Lady Gaga: How we all became bored with pop’s most interesting monsterBy Matt Miller | July 31st, 2014 | 247 comments
Take a lesson from Lady Gaga: A meat dress will go rancid faster than any Prada or Louis Vuitton.
In 2010, after releasing her platinum-selling and Grammy-winning “Fame Monster,” Lady Gaga was being hailed as “The Last Pop Star,” “The World’s Biggest Pop Star” and “Our Lady of Pop.” Those days, she would fearlessly cover herself in blood at sold-out arena shows or wear a meat dress to the MTV Video Music Awards. She was daring and fresh.
But, four years later, she’s doing the same thing, and finding it hard to sell out her big “Artpop Ball.”
On Aug. 6, Lady Gaga will return to Denver for the first time in four years. The Denver Post called her 2010 show at the Pepsi Center “the most unique mass spectacle of the year.” Since then, she’s released two albums, and you’d assume that ravenous little monsters would be biting at the chance to see pop’s new queen again. But they’re not.
As of July 30, tickets were available for Lady Gaga’s show at all price ranges. Fellow pop divas Katy Perry and Pink both sold out Denver months in advance. Nationally, Gaga’s current tour hasn’t broken the top-10 list of StubHub’s most popular events. It’s a sales decline that perfectly illustrates Lady Gaga’s fading glory — not a quick, one-hit-wonder fizzle, but a slower, more painful tumble from fresh and daring, to same Gaga, old tricks.
What happened to the smart, funny singer whose strangeness was a sudden injection of originality into popular culture, a chameleon of musical influences and styles? With a flourish of futuristic pop she would conjure David Bowie, Freddie Mercury, Kylie Minogue, Madonna and Britney Spears. The music would tackle drug and celebrity culture, feminism and modern art. She was daring, ridiculous and unstoppable.
But today, Lady Gaga is struggling to be Lady Gaga. Everyone from Rolling Stone to Pitchfork has called her 2013 album “Artpop” an “Artflop” — not necessarily for bad sales, but for failing to add to the collective conversation of pop. Musically, she’s become an uninspired hybrid of pop and synthy R&B with a mix of EDM culture. Tracks like “Jewels n’ Drugs,” “MANiCURE” and “Donatella” from “Artpop” are shockingly bland and soulless — especially compared to pop gems like “Poker Face,” filled with big hooks and clever wordplay. As a whole, the album lacks the Gaga-specific obsession with idiosyncratic excess in the constraining realm of pop music.
Her image and style has become predictably outrageous. Lady Gaga can’t outdo her own grandiosity with more grandiosity. Once the most exciting pop musician for a decade, Gaga is sliding into redundancy.
Call it the Gaga Paradox: Do the unexpected for so long it suddenly becomes expected. So what’s she to do, something predictable? To a degree, yes.
Like Bowie, Madonna, Spears and Perry, it’s time for Lady Gaga to reinvent Lady Gaga for the fickle and quickly bored Top 40 listeners. She should challenge what pop consumers expect of her.
Take Perry, for example, whose music career has mirrored Gaga’s since they both became famous within a few years of each other. After adopting the whipped-cream bra and lollipop image on 2010’s “Teenage Dream,” Perry traded it in for a more modest, powerful, and in some cases, dark identity on 2013’s “Prism.” Perry’s upcoming stop at the Pepsi Center on Sept. 30 is already sold out. That’s not to say Lady Gaga needs to do exactly as Perry does to stay relevant — but change, even a subtle one, can refresh a pop artist.
If Lady Gaga came on stage in Denver with hair made of spaghetti, riding a unicorn and wearing Dora the Explorer footie pajamas, would you bat an eye? Probably not: That’s Lady Gaga for you.
But consider for a second if Gaga revealed a new persona akin to Bowie’s transition from psych-folk to the glam rock of Ziggy Stardust: Twitter, Facebook and Instagram would all go nuts. (See Joanne Ostrow’s piece about the Showtime documentary “David Bowie: 5 Years” on 6C.)
And she might already be heading in that direction. Last week news broke that Gaga is recording a jazz album with Tony Bennett called “Cheek to Cheek” to be released this fall. Bennett and Gaga? Jazz? That’s something we didn’t see coming.
Like her meat dress, even the most imaginative ideas can go bad fast. And even if she’s fallen into monotony now, perhaps only Gaga is crazy enough to reinvent Gaga.