Lady Gaga has always stood as a present day pop anomaly.
As an artist, Gaga – born Stefani Germanotta – has carefully skated on commercial relevance by offering an EDM-wrapped package similar to the radio’s top offerings, yet qualitatively different in its decoration with undeniable vocal talent and stage presence oft-lost on her pop competitors. These qualities, much like her ever-changing image, saw her inaugural years court as much positivity for her eccentricity as it did negativity for claims of being gimmicky.
Yet, for as meteoric as her rise to pop dominance was, her slide down the slope of commercial relevance has seemingly met similar acceleration. Indeed, the years that followed her blockbuster ‘Born This Way’ album don’t see her every “hairdo and don’t,” on-stage antic, nor music release greeted with the same level of intense media coverage they once received. While the cause of this shift has seen many-a-finger pointed toward the allure of “her gimmick fading,” others even argue that her inconsistent choice of sound (i.e. departure from “black music”) is to blame.
I, on the other hand, will argue that neither are the primary perpetrator, but instead wish to place a lens on Gaga’s aggressive social agenda which, in turn, caused the drift of her faithful buying audience. Full analysis below:
At one time, Gaga was a clear successor in line to inherit a seat in the pop diva oligarchy. A standout for her balance of style and substance, the powerhouse songstress’s playbook seemed to carefully pick parts from all the top divas before her (see: Cher, Madonna, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson, Britney Spears, and Christina Aguilera) without making obvious “screen shots”/copy & paste jobs from their storied careers.
But, her biggest misstep came when she filled her consumer’s music bellies with fast-food ‘Poker Face’ and ‘Bad Romance’-esque numbers, only to later (and rather quickly) enforce a diet of the more socially conscious offerings of ‘Born This Way’ and beyond. The crime, however, was not committed upon the act of injecting substance into her lyrics, as much as it was the way she did it.
Unlike Madonna‘s ‘Papa Don’t Preach,’ Whitney Houston‘s ‘Miracle,’ Janet’s ‘Rhythm Nation,’ and Aguilera’s ‘Beautiful’ (all picked from the primes of their respective careers), Gaga’s aggressive approach lacked subtlety and, let me tell it, style. The music video that accompanied the tune displayed grotesque imagery and, for some, an even harder to swallow direct message about gay rights.
It was simply too much too soon.
The move was entirely too risky given the newness of her audience’s love affair with her as well as their clear interests. The result, as evidenced by the numbers of each succeeding project, was a departure of her young listeners on to more relatable subjects (Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, etc.) who have also tip-toed on socially conscious topics (see: Perry’s ‘Fireworks’) without shoving it down their throats.
Let it be known that I by no means think Gaga is “over,” as she clearly has a few hits left in her as well as a respectable amount of industry influence. However, here’s hoping that her next project sees her learn to straddle the line that made songs like ‘Rhythm Nation’ so popular. It’s ok to have a message, but in keeping in mind who your core and/or target audience is, consider a sonic and/or lyrical veil.