troubles: “Those who have betrayed me gravely mismanaged my time and health and left me on my own to damage control any problems that ensued as a result. Millions of dollars are not enough for some people. They want billions. Then they need trillions. I was not enough for some people. They wanted more.”
Setting aside the question of what or who exactly is to blame for ARTPOP’s underwhelming performance, Gaga—a woman who was once arguably the biggest pop star on the planet (only a few years ago!)—now seems like something of an underdog in the ever-evolving pop landscape.
But maybe this isn’t such a bad look for her. When Gaga first started out, there was something borderline transgressive about her theatricality. She made eight-minute videos; she wore costumes; she was a theater-camp fever dream amongst a sea of mean girls. There was no reason to think any of this would be commercially successful and connect with audiences. But improbably, it was and it did. There was clearly a certain charm to her schtick at the beginning, something relatable (even truthful) that we found embedded in her camp and her defiance, in contrast to the pop star archetype familiar since 2000. But this very same eccentricity came off as slightly disingenuous when delivered from a gazillionaire pop star who had sold a million copies of her latest album. When she accepted a Video Music Award in 2009 in a red-lace face mask, it was downright thrilling; it was like we were seeing Janis Ian win Homecoming Queen over Regina George. But, nowadays, when she wears a flying dress or wanders through the woods naked with Marina Abramovic, we struggle to suppress a sigh.
We hope Gaga burrows herself away somewhere and comes back soon with a project that she's able to present on her own terms, Beyoncé-style. Presumably, all of this conflict and strife will reignite her creative juices; perhaps she feels like she has something to prove again. And her (relative) outsider role could very well work to her advantage, making her “march to the beat of your own drummer” ethos and devotion to her merry band of outsiders track once again. No one doubts that she has talent and charm and that intangible “charisma” that separates the pop wheat from the pop chaff. If something got muddled as she screamed about her outsider status from the V.I.P. lounge, perhaps it will be received more favorably if it’s coming from someone mingling with us on the dance floor, instead.