It was billed as the comeback of a Pop Titan. However, under performing singles, so-so videos, and invisible radio support, confirm that Gwen Stefani‘s return to the Pop sphere is officially in the danger zone.
Let’s peruse the numbers…
Comeback single ‘Baby Don’t Lie’ peaked at a paltry #46 on the Billboard Hot 100, while its follow-up ‘Spark The Fire’ was released to such a frosty reception in December that it’s yet to chart a month on. Neither track is fairing much better on VEVO. The visual for ‘Baby’ has been lodged at the 13 million views mark months after debuting and ‘Fire’ isn’t generating any heat with just 3 million plays worldwide.
Stefani’s current predicament marks the second time in as many years that the singer has found herself on unstable terrain. No Doubt‘s 2012 comeback effort resulted in shocking sales and an axed tour. Hope for another reunion was quelled upon the announcement of Gwen’s new solo venture – which at the time felt like a fair payoff. Yet, with that now a mucky mess of sorts too, it brings the questions of what went wrong and can it be fixed to the surface.
We weigh in below…
From our vantage point, Gwen (in her current guise) sounds like a caricature of her former self, which perhaps explains why her new songs just aren’t connecting. Sometimes nostalgia allows for another victory lap, yet it appears the winning chemistry between the songbird and longtime collaborator Pharrell Williams has dissolved.
It’s a dizzying reality, as – on paper – their reunion spells “epic” with an exclamation mark. And understandably so. For, beyond their previous smashes together (‘Hollaback Girl’, ‘Wind It Up’ and more), Skateboard P is on top of world and Gwen carries a success narrative that few could rival. However, the stark reality is that their new material is rubbish.
Still, the said songs are being released in an era where much worse is performing much better. So, what other factors could be affecting the campaign?
While the length of Stefani’s seven-year solo hiatus may seem like the most obvious obstruction to her return, ageism – or more specifically the industry’s sexist flavor of it – is also being touted as a reasonable rationale.
Like many female stars before her, 45-year-old Gwen is now tasked with convincing media programmers – whose primary aim is to cater to the young demographic – to spin her music and videos. And in a world bizarrely dominated by Taylor Swift (who is exactly 20 years Stefani’s junior), it quickly becomes apparent how challenging said task is for a grown mother of three. Of course, this is not fair nor does it allow for viable variety on the charts. But, put simply, it has been and continues to be the mechanics of the music business.
To apportion credit where it’s due, Stefani’s team (shepherded by the mighty Irving Azoff) have made the right moves to help combat this – the most notable being her signing on to ‘The Voice’ (which has in turn introduced her to a sect of the record buying public who were too young to remember her slayage from 2004-2008, much less her No Doubt days).
However, the lack of follow-through with the music and promotion of it has stifled whatever momentum joining the NBC hit awarded her.
What can she do?
Forget chasing the hit producer in Pharrell and remember that several of her past gems were helmed by talent generally unknown outside of industry circles. For instance, while millions know songs such as ‘Luxurious’ and ‘4 In The Morning’, much less are aware that both were produced by her No Doubt band-mate (and former lover) Tony Kanal.
It’s a similar narrative with 2004’s ‘What You Waiting For?’ Because, though penned by the legendary Linda Perry, it was Nellee Hooper who produced the track – a name, which outside the world of trip-hop, would likely generate a “who” response from much of today’s public. Further proof that it doesn’t always take a major name or one with whom an artist has history to create magic.
Elsewhere, Stefani would benefit from seeking help in striking the right balance between “cool” and captivating. Because while “new Gwen” is smartly pandering to the trendy/edgy demographic (as evidenced her current sound and styling), there doesn’t seem to be much continuity from the larger than life Pop girl image she was peddling previously. Yes, at 45 we can’t expect some of the same looks and antics from a decade ago. But given the visual age we’re in, it’d profit her campaign to re-engage with the strong, bold, and creative imagery which made Stefani’s Harajuku gimmick so arresting.
Because if Lady GaGa is succeeding by preaching similar Psalms of rule-breaking and thinking out-of-the-box, Gwen is the Genesis and the creator of that movement for the modern crop of Pop girls. Therefore, she may need to re-read the chapters of her own success story to guide her to her musical promised land.
Do you agree? Why do you think Gwen is struggling? Can she turn it around? Let us know…